Recovering the Forgotten Virtue

“Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.”  C. S. Lewis

This week’s article is by Andrew Hoffecker.  Andy earned his PhD at Brown University in Religious Studies. He taught at Grove City College in Pennsylvania for 25 years before coming to Reformed Theological Seminary in 1997. He retired from RTS in 2010 and began teaching the Crossroads Class at Highlands shortly thereafter.

Of Paul’s three virtues in I Corinthians 13 – Faith, Hope and Love – hope is often neglected. But hope is not only important to Christians, it is an important element in all human experience. Many people – philosophers, theologians and other thinkers have expanded on the topic. We find common expressions of hope in popular culture as well which result in expressions such as “Hope springs eternal” from poet Alexander Pope. Also common are hopes that something almost impossible will change one’s life for the better like winning a lottery jackpot. Examples like these demand we examine the true meaning of hope. What is hope? What are my hopes? Are my hopes realistic? How may I focus my hope on what is truly reliable?

As our pastor correctly pointed out recently in his sermon on I Peter, hope is commonly used to mean a wish, a feeling of expectation, a desire for something better. In those instances, however, hope’s strength lies in the power of the person’s desire. In the Bible, however, hope is a confident expectation of what God has promised. And its strength lies in the powerful God who is faithful to fulfill what he has promised. Genuine hope rests not on human willpower, energy or desire but relies on something outside of us – in God as faithful to what he has said about himself and what he has promised his people throughout the Bible.

Job who experienced indescribable hardships – loss of children, loss of all his possessions and extreme bodily pain – at his lowest point cried out “Though he slay me, I will hope in him [God].” (13:15) In practical experience because God is the object of hope, he urges believers to express that hope concretely in their prayers to him. The Psalms repeatedly affirms God as the source of hope: “For you are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth” (71:5); “And now Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you” (39:7). In turn, these expressions of hope evolve into Proverbs which influence how we live. Instead of despair in outward circumstances, we find “The hope of the righteous brings joy” (10:28).

The New Testament offers an abundance of references to hope which builds on the faith of the Old Testament. Paul tells us “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). As expected, verses tend to center on Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. What should our hope be? Our celebration of Easter affirms that Jesus’ resurrection was nothing less than a triumphant victory over sin and death. The sting of death has been removed and is replaced with the hope of eternal life. Paul tells us that we are saved “not on the basis of deeds which we have done … but according to his mercy…” He continues, “that being justified by his grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5, 7).

In his famous chapter on love (I Corinthians 13) Paul extols love which is tied to both faith and hope. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (13:7). How closely faith, hope and love are related! Although the greatest of the three is love, yet how intrinsically they are enjoined in our experience. Who we believe in, what we hope for and who we love first and foremost is the God of the Bible who is the creator and ultimate redeemer of all things.

How appropriately, therefore, does Paul end his famous letter to the Romans. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (15:13).

In the midst of our present Coronavirus and economic crises, while taking measures to insure our safety, we have every reason for looking beyond ourselves to the transcendent God of the Bible as our ultimate hope.