BCC Staff: The next two posts will highlight the important hope as a basic characteristic of the Christian life. Dr. Baker also alerts us to the problem of false hopes that actually distract us from a life energized by expectant worship. Today, he focuses on the basic question: What is “hope” in the Bible?
As a pastoral counselor I talk regularly with the hopeless and despairing. Whether it be a financial situation, a marriage that causes despair, a health problem that will not end, the world political scene or church problems that are a burden, there are many reasons for despair to become a problem.
Scripture speaks to these burdens with insight like no other book on human nature by regularly talking about hope. It addresses this theme in at least three ways:
- It describes hope is a characteristic of a life of worship.
- It describes where our hope should be.
- It warns us of false hopes.
My goal in this post is to briefly introduce this theme and give diagnostic questions to help know where hopes are being placed.
Hope as a Worship Word
To say that humans could live without putting hope in something would be like saying a human could exist without breathing. It is one of the indicators that all humans are worshipers even if they claim to be atheists. It makes sense then that hope is a key theme in the Scriptures. The Scriptures teach us that there are proper hopes that lead to blessings and improper hopes that lead to harm. The Scriptures encourage the former while warning about the later. I must encourage those I’m discipling to put their hopes in the proper place and the proper things. Not doing so leads to drastic disappointment, depression, and despair.
Biblical Hope: An Emphasis on Proper Expectations
This theme is so important in Scripture that there are multiple words in the biblical languages to describe hope. One of my favorites is qawa, to wait for or look for; it has to do with eager expectations.[i] Think of buying something on-line and expectantly waiting for it to arrive. You can hardly wait for it to be in your mailbox. I had this experience recently, and I remember the disappointment when it didn’t come day after day. If this insight into human nature is true, it means that at least one cause of hopelessness and despair can be that I am not seeing what I was waiting to see or expecting to see. Or, saying it the opposite way, I am seeing what I didn’t want to see.
Biblical Hope: An Emphasis on the Proper Object
“For You are my hope; O LORD God, You are my confidence from my youth.” (Psalm 71:5, NASB)
One of the things that becomes clear when studying this subject is that proper hopes reap bountiful benefits (like rest for the soul, confidence because the object of hope is secure, peace because the focus of my attention is One who is trustworthy).
But Scripture also warns that the wrong hopes lead to instability, lack of peace, disappointment, and heart wrenching despair. Psalm 52:7 is a good example: “Behold the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted [i.e. hoped] in the abundance of his riches, and was strong in his evil desire.” In the previous verses this person is told he will be uprooted and torn down by the true and living God. Truly, hope is no more secure than its object!
Making money or other earthly objects the chief object of hope and confidence is not wise. To do this means that you are forgetting the frailty of the thing. Isn’t it a sign of Christian maturity to hope in the things that are truly substantial in the midst of the ebb and flow of human existence?
Biblical Hope: A Key Ingredient for any Marriage
Note that the Hebrew word, qawa, presupposes that humans expect things. You should see the obvious implication for marriage counseling at this point! Expectations are a regular theme in marital counseling, and this goes hand in hand with despair when those hopes are not met. It is easy to forget a spouse’s humanness. With this in mind, recommend to counselees that they allow their spouses to be another frail human being instead of being someone on a pedestal as the object of one’s hope? If you desire to grow in wisdom as a counselor (or grow in wisdom in your own marriage), you need to realize that when hearing a counselee talk about unmet expectations you just entered the realm of hopes.
Join the Conversation
How have the couples you’ve counseled placed their hopes in the wrong places? How have you helped them?
[i] R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, Jr., Bruce Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Qawa, (Moody Publishers, 1980), 791.