By Valerie Jones
A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. A thing longed for, an aspiration, a desire, or a wish. These definitions attempt to describe the word hope, yet hope is so much more.
Elizabeth Sherrill writes that psychologists are discovering the value of hope. Thousands of college freshmen were tested on a “hope scale,” and it was found that “the level of hope was a more accurate predictor of future grades than SAT scores.” One man reported that spinal injury patients with high hope have a far better recovery record than those with identical injuries and low hope. Researcher Aaron Beck developed a “lack-of-hope scale” to identify high-risk mental patients. What do these results reveal?
Perhaps they show how vital hope is to the human soul. Hope is what makes our lives worth living and is perhaps as necessary to the soul as food and water are to the body. From the beginning, the Word of God has testified to this truth.
Hope from the Womb
David wrote in Psalm 22, “Thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts” (v. 9, King James Version). Have you ever seen a baby being born into this world? Birth is accompanied by pain and crying, but the process is surrounded by hope. The mother has been waiting for months, believing the aches and pains of pregnancy will someday result in great joy. The baby is perhaps the most amazing illustration of hope’s tenacity. Once born, this former little embryo learns to breathe outside the womb, communicates its needs with its lungs, and sucks for milk. Without learning these things, and very quickly, the baby would die.
Yet many of these babies who fight so hard to enter into the world later become adults who choose to take their own lives. In essence, King David was saying, “God, you caused me to be formed in the womb. You made me enter this life with hope for the future and now, amid the enemies and trials of life, I can’t remember where that hope went.”
The Loss of Hope
The 129 occurrences of the word hope in the Bible are divided evenly between the Old and New Testaments. The first time the word occurs repeatedly in the Bible is in the book of Job. Job was blessed with a great life. Father of 10 children, owner of vast amounts of land, livestock, and servants, Job was described as “the greatest of all the people of the east” (Job 1:3, Revised Standard Version). Yet the tables turned on Job and he quickly lost the blessings entrusted to him. Most of the 42 chapters of Job record conversations with his friends about the reason for his dire circumstances and God’s purpose in them all. Job’s cry for hope echoes throughout their conversations.
Where was his hope to be found? At one point Job wanted God to end his life, since every day passed by without hope (6:11, 7:6). Job’s friends chimed in, supplying suggestions as to where Job should go to look for hope. Eliphaz declared that Job should find his hope in “the integrity of [his] ways” (4:6). Surely, if Job worked harder on his own righteousness, God would reward him and his life would get better. Both Bildad and Zohar said Job should pursue repentance because only the godless are without hope. If Job were “guiltless,” he would soon be “secure” and have hope returned (8:13; 11:18, 20, NIV). Yet for all their words, their advice did not resonate with Job.
Job declared that he did not formally place his hope in his wealth, his money, or his good works, and he was not interested in doing so (31:24-28). In fact, now that these severe circumstances had so pierced his heart, he experienced a strong hope for something beyond this world. He longed to talk not with his friends on earth, but with his Creator in Heaven. But as he processed this desire, he lost hope once again: how could unholy flesh commune with the holy God? What man is pure enough to approach the Ruler of it all? Could there ever be an arbiter between the flesh and God?
A Return to Hope
Perhaps two thousand years after Job lived and died and his ancient quest for hope was recorded for us, Jesus Christ walked this earth. His followers eventually had a lot to say about hope. Job searched for hope, Jeremiah complained that “the Hope of Israel” had left his people, and the psalmist encouraged his soul to hope in the Lord. The writers of the New Testament, however, speak about hope with a different tone.
After the crucifixion of Jesus, his followers experienced deep despair and a loss of hope. But the events following Jesus’ death brought a new kind of hope to the world. Peter explained to the multitudes gathered at Pentecost that Jesus was killed “by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23, RSV), but was later resurrected (and vindicated) by a just and holy God. Peter explained this as a fulfillment of the Scripture that says, “Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades” and “my flesh will dwell in hope” (Acts 2:23-27). Any person of flesh can now dwell in hope knowing that what happens in this life is not the end of the story.
Job was right. Our hope is not to be found in life’s circumstances, whether in wealth that is fleeting or an outward righteousness that feels so flimsy. In fact, the apostle Paul said if our hope lies only in the things of this life, we are greatly to be pitied. Jesus’ resurrection lets us hope for something beyond this world. Jesus’ Spirit now living in us, the “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), answers Job’s fear, “Can a man be in the right before God?” (Job 9:2, New American Standard Bible). When Jesus puts his righteousness upon us, we can have access to God once again.
When circumstances come our way that make us question our hope, we should know where to look. Job lamented, “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again . . . though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud” (Job 14:7-9, RSV). Whether he realized it or not, Job didn’t need to be envious of the tree. For the man who died on the tree so many years later showed that we too, though we be cut down, can hope for resurrection and all things to be made right in the life to come.
Valerie Jones and her husband and daughter live in the Middle East and work with international missions and refugee care.