In other words, humanity destroys its own future and ultimately has nothing to hope for when left to its own devices. Fortunately, that is not where we are left. Our original parent had plans for us from the beginning and planted hope in the human heart. Salvation history is the story of hope leading to fulfillment.
Abraham, our father in faith, is also the father of hope. His ultimate hope was for many descendants in their own homeland. Immortality consisted of living on in the memory of these descendants long after Abraham ceased to exist.
An heir was needed to fulfil this hope. God provided in old age, but then tested the old man. Was Abraham’s hope now in the creature, the boy God gave, or did he genuinely hope in God? He couldn’t possibly have seen how a dead son could fulfil his hopes but, hoping against all hope, Abraham showed that the Creator, not the creature, was his hope.
Israel, the heirs of hope, equivocated. True hope flourished when faithful to the covenant and God’s laws. False hopes too often emerged in reliance on idols, strong armies, and treaties – not on God’s providence.
The Israelites’ hope was that they would survive and flourish as a nation in their own land. But what of the individual? Could s/he hope for more than brief existence, dying into nothing while the race moved on? Hope for personal immortality emerged as a prospect.
Not long before the coming of Jesus the seven sons in 2 Maccabees, martyred for their Jewish faith, were encouraged by their mother’s hope in resurrection. So, too, Judas Maccabeus had sin-offerings made for his fallen soldiers who had divided their hope between God and idols. Judas put hope in their rising.
Jesus encountered Pharisees professing resurrection, and resurrection-denying Sadducees – divided positions just like there are today. Earth-bound hopes seem to have been the real motivators of both groups, however.
It is clear where Jesus’ hope was anchored. He relied solely on his Father to the end. In Mark’s stark death scene there is no hint of consolation or ease. There is only hope against hope. A fraction away from despair, hope alone is grasped. He who did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to become a tortured, dying man clung to hope in the Father’s love alone. His hope was fulfilled.
Even the downcast Emmaus travellers told the stranger walking with them on Easter day how they ‘had hoped’ the executed man they had followed would have been the one to set Israel free. The breaking open of the word and the breaking of the bread elevated their hopes exponentially. They raced back, joy-filled, to Jerusalem, on fire with good news.
Jesus does not offer hope-fulfilment in the form of descendants and possessions. These may or may not be our portion. What Jesus promises as a certainty is beyond the vagaries of earthly life. He promises a new heaven and earth, gifted by God to fulfil our faith and hope, not achieved by our efforts. Hope is God’s gift in this life, and the fulfilment of hope is his gift in the next. It is infinitely more to be desired than material, temporary things.
The very word ‘hope’, like ‘love’, can be used casually in speech but also with theological precision and weight. Casually we can say, ‘I hope it rains’ or ‘I hope I win lotto’. This is hope as a wish. It may or may not come about.
‘Hope’ as God’s gift is certain. Living a life of hope leads to hope’s fulfilment beyond death, through resurrection, in the fullness of life. This is the ‘sure hope’ St Paul looked forward to so eagerly. This hope comes with a better-than-written guarantee: we have God’s Word.
Our Christian tradition also provides a firm hope that even our wish-fulfilment prayers for this life are responded to by a loving God. Not that we always get exactly what we have in mind and specifically pray for. We may, if that is God’s wise reckoning. Mostly, it seems, God has something better in mind, or a better time frame than the one we would like.
Our Christian conviction should be – if we really trust in God all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving – that God will provide what is best in every instance, especially in the end where it really matters. There is an almighty difference between expecting the granting of our wish-list and being people of firm hope. Hope knows God knows what is best – and always provides it.
As Christians we should radiate hope. Unlike the dour-faced whom Pope Francis decries (who appear as if always coming from a funeral) we should be known for our joy. This joy emanates from the hope planted within – from God, the source, the goal, and the fulfilment of all hope. We hope in God’s love which will never disappoint.