I’ve often been puzzled by the nature of hope. Many think that hope is one of the central Christian virtues, so my lack of clarity on what hope is has bothered me off and on over the years. Recently, however, I think I’ve started to get a better picture.
When we hope for something, in Christian terms at least, we are not merely wishing for something good, or for better things yet to come. If hope was merely this, it would not count as a virtue. However, hope is a central Christian virtue. So what is it?
Robert C. Roberts describes hope as “a construal of one’s future as holding good prospects.” We can hope for good weather for a baseball game, for a loved one to recover from an illness, and for a deep sharing in the glory of God.
So, some hopes are trivial. Others are significant. For the Christian our ultimate hope should be in God and his kingdom. In that kingdom, we will share in God’s glory and experience a perfect relationship with God as well as other members of the kingdom. Hope for the follower of Christ focuses on a future that holds good prospects here because God is present no matter what. Our hope in this life is not for freedom from suffering, trials, and troubles. Rather, it is the hope that God is present and will work in and through these difficulties to accomplish his aims. Our hope for good prospects in the hereafter centers on a reality in which we are united with God and others who love him.
Christian hope does not ultimately devalue other goods, but rather it helps to put them in their proper place. As long as we put things in their proper place, the individual believer can place some hope in life’s lesser goods. But her ultimate hope will be set on a communal sharing in the glory of God. It is this hope that will be an anchor for her soul (Hebrews 6:18-20).