I once conducted a funeral for a man in his late twenties. He had a well-paid job, a girlfriend, a loving family and was a well-respected sportsperson in the town, both playing and coaching. Normally, if I am asked to conduct a funeral—being an Anglican Minister in a rural town—I insist that I will give a least a short message of gospel hope during the service. On this particular occasion, the father and the mother balked. Their son had killed himself. He had lost hope. So had they.
Their son had killed himself. He had lost hope. So had they.
‘Please,’ they requested. ‘No message of hope at his funeral.’
What a distressing funeral it was.
I was shocked and saddened by the funeral; but later realised that this sentiment was not extraordinary.
In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, the character Marmeladov is a man completely devoid of hope. His daughter from his first marriage is a prostitute. His second wife is violently beaten by the local civic authorities. He is a terrible drunk who cannot even defend his wife as he watches her getting beaten. He has lost his job due to the bottle and he keeps drinking—not to escape the situation, but to wallow in misery: ‘Sorrow, sorrow is what I sought at its bottom and tears.’
Social blights such as depression and suicide, are all, end products in part of hopelessness. The Bible not only gives us the origin of hopelessness, it also warns of the consequences of its lack—or even deferment. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, (Proverbs 13:12). We need hope.
It seems that our world is crying out for hope. The Bible agrees with the world though it has some very clear distinctions about hope that the world does not necessarily make.
Let’s consider them now.
- Hope must be in something. You cannot hope in hope, that makes no sense. It has to be in something that will make a difference. Blind hope—‘today is bad enough, tomorrow can only get better.—will not do. The Bible is clear, tomorrow we may die, (Ecclesiastes 8:15). The hope the Bible offers is a hope beyond tomorrow. It is beyond death. Hope through the death of Jesus that we will see the glory of God having obtained peace with him, (Romans 5:1-2).
- The only solid basis of hope is God who is from everlasting to everlasting. However, this must be hope based on reliable knowledge of God. Many people presumptuously hope that God will give them a joyful bliss at the end of their days. They presume that God will be merciful and loving; but the Bible warns that he is also just and holy. Hope that he will overlook sin and evil is a faulty understanding of who we hope in.
- Hope in God requires a relinquishing of spiritual self-sufficiency and pride. The Pharisees could not accept Jesus’ message of hope because they did not think they needed it. They couldn’t see that they were poor, captive, blind or oppressed. Their spiritual self-sufficiency and pride got in the way. They could not hope in Jesus as the Messiah or what he was going to do. The problem remains today.
- Hope in God will change you. In 1John 3:2-3 the apostle talks about how ‘we shall be like [Christ]’ when he appears and how this ‘hope’ causes Christians to ‘purify themselves, just as he is pure.’
- The ‘hope stored up for you in heaven’ produces ‘faith and love’ through the proclamation of the gospel. (Colossians 1:4-5).
- Hope enables us to endure hardships. The person who hopes for money will labour for that money. The person whose hopes are political will become an activist. The Christian has a different hope. A greater hope and greater outcome. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him, (James 4:12). Hope in heaven far outweighs pain on earth.
- The goal of hope is to receive God’s great promises. The Westminster greater Confession question 86 says “… What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death? Answer…”
The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, (Hebrews 12:23) and received into the highest heavens, (2 Corinthians 5:1,6,8; Philippians 1:23; Acts 3:21; Ephesians 4:10), where they behold the face of God in light and glory, (1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 13:12), waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, (Romans 8:23; Psalms 16:9) which even in death continue united to Christ, (1 Thessalonians 4:14) and rest in their graves as in their beds, (Isaiah 52:2) till at the last day they be again united to their souls. (Job 19:26-27).
Hope is vital for life. To live without hope, even deferred hope, is cancerous and ultimately fatal. Hope in the world, though, will not do. Only hope in the gospel that brings peace with God, defeats death and enables us to endures hardships will suffice.