We comfort ourselves with generalities. In general, we know that it is very likely that some people will get promoted and others will be fired, some will stay healthy and others will get unexpectedly sick, some wars will end and other wars will begin, natural disasters will do great harm, and so on. But the important forecasting is much more specific, isn’t it? Consider how often something as trivial as the local weather report is wrong!
History shows us this is true. Just in 2012 there was lots of good news and lots of bad news: some vacationers ended up having a terrible time when their cruise ship ran ashore off the cost of Italy and at least thirty people died. One of the world’s most successful and powerful companies, Facebook, had its big IPO – and it turned out to be a huge failure. A little known musician in South Korea named PSY released a song called Gangnam Style that became “the most watched clip in the history of the internet.” The Summer Olympics in London and the Mars Curiosity Rover landing happened to be successful. At the same time, we couldn’t end a vicious civil war in Syria, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and ongoing anxiety for the entire region. A gunman killed twenty children and six adults at an elementary school in Connecticut. Twenty-seven million people were held in slavery.
So when it comes to this year, who knows if my life, my work, my family, my city, or my home country will do well? And then there are roughly seven billion other humans who hope this year goes well for them!
We tend to believe we can control the outcomes through education, money, friendships, hard work, and so on. But none of these can protect us from a drunk driver or a crazed gunman. And none of them will necessarily lead to success. Proverbs 13:23 says, “The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.” For instance, while we are not poor, this past year my wife and I experienced significant discrimination in the real estate market in Boston. Illegal and unethical actions were taken against us that have cost us dearly, despite our best efforts to rent an apartment at a fair price.
So why be optimistic? There are at least three good reasons to be ultimately hopeful, even if our day-to-day experience is getting better or becoming worse. If you are a Christian, I hope these reflections will deepen your walk with God. If you are searching for God, I hope these thoughts will help you better understand the essential hopefulness of the Christian life. The three reasons are:
- the resurrection of Jesus,
- the gift of the Holy Spirit, and
- the promised future with our Heavenly Father.
Let’s consider how each of these reasons can make us practically optimistic even in the midst of uncertain circumstances.
The Resurrection of Jesus
The resurrection of Jesus is an excellent reason to be optimistic about the future. Why?
Because it followed after the death of Jesus.
Death is the most catastrophic event we could suffer this year. Death is the end of all hopes and dreams. It breaks all relationships. It cannot be stopped by medicine, wealth, exercise, or any other human enterprise. We will all die and this event will literally bury all of who are into nonexistence. If you were to die this year, then the day after your death it just would not matter to you how well your company did, what your retirement account looked like, or what grades your kids brought home.
But the resurrection of Jesus gives us a unique hope. If the resurrection really happened, then there really is life after death. By contrast, if the resurrection is a legendary fabrication, then we have no reason to hope at all (see 1 Corinthians 15:13-19).
Knowing that Jesus was raised from the dead gives us an ultimate hope and optimism about the future. No matter what happens, and even if the worst was to happen, we have good reason to be excited about the future.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit
I wish that I was always “on fire” for God, bursting with passion to obey Him, and overjoyed by the message of the gospel.
But I am not like this. Sometimes I am quite cynical and wary. Sometimes I am distracted and numb. Some days I am happy and other days I am sad.
Sometimes good news feels insufficient and I feel depressed. Other times, bad news is not as bad as I worried, and I feel relieved and happy.
But in all my circumstances, the Holy Spirit has been given to me. And the purpose for this, in part, is to give me hope. As Paul explained in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
Thank God that it is God who fills me with joy and peace and that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that I am to abound in hope. Left to my own resources that would not happen. As I learn to depend upon God’s strength I am learning to become hopeful. Whether my circumstances are good or bad, I am greatly loved by God, and by His grace I am slowly learning to become an obedient son.
No matter what happens to me or around me, the Holy Spirit is leading me to love God and my neighbors. That is a hopeful purpose to adopt for my life. It is one that can be practiced at work and at home, in good times and in bad, no matter what.
The Promised Future with our Heavenly Father
The hope of a good future with God is an ancient one. Hebrews 11:10 tells us that Abraham, in his journey, was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Proverbs 23:18 reads, “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” Isaiah prophecies about a time when God creates a new heavens and earth (see Isaiah 65).
The New Testament further clarifies the nature of this hope. Jesus, in his ‘farewell speech’ to the disciples before his crucifixion, promised them that:
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:2-3).
What a tremendous promise! Though Jesus left the world, he did so in order to prepare an eternal home for us with God. The book of Revelation clarifies that this is not a disembodied mansion made of clouds and harps, but a new heavens and earth (in fulfillment of Isaiah’s words). John wrote in Revelation 21:23-25:
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.
The kings of the earth bring their glory into this city! Many commentators recognize that this means human culture is represented in our heavenly home, from every domain of human creativity and work.
If this is a true hope, based on the reality of God’s existence, then this is very good news.
Nothing in my life is as good as this hope. And nothing is so bad that this vision cannot remind me that things will get better.
A Biblical Theme
Do these themes sound familiar? They should, because they are all deeply Biblical ideas. In fact, they are all connected together in the opening verses of 1 Peter. Savor these words, written by a man who knew great suffering for God, who wrote to encourage fellow believers to persevere in the midst of persecution:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The Biblical reasons to hope are about our ultimate hope. We get confused when the Biblical hope is redefined to mean that God has promised we will always prosper and never die. No: all of us, faithful Christians included, will experience good and bad times. But because of these good reasons for an ultimate hope, even when we face death, we still have reason to remain optimistic about the future.
Knowing what our ultimate hope is keeps us from thinking that a new job or a new boyfriend or a new car is what we really need. Think about it: if you were fully convinced that this hope was a true hope, that this hope was your future, would that not put all of your other hopes and dreams in perspective? Even if things are terribly difficult now, isn’t it clear that if you are trusting God for salvation, that they will get better? Even if things are wonderful, don’t you know they are not nearly as good as what God has planned for those who love Him?
I don’t know what to expect in the secondary details of life. But I do have confidence that God’s ultimate plans for me are good. In light of God’s great promises to us, may we be both hopeful and faithful to God this year.