What is hope?
We all have hopes of different sorts. In the past we may have talked about the hope of a new job, a life partner, or an amazing gift for our birthday. In recent times, hope has become more focused, consider the basics of our health, our livelihood, and, in some cases, survival.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Hope is an expectation. It is a desire. It is a longing and yearning that something would become a reality. By definition, hope has two basic parts:
- The longing that exists within us
- The object, or goal, toward which our longing is directed
Some of us, when we talk about hope, put the emphasis mostly on the first part of that: we emphasize the longing that exists within us. We have hope – a sort of vague, fuzzy longing – that things would be better, but the object – or goal – of our hope is sometimes undefined or unclear.
When we come to the Bible, the essence of hope is something more focused and clear. In Jesus’ walk along the Emmaus road with the disciples who did not recognize Him, this topic of hope surfaces multiple times. Look at the words spoken by those men walking the road with Jesus:
The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. (Luke 24:20-21)
Christian hope is a desire – a longing – that is firmly fixed on Jesus as the object of our hope. Christian hope is, essentially, the longing that what Jesus promised – and what we see in Scripture – about life with God and His kingdom is ultimately true. Christian hope has a fixed object – Jesus’ life and teaching – and builds upon that.
Consider with me how the Apostle Paul writes about hope in Romans 5:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Let me highlight just a few basic things that Paul is saying here in Romans about hope:
- Hope begins from our ‘justification of faith’ (vs 1): this is the justification before God – being put right in standing before God – that comes to us by Jesus going to the Cross and returning to life in victory over sin, death, and evil in the Resurrection. Hope is based on that historical event.
- Hope stands in the state of grace (vs 2): God sees us through Jesus Christ and not through our sins and wrongs. Grace means that we receive something from God we do not deserve: mercy in place of judgment; kindness instead of wrath; hope instead of despair.
- Hope lives with perseverance (vss 3-4): Hope believes that God is at work in the midst of our sufferings and trials, doing something in us. Hope believes that God is making us people of character through our difficulties until we see Him face to face.
- Hope looks toward ultimate glory of God (vss 1 & 5): Hope anticipates both God’s glory fully revealed at the end of human history and God’s glory revealed to us individually at the end of our physical lives because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Christian hope says there will come a day when God will make all things right and new at the end of human history in the new heaven and new earth. Hope is the longing for this reality ever before us
Some might say that Christianity is just wishful thinking. Frederick Buechner offers this unique reframing of that accusation:
Christianity is mainly wishful thinking…
Dreams are wishful thinking. Children playing at being grown-ups is wishful thinking. Interplanetary travel is wishful thinking.
Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on.
Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it. 
We may respond to those who accuse Christian hope of being “wishful thinking” that perhaps the wishful thinking could be called faith. And perhaps faith is a way to access a reality that is there. And perhaps the reason we dream about such a thing being true is that the truth has birthed such a dream within us in the first place.
Christian hope is, essentially, the longing that what Jesus promised – and what we see in Scripture – about life and eternity is ultimately true. Christian hope flows out of Jesus’ resurrection from death after the Cross. It reshapes the way we view our failings, our sufferings, and the end of our lives. It also reshapes the way we view our world.
Jesus’ resurrection allows us to live with hope that there is meaning in our lives and meaning beyond our lives. When we live with hope, we have meaning both for now and for our future. With the Apostle Paul, we can say,
and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)
 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers , 1973), 96.