Hope, God, and a Faith for All Seasons
March 14, 2018
By Mike Ivaska
“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him...” - Job 13:15a (NIV)
This morning I spent a little time perusing the entries for “hope” in the back of my Bible. I am not entirely sure what I was hoping to find there. I know I was looking for ideas to write about, just to be honest. I was thinking about the idea of how hope gives us strength to keep going. And, of course, that is true. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” we are told in Proverbs 13:12. When it seems like our hopes will be fulfilled, having those hopes pushed back out beyond reach (or even just beyond immediate experience) indeed makes the heart sick. And so, to have a confident and healthy heart, one must have hope. One must believe there is something ahead that will make staying the course worthwhile in the end.
But what jumped out to me was that, in the entries in the back of my Bible (which are not exhaustive, of course), the object of hope is almost never a change in circumstances. The direct object of hope (especially in the Psalms) is generally God himself. Of course, what the biblical writers, including the psalmists, were looking for was a change in their circumstances. After all, whenever the biblical writers cried out to God, they were crying out because of suffering and difficulty. What they wanted was for the difficulties to cease. And clearly what they seem to be hoping in God for is deliverance. But it strikes me as significant that what they do not pray is, "God, I know things will work out how I want if I just believe hard enough." And they don't tell themselves, or one another, to "have a stiff upper lip." What they instead say is,
No one who hopes in [God] will ever be put to shame... - Psalm 25:3a
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God... - Psalm 42:5a
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. - Psalm 130:5
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. - Psalm 147:11
I, for one, am a natural pessimist. My wife likes to remind me of this as regularly as she thinks I need it. And it is helpful for me, with my temperament, to see that the biblical approach to hope is not to "look on the bright side," or "just trust that things will get better." What the Bible shows us, including by example in the Psalms, is that the proper approach to discouragement is to place one's hopes, not in circumstances, but in God. Not, "Have faith that it will all work out," but rather, "Have faith that God is good and his promises true." And if you think about it, those are two very different things. One looks at circumstances, the other at God. One depends on a sunny disposition, the other hangs all on God. The one type of faith is validated when things turn out in a way that pleases us (or at least makes some sense), the other accepts that God's ways are above ours and that ultimately our lives are in his hands.