YOUR SHARE IN GOD'S PROMISES
We talk about hope in everyday conversation. We say “I hope you feel better soon”, or “We hope to go abroad this year” or “I hope the weather will be better in a day or so”. We mean there is something in the future we should very much like to happen, and we feel cautiously optimistic that it will. Life without hope would be very grim. Even in the worst of circumstances, people like to look on the bright side. A poet wrote: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Hope can give men extraordinary tenacity of spirit. Miners trapped by a roof fall, or sailors drifting on a raft, will often fight death for days, convinced that their friends will come to the rescue before it is too late.
Sadly, of course, they are sometimes disappointed. It can happen that the rock fall is too deep to tunnel through, or no one knows the ship has foundered. In this case the chance to which they cling does not exist, and their hope is an illusion.
Hope with a foundation
Hope is a topic that crops up frequently in the Bible. Both in the Old Testament and the New, the writers are full of optimism. They look about them on a dreary and unjust world where so frequently suffering comes upon the innocent and evil men triumph, yet they have tremendous confidence that one day God the Creator is going to turn the tables the right way up. Not only that, but they seem to be convinced that they themselves will have a share in the improvements that will come. Listen to the Psalmist, for example:
“You who have done great things; O God, who is like you? You, who have shown me great and severe troubles, shall revive me again, and bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You shall increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side. Also with the lute I will praise you and your faithfulness, O my God! To you I will sing with the harp, O Holy One of Israel. My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to you, and my soul, which you have redeemed.” (Psalm 71:19-23)
There is no doubt about this man’s confidence in the future. The same is true of Paul the Apostle, in calmer mood, in this passage from his letter to Timothy:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
See how assured he is, as he continues:
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
This last passage is particularly interesting because it was written from a death cell. The Roman Emperor had turned against the Christians, and the aged Apostle was on trial for his life. There had been a first court hearing, and he was waiting for the second. He knew the outcome already as he penned the letter to young Timothy from his chilly prison. He was going to die. In spite of this gloomy prospect, he is full of hope. Unlike the trapped miner or the shipwrecked mariner, he does not grab at the slender chance that something will turn up – some vital document, or friendly witness, perhaps, to clear him of the charge. His hope transcends the certainty of his death. He is absolutely positive that even after he has died, a God in heaven will bring him back to a new and better life, at the Last Day.
The hope of the Bible writers is clearly something much stronger than cautious optimism. They have definite ideas about what is going to happen in the future, and they really look forward to it coming to pass. You probably envy the Apostle Paul his conviction, especially if you are passing through pain or sorrow in your life. You may have doubted in the past that you could ever be sure there is something to hope for beyond the grave. You may wonder, too, what the world is coming to, and what your children and grandchildren are going to inherit when you are gone. Well, take heart! The Bible has the key to the future, both the world’s and yours. It presents a plan that God has been following consistently from the beginning, based on promises He has made. The outline, beginning with Abraham, the patriarch of Israel, and expanding through the prophets into the New Testament writings, is so clear and logical a child can understand it. It can give you a confidence that will take you through the darkest valley of suffering, and God has provided evidence to support your faith so strong that only the folly of pride could blind your eyes. Read on and see how it all hangs together.
(more next month)
David M Pearce