Optimism Versus Hope

July 27, 2018

N.T. Wright makes an interesting observation on the differences between optimism and hope.

“Hope” and “optimism” are not the same thing. The optimist looks at the world and feels good about the way it’s going. Things are looking up! Everything is going to be all right! But hope, at least as conceived within the Jewish and then the early Christian world, was quite different. Hope could be, and often was, a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seemed dark. It depended not on a feeling about the way things were or the way they were moving, but on faith, faith in the One God.*

Optimism deals with positive circumstances despite whatever problems may exist. Hope in God takes us beyond the circumstances. The circumstances may in fact be bleak, but hope sees light in the darkness because of what God has promised.

Let me explain the differences with my own health situation. I’m optimistic about my multiple myeloma prognosis. I’m blessed to live in a moment of history where treatment options are what they are. Life expectancy is three to four times longer than what it was five years ago. I’m blessed to live in a city with cutting edge medical treatment. I have a great team of doctors dealing with my ongoing treatment and stem cell transplant. My hematologist says that with treatment I could live another 15 to 20 years. (I’m very aware there are no guarantees, and something else could kill me.) At my age, that puts me in the Psalm 90’s range of “seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty.” I also know that not all cancers are the same. Some cancers are terminal with short time left to the patient; other cancers are more like chronic conditions. In those cases, doctors talk about living with cancer. But with my physical health at the moment, I’m optimistic. Outward circumstances look good.

But my physical health will not always be optimistic. I will get older, and my disease will likely progress unless there is a cure in the offing. But there is no cure for old age and dying unless the Lord returns first. Mary Hornburger had multiple myeloma. When I found out, I had to look up what it was. My visits to her were probably always more encouraging to me than to her. She was a woman of great faith. I was seeing her near the end of her disease. She was weak, tired, and in many ways ready to die. Her physical health was no longer optimistic. The outward circumstances were not positive, but her hope saw light in the darkness because of what God had promised. She knew where she was headed.

Hope is not dependent on the outward circumstances of life. I’ve become convinced and have faith in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and that changes everything. Jesus has promised eternal life and place in his Father’s house to those who have faith in him. Paul was facing Roman execution, yet his words brim with hope (2 Timothy 4:6-8) for he knew the crown of righteousness that awaited him. Hope in Christian thinking is not wishful thinking but faithful expectation.

I like Wright’s phrase, hope is “a dogged and determined choice.” I must keep my faith strong and hold firmly to hope. Some stumble and fall on the Christian walk, but hope is worth the perseverance. Even when the circumstances are bleak, hope sees the light of what God has promised. Optimism will fail. Hope leads us home.

*N.T. Wright, Paul: A Biographyh, p. 45


Solid Foundation, Bright Future!

June 25, 2012

Paul says that as a skilled, master builder he laid a foundation. Paul is clear about that foundation. The foundation is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). He pictures others building on that foundation. “Building” must refer to Christian preaching and teaching. The building that will bring a bright future must be in keeping with the message as revealed by Paul and the apostles. It must be on the solid foundation.

In Ephesians 2, the image is similar. The temple of God, which is the people of God, is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. In the ancient world, the cornerstone was what gave the building orientation and stability. It was far more than just being decorative. The mention of the apostles and prophets provides us with another emphasis on reliance upon the inspired message about Jesus.

A solid foundation always produces a bright future. Now I realize church history (as well as the history of congregations) has times of challenge and discouragement. But those built on the solid foundation have the hope of being a part of an unshakeable kingdom. (Hebrews 12:25-29) Nothing stops those who are faithful unto death. Nothing takes away their reward. They have a bright future, because those built on the foundation are becoming a temple in which God will dwell.

Someday those on the solid foundation will hear the loud voice from the throne say, “Behold, the Tabernacle (the Dwelling Place) of God is with people. He will tabernacle (dwell) with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (see Revelation 21:3, my translation of the quote). The solid foundation leads to this bright future!


Wrapped In Hope

October 14, 2010

Peter wrote to Christians in Asia Minor who were experiencing trials. They were like “exiles” (1:1) in their own home towns. They felt the tension of being in the world but not of the world. Interestingly enough, Peter’s first discussion of trials in this letter is wrapped in a message about hope.

Hope deals with what is yet unseen. It is more than just wishful thinking as we will see, but it still deals with what has not yet arrived on the scene. (See 1 Peter 1:8) We love Jesus even though we do yet see him. We rejoice even though the salvation of our souls has not yet completely arrived. Hope aids us on our journey into the unknown. Without hope, we might be overwhelmed with discouragement and be defeated by the Evil One.

Although hope leads us into the unseen, hope is grounded in something very sure. The basis of hope is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (See 1 Peter 1:3) I trust in the historicity of that event — Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection — because of the eyewitness testimony. I am convinced by the great transformation of their lives. Even the persecutor of the church, Saul of Tarsus, was converted. Old Testament prophecies pointed to this event. Historical sources outside the New Testament confirm the basic storyline of the narrative. The message of Jesus provides the basis of my hope.

Hope also has security. What we hope for is guarded in heaven. It is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. (See 1 Peter 1:4) I have witnessed on TV the destruction of the tallest buildings in our land. Vandals have defaced important places, and I’ve seen the ravages of time bring fading glory to special places in my life. But my inheritance will experience none of those things. It is guarded by God.

But this security has a second part. Christians are also guarded by God through faith. (See 1 Peter 1:5) The fact that we are guarded through faith means that the protection continues only as long as we continue in faith. Yes, I can fall away from God, but that doesn’t minimize the protection. I know that I won’t be tempted beyond what I can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). I believe God will provide the strength for me to face all situations (Philippians 4:13). And I know that no one can take my inheritance from me (Romans 8:37-39).

Trials are real and painful (1 Peter 1:6-7). Yet they are not the last word. Peter’s message about trials is wrapped in hope.