Hope is a peculiar thing.
The Christian life, I’m told, ought to be characterized and defined by hope. In many biblical passages, hope is given an exemplary status, described as something we retain. Christ’s work on the cross and the resurrection we are now celebrating means that we have hope in the authentic reality that God is “for us.” While this resurrection reality goes beyond strictly ourselves, we are privileged to participate in it. The Christian does not sit around wishing for something, but instead actively lives into hope, allowing it to transform his or her life. Hope must be a possession—something we hold onto, indeed cling to, and wield against life’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. As a possession, hope is not abstract and vague, but palpable and practical. It is something not to be studied or contemplated but embodied.
What, then, can be said of hope in the midst of sorrow?
If hope is a possession, why does it sometimes seem to abandon us when we most need it? When we experience suffering and grieving, hope can seem more absent than present. People who are generally hopeful may be surprised to find that in times of grief and despair, hope is nowhere to be found, like a warrior who has carried her sword in her belt all her life, yet is shocked to find her belt vacant suddenly as her enemies approach. When hope seems insipid, it begs the question: Does real hope never waiver? Is fair-weather hope a sign of a lack of faith? And when hope does flicker in the surrounding darkness of my soul, where does it come from? Is it real? And will it ever be here to stay?
I want to contend that hope is something that we can possess constantly, though the warm, fuzzy feeling it exudes is not constant. Life is finite, fragile, and, sometimes, quite difficult. There is far more to hope than feeling positive and happy. It is easy to depend too much on the extent to which we feel hope when we consider whether or not we possess hope. Sometimes, when darkness surrounds us, we realize how deep-seated the hope within us really is, a rooted assurance at work in our lives even when we do not feel elation. The temporary disappearance of positive feelings does not necessarily imply that we have no longer have hope. Over time, joy will return, and our hope will be easily recognizable again.
Yet in the meantime, we can still possess hope when it is beyond our conscious recognition. Hope keeps pushing us, often kicking and screaming, back to God. And once in a while, its light flickers in our souls, offering us a reminder that deep inside of us, beyond our present experience, hope is still at work deep within by the power of the Holy Spirit, making us whole and leading us onward toward the goal of life in Christ, which we celebrate in the light of the empty tomb.
Written by Brian Lays, middler MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.