Some words lead double lives. Their meanings change depending on where or by whom they’re uttered. Hope is one such tricky word. Like people who clean up their language on Sundays, Hope has a church-y personality and a world-y one. If you’re going to say it in a churchy way to a world-y person, it’s helpful to know the difference, and how your meaning may come across in consequence.
When I hear hope spoken of in non-Biblical contexts, it tends to involve vague optimism. Like, “I sure hope Cookie brings home some doughnuts tonight.” When I say it like this, it can mean several things. Maybe I mentioned doughnuts specifically and want him to remember. Maybe he knows I like doughnuts and brings them home often, making my hope reasonable. Or it could be a completely random thought, a craving put into words, and with next to no chance of having occurred simultaneously to Cookie.
Hope in this sense can inspire or encourage, but ultimately succumbs to circumstance. You can spur people to all kinds of heroic action with the right pep talk, but once the situation turns bleak, this hope peters out.
Biblical hope is a different animal. If world-y hope is wanting optimistically, church-y hope is waiting expectantly. Where world-y hope holds out for the possibility of something better, church-y hope looks forward with assurance of it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean knowing the specifics of every ending. Romans 8 explains, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Hope in the New Testament is tied continually to eternal life. This hope is living, because Jesus Christ lives (1 Pet 1:3). This is not a small detail. Because church-y hope awaits something better after this life, it does not succumb to despair in this life. World-y hope dies when the situation gets inescapable. Church-y hope transcends circumstance.
There are always suckers who leave a one-sided ballgame after the 7th inning stretch, you know, to beat traffic. Church-y hope sits it out. Church-y hope expects upsets.