What does hope feel like?

Ever thought about what hope feels like? When ministers and other christian leaders speak or write about hope, what do you envision? Does it include confidence? Peace? Contentment? Belief? Assurance? Or does it include pain, longing, and the like?

In reading Romans 8:18f Paul speaks of present suffering and that yet reminding himself that it is nothing in comparison to heaven and our glorification. And yet, we wait, he says. Notice some of the words used in this passage (up to v. 29):

eager expectation, frustration, groaning (like in childbirth), wait eagerly, patiently?, wordless groans.

This is all included in this passage about hope–hope in what is not seen. Hope, it appears, includes eagerness and expectation, but also groaning and waiting for something that seems to be killing us despite the good we hope will come (like childbirth). Though hope was present, the experience the Christians were facing was difficult enough that Paul in v. 31 reminds his readers that if God is for them, then nothing can conquer them in this period of waiting. They were in pain!

So while the hope of heaven sustains us, it is not something that is at all peaceful or without suffering since we long for something that we yet do not see.

How do you put longing/groaning and hope together in the same breath?


Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, suffering

5 responses to “What does hope feel like?

  1. Jess

    I don’t know that I have any profound insights about hope, but this post reminded me of Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” It seems that there may be some overlap or some parallels between “faith” and “hope.”

    On a more personal note, I started to think about what it is that I “hope” for. I yearn for heaven, of course. But, in the here and now, I long for intimate relationships with God and people. And, I deeply hope for children… even as the odds become stacked against it. At 32, I’m not over the hill quite yet, but my mind does start to do the math. “Okay, if I met someone today and we knew each other for a year before getting engaged…” You get the idea.

    So then, this line of thinking led me to consider Abraham and Sarah. They had something that I don’t have… namely a promise from God that they would have a child. A promise, in fact, that their descendants would be many. And yet, I would argue that perhaps they lost hope. They pulled that Hagar stunt. It looked like God wasn’t going to come through and they seemingly lost hope.

    But, lookie here! A gracious God decides to include them, in spite of this, in the list of men and women of faith in Hebrews 11. “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” “Because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise?” Really? I think that’s a very generous way for God to put it.

    And that generosity of God leads me to one final thought, also from Hebrews. “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

    I’m not sure how well any of that answers the questions that were raised, but it’s what comes to mind…

  2. For me, hope has to be able to handle and coexist with great pain. Hope is not something I tack on to the pain that makes everything better. Hope has to be able to handle the pain and still be hope. Though there is a sense in which it may bring relief, it can’t be a drug that I paste on top of my motions to mask them and bring me relief. If my hope is going to be real, it has to be able to handle my lamenting (meaning when I am lamenting it is not mutually exclusive to hope. When people hear me lament and assume that I do not have hope, it frustrates me. The lamenting is the expression of the realities where I sit with hope).

    For me, I suppose hope is being able to say, “What I see is not all there is.” Hope is usually, for me at least, not hanging expectations on a specific outcome. There are things I long for that I do not fix my hope on. Hope for me is the internal not giving up, even if my worst imaginings happen and even if the things I long for do not come to pass.

    I believe God can do amazing things, but I do not fix my hope on a specific expectation that God has to do or will do the amazing things I hope for, either in my time or on my terms, or even at all. When I talk like that, there are people who think I neither hope nor trust adequately.

    These are some random thoughts of mine on the topic. I blogged about it a little while ago on this post called “Hope Wears Mourning”. Thanks for bringing me back to think on this topic. I was in a heavier place than I am now when I wrote that post, but I still feel the same way about hope.

  3. Scott Knapp, MS

    Eclexia, deeply challenging words…I hung on them as I read. They strike a chord. I especially liked something you wrote on your blog: “If God is really who He says, if He is Immanuel God With Us, then the “with us” has to happen here in the realities of our “with”.” Fabulous insight! We crush desire so as to not need hope…an insidiously idolatrous act to avoid offering the worship of hope, since to hope in the face of nothing but contradiction is a pure act of worship! To worship in this fallen world assuredly brings on suffering, as this world is geared to the blaspheming of God, not offering His due worship, and the obliteration of His image wherever it might be found. Thanks for your thoughts, they stirred me.

  4. First, my thanks for all of the thoughts above on this subject. You have all made me think.

    Jess, I’m totally digging the way in which you cited Hebrews 11:1. But here’s my thought: ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ do indeed overlap, as you say, but they are not quite the same thing. I don’t mean to drag anyone into a petty semantic argument for the sake of it, but I am trying to suggest that sometimes what we call ‘faith’ we should in fact call ‘hope!’ I do understand that the words are often used interchangeably, but I have come to understand that faith is in fact a form of knowledge – an epistemic framework – and one that to my mind literally transcends cognition itself. We can either hope that God exists – which would have to account for the possibility that He might not exist – or we can KNOW that He does. We can hope that He is benign, or we can know that His love defines all that He is and all that He does.

    Romans 8 is one of my very favourite chapters. For me, when the Apostle uses the word that our translators translated as ‘hope’ (this is where a Greek scholar needs to show up and talk us through this stuff!!), I think he is referring to what I am understanding as ‘faith’ – but I’m not saying that ‘hope’ is a wrong word. I’m thinking as I write and envisaging ‘hope’ as a multi-dimensional word that functions on more than one level. Verse 24 (KJV): “For we are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” That kind of hope could be synonymous with faith, but that statement is overly simplistic and doesn’t deal with Phil’s question.

    Maybe the ‘hope’ we’re talking about here lines up with the ideas espoused by Eclexia. If I propose that faith is the undergirding framework of genuine Christian ‘cognition,’ then this kind of hope could be part of an emotive response to our earthly lives and circumstances in the light of the truth we know about God. It’s not blind hope. But it’s also not knowledge; an excellent point that Exlexia makes above is that belief that God can do amazing things is not necessarily fixed on a specific expectation that God has to do or will do what we hope for. That kind of ‘hope’ is indicative of the belief in what my father calls a ‘push-button God.’ Everyone can hope, but not everyone has faith. The kind of hope held by those who know not God is by definition very different to that held by those who know that He is. Hope is not our experience, it is what we project out of ourselves, but through ourselves – regardless of our experiences or our circumstances. Now if God is with us, then the Holy Spirit is empowering us to hope in what a ‘rational’ person is totally unequipped to be able to hope for. And at that point, ‘hope’ takes on a whole new spiritual significance. In seeing the bigger picture beyond the carnal realm, the Apostle is pointing us towards a way of existence that does not require us to know anything other than that God loves us, and if we are able to accept that, then that ‘blessed hope’ becomes ours, which enables us to rise above the very worst of circumstances (and I have just lost my sister and only sibling, so this is NOT theoretical) and hope for a better future here on earth while KNOWING – through faith – that this world really is not my home.

    Scott Knapp – I must hold my hands up and say that I too have been guilty in the past of ‘crushing desire so as not to lose hope’ – and I think your description of that action as ‘insidiously idolatrous’ is one that I’d have liked to have heard 5/6 years ago. I shall use that and quote you! Praise God, I am no longer shackled by that kind of thinking, and the freedom created has been amazing. I don’t have all the answers to all the questions, but I now know it will all work out and come together, and when I look at the way God has refused to allow me to relinquish certain dreams, I am only amazed. Bring on the rest of my life, and may we all use each day to maximum advantage in Jesus’ Name!

    Thanks for bearing with me on this – God bless all here.

  5. Ron

    Some thoughts from John Owen, the Puritan pastoral theologian.

    Faith and hope won’t last forever, but love does and will.

    Faith is properly grounded in Christ: it has Christ as its object: trusting in His word, His actions, His life and death and resurrection. It is holding on to Him, without yet seeing Him. But one day [cue the trumpet from Handel] we will see Him, and our faith in Christ becomes sight of Christ, gazing on Him whom we now trust unseen. Thus the knowledge of God of which faith and sight are two aspects changes its mode of operation in That Day, but not its object.

    Hope is properly grounded in Christ: it is not “maybe”, but “certainly”, these things will come to us, to me: one day–not now–I will be able to enjoy Christ as I only taste Him, to delight in Him and His goodness as I can only desire now, and yet even that desire is sweet and does not disappoint. Hope in Christ becomes enjoyment of Christ, fulfillment of desire. That delighting in God of which hope and enjoyment are two aspects changes its mode of operation in That Day, but not its object.

    Love is properly grounded in Christ: it is love for Christ who loved me, and gave himself up for me. Love for Christ becomes…love for Christ! Of these three things, it changes its mode of operation least, being intensified and purified, and like the others keeps as its object Christ.

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