The Failure of Hope

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13

This verse is a favourite for many. It reads well, it sounds great, and it has deep truth in it. However I feel like one of the three doesn’t belong. I’ve heard many sermons on faith, and of course since God IS love we talk about that, especially since love is the greatest. Yet hope feels like the odd one out. Not something we talk about as much anymore.

Sure we talk about hope in our lives. Rightly so. We have a God who cares and is involved in the world. Yet our hope is about us. Really if you think about hope we are often self absorbed hoping for good health, good finances, all our problems gone, hope for a vacation, hope for our sports teams, and the list goes on. I’m not saying any of that is bad… however is that what this verse is talking about? Is that the hope it speaks of?

We need to also ask what do we have faith in God for, if there is no significant hope. Yes we have hope of eternal life in Jesus, but are we so heartless that we have no hope for this world that God created? Are we really content to have this broken, sinful world continue indefinitely? Our hope needs to be more than about our own salvation, and needs to be a hope not just for ourselves, but a hope in Christ for the whole world.

What is our hope in Christ? At the purest level, at the most important level, what is our hope in Christ? I would say our hope is two fold, though these two things are intertwined. First is the hope that through Jesus Christ we have the forgiveness of sins and a renewed relationship with God. This is the hope we have that leads to eternal life. I mentioned that just a bit earlier. It is a big deal. It is important. I hear this hope preached and am thrilled about that. So it should be. This is at the heart of the gospel. Yet it is not our only hope. It should not be our only hope. Our hope needs to be more than just ‘our’ salvation.

Hope is more than just a restored relationship. In some ways that is a hope that what has happened is true. Hope that Jesus did die for us. Hope that God does in fact love us. These are important hopes. The other hope is all about the future… and I think we sometimes forget about this hope. This is the hope that one day Jesus Christ will return and redeem us all. I’m talking about the hope found in Revelation. The hope that there is still more to be done by God in His grand plan.

This is a hope that has failed in the church. It has failed as it has become an ‘add on’ and not a core focus of the church’s teaching. When I mention Christ’s return in a sermon I have often had comments from people that they never hear that preached anymore. That concerns me. Has the church in North America set aside our great hope in Christ’s return? Perhaps we are fearful of how others would perceive us. You see a hope of a personal relationship is, well, personal. It can remain private. It can be compartmentalized. Hope in the new heaven and new earth, hope in Christ returning, hope that there will be no more death, no more illness or tears… well that’s a big deal. Perhaps we’re scared that people will think we’re crazy… and maybe we are… after all that IS our hope. To the world it is foolishness.

One of the challenges of preaching is picking out topics to preach on. When I preach from Revelation people are shocked as some claim they’ve never heard sermons from that book. The protestant church has rejected many of the structures of the mainline church and often with good reason. However I know a few churches that are turning to the lectionary to govern their preaching schedule so they don’t avoid these topics… they don’t avoid this hope. The evangelical church generally will celebrate advent before Christmas, but sadly misses the Sunday of our ultimate hope. The last Sunday of the church calendar year is “Christ the King” Sunday – one of my favourite days! It is the Sunday that reminds us that Christ is the victorious King. Somehow we love advent and reflecting on the baby Jesus in that season, but we miss the summation of what that baby came to do! Christ is King and we need to preach not just that, but that His victory is assured!

Yet to us sometimes it seems to be foolishness as well. Last week’s post was about a loss of imagination. We cannot have hope without imagination. Our hope is in something beyond our comprehension which means we need to turn to our imagination to even begin to understand what God has promised to do. It takes an imagination to believe that God can and will do that. It takes imagination to see the future that way. You see any hope we have that is significant takes imagination. If we are seriously sick, we can only imagine what life will be like in the future if we’re healed. If we’re starving, we can only imagine a table full of food. If we’re grieving we can only begin to imagine how life can go on without our loved one.

For us to have faith, we first need to have imagination. When we have that, we need to engage in scripture and realize what our hope is really in. Our hope is in Christ, not just what he’s done, but what he’s doing, and what he’s going to do. Our hope is in a God who loves us. That is why love is the greatest — it’s that very love that allows us to have faith, and ultimately hope.

Would love to hear about your hopes. What role does hope play in your faith? Can we have faith without hope? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.