What is this? Surprised by Hope is a fascinating book by a popular biblical writer, N.T. Wright, that has the audacity to try to spell out what actually happens at resurrection. It is a hefty read, slow at times, places you will disagree, and Wright probably speaks with too much confidence about the unseen and unknowable Easter mystery. Nevertheless, it gets you thinking, hoping, even looking forward to eternal life. Wright tells a funny story of a wife who smuggled a can of aerosol hair spray into her deceased husband’s casket just prior to him being cremated. Of course, the result was a detonation. In some ways, that is what Easter is; detonation, demolition, explosion, implosion, and blowing up our cosmic and eternal enemies- sin, hell, the Evil One, and death. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we’re set free to live and embrace a new future, a hopeful future. If there is one thing lacking in our young people, our churches, our families, and our nation, it is hope. Hope is not optimism, that is more of a human-generated positivity, more-or-less wishful thinking, with a lame and limited power source inside me. Hope is a gift from God, it comes from outside of us. Like the kind of peace, joy, and resilience the bible lifts up, the kind of hope God provides is not dependent on circumstances and emotions but based on grace. It give us what we need for a tomorrow we cannot control.
What does this mean? Lewis Smedes offers some helpful insights about biblical hope in his simple yet profound book, Keeping Hope Alive. Smedes begins by saying Our Creator has bred hope in our bones, it is our fuel for the journey as we move into a future we can imagine but cannot control. Christ is our fountain of hope and Easter is the gusher that keeps on giving, sustaining, restoring, and replentishing us on the way, all the way to eternal life. There is a solid saint in our congregation that’s been given a grave diagnosis. Sandy is sixty-plus, hospice has been called in, and she is constantly surrounded by her very loving family. I come out on Mondays, we check-in, speculate on heaven, share some Scripture, pray, and have the Lord’s Supper. Sandy is so at peace, resting in hope, I am constantly amazed. Doesn’t she know death is approaching?! I trust the resurrection, too. But, I’d be way more worried, not just for myself, but what about the people I love. It can only be attributed to the peace/hope that passes all understanding. It doesn’t make earthly sense. Smedes suggests hope is a spiritual power that keeps us striving to achieve things we hope for and keeps us waiting for the things we know we cannot achieve.
What is the takeaway? Hebrews sums it up this way, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. 1 Peter adds, “In God’s great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. A couple of details there clarify what is hope and what is not. As the baptized, we are born into a story, a way of life, a company of believers, all sojourning toward a common destiny, where every step is immersed in hope. Not because we can know or control the specifics, but because we do know and can trust the Good Shepherd who restores our souls and guides us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Early and often in my relationship with God, I was disappointed when my plans, prayers, hopes didn’t come to fruition. I had followed what I thought was the biblical formula, name it and claim it. I learned the hard way that “faith is being sure of what you hope for”. Now, I hear that as having confidence in biblical hopes; God’s promises, worship helps me grow, eternal life, I am forgiven, loved, eligible for good things, and have been given work that matters. Christian hope does not mean my path will be smooth, my career productive, my children a success, or I will live to a ripe, old age. None of that worked out for Jesus, did it. Hopeful people live by faith, not by fate, ready and relaxed in God.