In my household, the movie, The Princess Bride, is a favorite among many family members. Known for quotable lines and a surprising amount of action (compared to what one might expect from the title), it is a little gem from its era. Here’s one of those popular quotes:
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
There is a term used in the Bible that definitely seems to “not mean what people think it means”. That term isn’t “sanctify” or “imputed”, or “atonement” (although we may not all fully understand those terms without quite a bit if study!). Instead, it is “hope”.
If you ask anyone on the street what hope means, you’ll probably get an answer (if you’re polite, that is – if you’re obnoxious , you’ll probably get an angry stare). In modern English, it typically means something more like a wish, as in, “I hope that I get a promotion someday” (when we really haven’t done anything in our jobs to earn a step up). We hope that our team wins the game. We hope that our retirement fund will be enough. We hope that we’ll feel better by the weekend.
In the Bible, some references to “hope” are a lot more certain than that. Yes, some people within the Bible use the term in an optimistic sense, but examples like this one are more precise and certain:
For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.
Colossians 1:4-5 NLT
As our pastor mentioned in a sermon (click here for a video, or watch the whole series), and my men’s group discussed the next day, this kind of hope in the Bible tends to be more of an expectation. It is not an event where we’re not sure whether or not it will come to pass (even though we would like for it to). Instead, it is a future occurrence that we are confident will happen.
It can be difficult for us to find an analogue to this Biblical concept of hope in the world we live in, because nothing seems to be certain. Stock markets rise and fall. People let us down. Even the seasons seem to have exceptions, when summer or winter keeps going past our expectations. For those who live in cloudy regions like me, some days even the sunrise is hidden from view.
So, how can those in the Bible have a “certain hope”? This is only possible when the source of what we look forward to is completely reliable. Paul pointed out why he could have hope, in a letter to his protege, Timothy:
This letter is from Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, appointed by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus, who gives us hope.
1 Timothy 1:1 NLT
Jesus is the source of our hope. He didn’t only tell us that He was our Savior; His words were confirmed by God the Father’s work, culminating in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Before that, Jesus’ arrival had been prophesied for centuries, with God’s previous faithfulness to the Jewish people giving them hope that their Messiah would arrive at the right time (which Jesus did). His fulfillment of prophecy not only confirmed the hope of His countrymen, but gave hope to those of us who were brought into His kingdom after that.
Only through faith and trust – anchored by history, experience, and the very nature of God – can our hope be certain. Otherwise, hope becomes just wishful thinking, or an outcome that we might want, but it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen.
May your hope be more than just a personal preference for what might happen in the future. (And please, don’t put your hope in those scratch-off lottery tickets!) Instead, I pray that our hope for the most important outcome (our eternal destination) will be one of confidence – strong enough to build our lives upon. And, for all who have this certain hope, may we make that differentiation clear to those who have not yet found it.