Wishful thinking?

“For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with persistence” (Romans 8:24-25 NKJV).

The apostle Paul listed as three abiding virtues, “faith, hope, love, these three” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Modern skeptics often dismiss one of these, hope, as nothing more than wishful thinking and at best a delusion. One hears the promise of eternal life derogatorily called “pie in the sky by and by.” The emphasis of the world is upon immediate gratification – obtaining what one needs or wants right now without delay.

What exactly is hope, and how is it different from faith? Both place trust in the unseen and expect future fulfillment of promises.

Faith, as used in the New Testament, refers primarily to trust in God. It is the assurance that God will provide whatever is necessary that man himself cannot do (Hebrews 11:6).

Hope is the confident anticipation of God’s future activity. Webster defines it in part as “desire accompanied by expectation.” That precisely fits Paul’s discussion in Romans 8:24-25, “Why does one hope for what he sees? … We eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”

The final words of the Bible are significant: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:20-21).

The entire Bible is the story of Jesus and the salvation which he brought to fallen humanity. First in prophecy, then in the record of his life and death, and finally in the ongoing history of his church, Jesus’ sacrificial story is proclaimed. An emphasis of that proclamation is that his story is not yet ended. He lives, he reigns, and he is coming again (Matthew 28:18-20; John 14:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26).

It is that return which empowers Christians to overcome sufferings and disappointments in this life (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Paul’s assertion that a resurrection is certain leads to the emphatic conclusion: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most miserable.”

This is not a negative assessment of the life that Christian’s live. It is rather a tribute to the power of hope and the greatness of our eventual transformation to be with God and Christ. The early Christian’s confidence that life in eternity was certain and would be spectacular beyond comprehension gave them the ability to face derision, imprisonment and even death for the sake of their faith.

But how is that reflected in today’s church, almost 2,000 years after the ascension of Jesus into heaven? Do we still possess that “desire accompanied by expectation?” How often do we hear prayers that Jesus would “come quickly?”

Fifty years or more ago sermons on Heaven, Hell, and Judgment were frequently heard from our pulpits. How often is that the case today? I am not aware of any repudiation of the Biblical truths about those subjects among us, but neither do I hear or read much on the subject. How many modern Christians can be described as “eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body?”

For many of us, life here on earth is very good. We are in no hurry to depart; in fact we dread missing something good if we should die “prematurely.” However, almost any time would seem to be too quickly for us. Whenever our lives end there will be things unfinished which we will leave reluctantly.

Yet anticipating the return of Jesus is significantly different from a “death wish.” His return will be a glorious event which those alive at the time will be blessed to experience (1 Thessalonians 4:12-16). And there will be no continuation of life on earth after he comes – nothing for us to miss out on.

Jesus’ return will be the culmination of creation. Paul said, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). All the universe was made for the ultimate return of Christ. Let us join the inspired apostle in praying, “Come quickly!”

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