A Certain Hope
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
19th September 2014
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Life without hope is unbearable. To function in life we have to be able to look forward to something pleasant that has a reasonable probability of happening. We need hope to deal with the unpleasant things of life.
If there is nothing pleasant ahead of us, life is bleak. If there is nothing reasonably predictable before us, life is too uncertain and insecure to endure.
That is why extended suffering in sickness can be so depressing. We do not know how bad it is going to get. We do not know how long it will last. We do not see great good or pleasure coming out of it. What we have in front of us lies between uncertainty and worse. And life without hope is unbearable.
However some people live on false hope. Many hoped that the last decade's prosperity would continue unabated into the future. That is proving to be a very false hope.
Yet many in our society are not worried. "She'll be apples" is the old fashioned Aussie way of saying it. They have not seen unemployment before and they are not personally experiencing it now. It is still too remote from them to worry them or still too far in the future to think about.
Hope has to be more than optimism. For optimists are notoriously irrational. Optimism can keep us going in the face of overwhelming odds. But eventually it will disappoint us.
Christians live in hope. But ours' is not a false hope that will disappoint us. Ours' is not the irrationality of optimism. Our hope is based in understanding of God's plans revealed to us in history. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep (i.e. dead), that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
Nothing appears more hopeless than a coffin lowered into a grave. All is lost. The only certain future is the return to the dust.
It is not surprising that people clutch at false hope. "He has gone to a better place". Or they anaesthetise themselves from the pain with silly symbols - releasing doves or balloons or holding funerals without the casket.
But Christians do not grieve as those "who have no hope". For we know of our Lord's death for us. We know that we are forgiven by what he has done. And we know of the Lord's resurrection. We know of life beyond the grave. We know of our future in the judgement of the world - and we know it with the rational certainty of the gospel message.
So we live, especially through bad times of suffering, pain and injustice - knowing that Jesus is king and will one day return to fix all things. And we face death, not masochistically rejoicing in it, nor liking the often-painful process, but with a confident certainty of what it holds for us. For as the Apostle wrote when he was facing the likelihood of his own death: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)
The birth of a child is always a time of great hope. That is why we love Christmas so much, it is all positive about the future. However Christians know that Easter is more important, for in Easter we have a greater hope. Easter is more than a holiday. It is the time each year when Christians remember again the basis of our hope. It is in the death of Jesus that our past sins are forgiven and our future righteousness is assured. It is in the resurrection of Jesus that our eternal life has been won and declared to us. Life without hope is unbearable but life with Christ Jesus is full of sure, reasonable and certain hope.