Too often we use the word hope in the same way we use the word wish.
I hope it doesn’t rain. I hope those jeans are still on sale.
This is an unfortunate misuse of a word. Hope is something more hard-won and meaningful than a mere wish.
Romans 5:2-5 (The Voice)
Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.
One of our church families has just experienced the death of their infant son. Although I know it is useless to compare the intensity or the degrees of our suffering, the burial of a child seems to be one of the most difficult to overcome. And, yet, we know that parents do it every day. Or, I should say, parents work through it every day. In my experience, grief is a constant companion that only makes a public scene once in a while; the rest of the time she sits quietly nearby waiting for me to indulge her with a few private moments of undivided attention. She never really goes away, even though I wish she would.
The power of hope is not hope itself but the source of that hope. In this passage, Paul is reminding the Roman Christians of their source: “true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Liberating King” (5:1).
This is the only sure hope in our lives. Consider the things we are tempted to hope in: people, money, dreams, etc. All of them could be stripped from us in a single tragic accident, a failing economy, or any number of real-life complications. As I mentioned in the radio interviews for Children’s Miracle Network last week, “We wish we lived in a world that doesn’t require a children’s hospital, but we don’t.” These are the conditions of our reality. We will suffer. (Notice my use of the word wish.)
But this is the hope that will never disappoint: through it all, God is with us and we are with Him. We have the hope of that relationship now through His Spirit and a hope of eternity as well. When I was a kid I had a much better idea of what that looked like. Now I’m not so sure. I like Randy Alcorn’s approach in his book called Heaven: Why wouldn’t this God who loves us so lavishly here in time also fill our eternal life with those things we cherish? (I turned to this source for a much more trivial grief last year when our dog got run over by a car in front of our house.) I think of eternity as a new state of being, a new reality. I think Jesus might have been telling us how near it really was when He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It is near.
When Claire talks about her sister who died in infancy almost 8 years ago, she doesn’t see her as a baby anymore. She basically sees her doing all the things Claire does, except Ellery does them in Heaven. She graduates from Kindergarten and takes dance classes and plays with her friends on the playground. But Ellery never struggles with math, she never needs surgery on her leg, and she never gets her feelings hurt by thoughtless neighbors. Claire’s idea of Heaven is one I really like right now.
But regardless of what exactly this eternal life is composed of, we know that it means a state of perfection in all things. And when I’m in the middle of my mourning – protesting the reality of this world that I know is all wrong – I need the hope of that time.
I need a hope that cannot disappoint.