An unbelieving friend of mine, with whom I have been communicating the gospel over the years, returned from a business trip to India. It must not have been a particularly pleasant trip, because when I asked him how it went, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Your God cannot exist. If he did, the massive misery that plagues this country would not be present.”
He didn’t specify what he saw, but sometimes the sheer weight of sin and evil in the world can easily discourage any enthusiasm for evangelism, or for defending the Christian faith.
But biblical eyeglasses require that Christians be hopeful people.
The Theological Virtue of Hope
I vividly remember speaking to a seasoned apologist in my early days as a Christian. I was going on and on about the state of the world and the challenges of defending Christianity in such a hostile environment. I will never forget this Christian warrior turning to me, with a finger shaking in my face, saying, “No Christian has the right to be a pessimist.” This was a man who knew, and lived, the hope of Christ.
The eyeglasses of Holy Scripture change our vision of the world. No other eyeglasses can give us a proper view of the world — not the daily news, or a poignant movie, or a great novel. Looking through other glasses is like looking at yourself in a carnival mirror — the world looks distorted and all out of proportion. A 20/20 vision of the world is only possible with Scriptural lenses.
One of the things that seems too often to be obscured in our Scriptural vision is the theological virtue of hope. Along with love and faith, the church has recognized a special place for Christian hope (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Fullness of Hope
But like a middle child, hope has been virtually ignored because of its other two siblings, faith and love. Reams have been written about the virtue of love. This is as it should be. Love is the greatest of the three virtues that Paul lists for us. We are also intensely interested in the faith that comes to us as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). We relish in its saving efficacy for us; we rejoice in its singular means of justifying us before God. That, too, is as it should be.
But what about hope? If hope is set aside, then our biblical vision can easily become extremely near-sighted. Without Christian hope, we have trouble seeing beyond the present circumstances that are right in front of us.
The reality of hope in all of its biblical fullness is given to the church after Christ’s resurrection. This gift tells us a good bit about what our true hope is. Christian hope is grounded in the sure resurrection of those who are united to the One who was raised from the dead. The futility of our faith is thwarted because Christ has been raised (1 Corinthians 15:17). Without that resurrection, faith would have no hope; it would be devoid of any certainty for our future.
Hope with Real Content
I remember seeing a bumper sticker years ago that read, “I’ve given up hope and I feel much better.” It was meant to be a humorous statement, but it is tragically humorous. It is an acknowledgment that a hope that points to nothing is worthless; it might as well be tossed aside.
It is the kind of hopelessness that is expressed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. “Life,” says Macbeth, “is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The hopelessness of this statement can be seen in the phrase, “signifying nothing.” A sign points to something beyond itself, to a goal or destination. If life has no sign, if it signifies nothing at all, there is no goal and no destination. There is nothing left but sound and fury, mere noise.
To have no hope is to live a life that, quite literally, signifies nothing; it is a life that has no sign pointing beyond itself. Nothing is left but sound and fury. But the life of the Christian signifies Christ. And Christ is risen. And because Christ is risen, those who are found in him will live with him in the new heaven and the new earth for eternity. Life in Christ is hope with real content, the content of the only reality that is permanent — the reality of eternal existence with our risen Savior.
Defend the Faith with Hope
When the apostle Peter writes to a group of scattered and suffering Christians, he tells them how to respond to the persecutions that they are experiencing. In the midst of his Spirit-inspired counsel, he tells them that they must be prepared to defend their faith:
. . . in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you . . . (1 Peter 3:15)
“One of the most powerful truths that we can offer our objectors is true hope.”
When hostile people approach you, says Peter, you should be prepared to defend what you believe. But notice how Peter characterizes the content of that defense. He doesn’t tell them to give a reason for why they believe, or even for what they believe, though both could be included in our defense. Peter commands them to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them.
The recipients of Peter’s letter were likely being persecuted by their government. In the midst of such persecution, life, for the persecutors, signified nothing but obedience to the emperor. Perhaps the persecutors noticed that the Christians they were abusing had more to live for than just their lives here. Maybe before their lives were taken from them, they were making it clear that death had no final hold on them. Maybe word had spread that these followers of Jesus had true hope. Peter says, “Make yourselves ready to give a reason for your hope.”
We Offer True Hope
When we engage with the world, when we find ourselves needing to defend our Christian commitment, one of the most powerful truths that we can offer our objectors is true hope. We can speak to them of an existence and a life that is only what it should be when it points beyond itself to the life of one who is the life and who is our only true hope.
We can show them, through our biblical lenses, what life looks like, not only here and now, but with a far-sighted view to the end of time. We can give them good reasons for the hope within us. We can point them to the only true hope — in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)