IntroductionI have recently been thinking about the topic of "hope".
Hope essentially has two aspects:
- What do I hope for?
- What is my hope based on?
In short, goal and reason.
A few days ago, when I was cleaning out my garage, I think for the first time in 20 years, I became aware of this. I found three bicycle locks in the depths of a shelf.
I hope to be able to lock a bicycle with all three at some point in the future, but my hopes are only well-founded with one lock, because only one still has the keys. I still have a box of keys in the cellar, but the chances are not good that there are any that fit.
The theme of "hope" also surfaced increasingly during the Corona period as an accusation against the churches for not being able to offer hope during that time.
On the other hand, I have heard voices from the big churches, in various sermons and articles on the internet, that the spreading of hope is one of the most important tasks of the churches.
Very often, such statements do not specify what the hope is, the goal and reason remain vague. I don't know how you feel about this, but it bothers me a little.
In his book "Menschliches, Allzumenschliches", the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said something very nasty about hope in reference to Pandora's box:
Zeus wanted man, however tormented by other evils, not to throw away life, but to continue to be tormented anew. To this end, he gives man hope: in truth, it is the most evil of evils, because it prolongs man's torment.
Hope as a fallacy, as a tormenting prolongation of that which does not become better?
I don't see it that way, but I would like to reflect on it with you today and begin with a very banal Bible verse on the subject of "hope" (Ecclesiastes 9:4, NL):
As long as one is alive, there is hope; when one is dead, there is no more. That seems banal, but it is somehow also a basic law: as long as there is life, there is hope.
I became aware of this when our pear tree in the garden, which felt a hundred years old, withered away three years ago, just like that, overnight, it seemed. Maybe its time was up, maybe we should have watered it that dry summer, but we never needed to before.
When the tree was dead, there was definitely no hope.
This principle, I think, is quite well understood. But the questions remain in life, what is hope for and what is it based on?
Hope in the Old Testament
In the Bible in the Old Testament there are different perspectives that lead to different views of hope.
The verse before was from the book "Ecclesiastes" and this book largely takes the perspective "under the sun", that is, the author only looks at what exists here on earth.
This then leads to the following perspective (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10; NL):
The preacher sees hope here only in earthly pleasures, which can be not only material but also, for example, intellectual.
Actually, this is a very modern text, as the sweeping statement "For God has long been pleased with your doings" also shows. As long as I live here on earth the way I want to, then God can't have given anything in return, can he? Modern man has long since ceased to accept a questioning of his own thoughts and actions by God.
That's why "I did it my way" is still a very popular song.
But somehow this earthly view is not enough.
King David was a person from the Old Testament who had experienced a lot with God. His prayers were often answered, although he also made many mistakes in his life, which are also described quite openly in the Bible.
This David says at the end of his life (1 Chronicles 29:14,15; NL):
The days on earth have nothing lasting, they are like a shadow that can disappear from one moment to the next.
So hope only for earthly happiness because there seems to be no more?
This thought also runs through the Book of Job, the one with the bad news. I act right, do good, and that gives me hope that it will go well with me on earth. Job thought that at the beginning and three of his friends thought that to the end. But Job realised at the end that it is actually about recognising God.
Towards the end he talks to God and has the following remarkable realisation (Job 42:5; NL)
Although most of the characters in the Old Testament had their eyes mainly on the earthly, the heavenly shines through again and again.
In the Psalms, for example, there are many verses that express hope in God:
Psalm 25:21; NL
This is about hoping for help to live a good, righteous life. I think that is good.
God, help me, for example, to be kind and friendly to my neighbour. This is a very meaningful prayer.
Psalm 31:25; NL
This is the hope of God's help in a battle. In those days it was often a war, but nowadays it can also be a fight against the inner bastard, e.g. against excessive comfort.
Two more verses:
Psalm 33:22; NL
Psalm 39:8; NL
God as your only hope? Here, many will surely hesitate or contradict.
Many people have nothing to do with God. Some people who believe that God is at least somehow true, live their lives and perhaps light a candle in a Catholic church once in order to perhaps get a little extra impetus from God.
That would be Christianity as folklore, which perhaps works a little here and there, but it also works without.
God as the only hope?
In Proverbs 11:7, NL, there is another banal statement about hope:
I would not see godless in an ethical sense, but as a person who is without God and who does not want to know anything about God. If hope only refers to the earthly, then hope is over when one dies.
Most of the hopes that occupy us personally today are probably also of a more earthly nature. We hope to stay healthy, to find and keep a job, we hope that our children will turn out to be something, we hope not to become difficult in old age, and so on.
I think the more difficult the situation we find ourselves in, the shorter the perspective of hope.
If we are in need, we hope for a way out; if I am ill, I hope to get well again; if we live in a war zone, we hope that nothing will happen to us and our loved ones and that we will not have to flee.
Often, hope comes from the fact that we have no other choice. This is called optimism of purpose, but it is not so wrong. As long as one is alive, there is hope, as we have already seen in the Bible verse at the beginning. And optimists often manage better than pessimists, because although they may have a too positive view of the situation, they are more likely to see opportunities than pessimists, for whom everything no longer makes sense.
But even if the crisis continues, one still has to look beyond the crisis mode at some point.
We have just heard statements where God was described as the only hope.
More than twenty years ago, I was part of aid transports to the former Yugoslavia and once attended a Croatian church service in Osijeck. The town was surrounded by Serbian Chetniks at that time and there was only one road to get into the town safely. There were many refugees in the congregation who had fled their homes. And the pastor preached about Martha and Mary (Luke 10:39-41). Martha did a lot of work and looked after the guests and her sister Mary sat at Jesus' feet and just listened to him. Martha complained to Jesus that Mary would not do anything, but Jesus said that Mary realised what was important and would not lose what she had heard.
Against the background that many people present at that time had lost a lot, I found this sermon very impressive and have therefore not forgotten it.
Everything can be lost, but not God.
God as the only hope? Just the awareness that there is a God may help some people to a certain humility, but if we look at the two questions, what do we hope for and what is the hope based on, it has to become a bit more concrete.
The Bible says that God sent Jesus Christ to earth and about this Jesus it says in Matthew 12:18-21; NL:
In Jesus, it all becomes a little more concrete. We find examples of right action, for example in the Sermon on the Mount.
We find examples of how to talk to God more concretely, to pray, to put one's hope in him, to get help. The Lord's Prayer is a blueprint for such a prayer.
We find promises that God hears prayers and that he helps. This is the basis for this hope. And God's help goes beyond our imagination. A beautiful image of this is from Ezekiel 37 where the prophet sees in a vision a picture of skeletons and in this vision the skeletons become living people again. God can do impossible things like make people new and revive churches.
We also find the promise that God, through Jesus, will also forgive our guilt before God if we accept it. And we also find help to change ourselves so that "I did it my way" does not necessarily have to be at the expense of others.
That is something we can hope for.
But that is not all. The points made so far still refer primarily to the earthly.
It is also important not only to regard being a Christian here on earth as folklore, but to live together with Jesus Christ and to be changed, as we heard earlier. The Bible often refers to the starting point of this process of change as the new birth (1 Peter 1:3, NL):
And it goes on, there is a hope for tomorrow is and I would like to name that specifically. That is the resurrection. After our death we will be with Jesus Christ.
This fact of resurrection is very important for that (1 Corinthians 15:3b-7; NL):
Our hope does not have to die with our death. Jesus Christ, has more ready for those who will.
A few verses further on it is formulated even more pointedly (1 Corinthians 15:16-19; NL):
With all the crises that every person experiences here and there, it is already really great to live with Jesus Christ on earth, but this earthly view alone is far too little. He has so much more in store for us.
As a final sentence on the subject of "hope", I would like to quote a Bible verse, Hebrews 11:1; NEÜ:
- We have been thinking about hope:
- What do I hope for?
- What is my hope based on?
- Basically, as long as one is alive, there is hope. But all earthly hopes end with death.
- In the Old Testament, there was primarily only hope in and for the earthly, but God as hope was already being sought and the eternal already shone through in some places.
- Today, the goal of our hope is often dependent on the crisis we are in, but God sent Jesus Christ as hope for looking beyond: As a model for action, for prayer, for promises God makes in the Bible and as a way of forgiveness and change.
- Then there is the eternal hope of the resurrection, to be with God.