Resilience and Hope

By | October 4, 2019

A good Biblical definition of the word hope is the assurance of something desirable in the future that is unseen or uncertain at the present

I hear the word “hope” used in many ways. Some “hope” for things that are little more than wishful thinking such as “I hope I win the lottery” or “I hope I never get cancer” or, my favorite, “I hope the Cubs win the World Series.” While these things may seem desirable, they have little grounding in reality or any true assurance that they will come true.

Another frequent use of the word “hope” is to express a desired goal for which we are actively pursuing making it a reality. Examples of this would be “I hope to retire comfortably, since I began early to save for retirement” or “I hope to win the sales award by working harder than the rest.” While these aspirations are clearly more likely to take place, they are not really a proper use of the term hope since these are reasonably assured through our own effort. This is in fact, consistent with the Biblical concept of hope.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? [25] But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:24-25

I find it interesting that often the Bible talks about hope in the context of suffering. It only makes sense in light of the fact that the time we are most in need of hope is when we are going through periods of suffering or trials. Paul makes a direct connection between suffering and hope in this passage from Romans:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 5:3-5

Often when we find ourselves in dire straits, we define hope in terms of alleviating the suffering. We hope for enough money, a cure, a restored relationship, etc. which may in fact be the end result God wants for us, but we fail to recognize what God is wanting to do in us during the actual time of suffering. God teaches perseverance and endurance through the suffering just like a distance runner develops the strength and stamina to run great distances only by the grueling daily workouts that build such endurance.

While our desire may be to alleviate the suffering, God often has a purpose in our suffering or crisis. the importance of this distinction is especially important when we consider the effect of seemingly irreversible events on our hope. If our hope is centered on eliminating the suffering then certain events such as the death of a loved one, a permanent disability, or an incurable disease represents the end of all hope. In contrast, if we recognize that hope is possible even when the suffering is ongoing, then these events are not the end of hope, because even when the suffering cannot be eliminated, God can continue to work His purpose and plan in our lives and the lives of others.

So, How do we realize Biblical hope?

Endurance, which has been mentioned above in our definition of Biblical hope, is also an important part of the foundation for our hope. Like some other character traits such as patience and tolerance, endurance is developed through difficult circumstances. As we develop endurance, we are better able to weather the difficulties of life. As we see in the passage from Romans 5, quoted above, perseverance or endurance is one of the building blocks of hope. In Romans 15, we see endurance along with encouragement directly linked to developing hope.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:4-6

This passage tells us that we find the source of our endurance and encouragement in that which was written in the past, or in the Scriptures. I believe that one of the reasons God included so many accounts of real historical people in real situations dealing with real trials is that these examples provide us with clear examples, both positive and negative, that will encourage us and build our own endurance in facing the trials we may face today.

Notice also that both endurance and encouragement are also gracious gifts from God resulting in unity among Christians and glory to God. It is not necessary for us to generate endurance through our own determination or encouragement through our own optimism, because God is the source of these important traits that lead ultimately to hope in the midst of trials.