After church one Sunday morning, one of my parishioners, who comes from my hometown of Pittsburgh, asked me whether I thought our favorite sports team would win its upcoming game. I replied, “I sure hope so.”
My answer was not a prediction of the outcome; it was simply an expression of my desire as to the outcome. It described my wish for the future, not my foreknowledge of the event. Indeed, it revealed both my lack of foreknowledge and my lack of assurance.
The combination of a wish (or desire) and the absence of assurance that it will come about is the equation for the common meaning of the word hope in our vocabulary. Because of this customary usage of the term, we often stumble when we meet the word hope in Scripture. In New Testament terms, hope transcends the flimsy element of wish projection. It is something far greater and far stronger than mere desire. In fact, the Bible elevates it to a place among the great triad of virtues that defines the Christian life—faith, hope, and love. These are the three that abide after all the clutter is cleared away.
In short, the New Testament concept of hope is bathed with assurance and cloaked with certainty. This hope is faith looking into the future.
Though hope and faith are distinguished, they are not disconnected or divorced from each other. There is a certain symbiotic relationship between them. We see this in the way the author of Hebrews defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).
Here the word faith is defined in a manner that collides with the frivolous way it is used in our day. Notice that Hebrews speaks of faith in terms of substance and evidence. Faith without substance is superstition. Faith without evidence is credulity. Scriptural faith is not some blind, irrational leap into the dark. Rather, it both has substance and gives substance. This is solid faith, faith based upon the surety of the reliability of God. In faith we trust God not only for what He already has done for us, but for what He promises to do in the future.
I frequently say that it is one thing to believe in God, but it is quite another to believe God. When our faith moves beyond a mere intellectual assent to the existence of God to actually trusting His Word, then we experience faith.
Faith in things past carries over to trust in things future. Because God has proven Himself in the past, His promise for the future gives substance to our hope. The Las Vegas oddsmakers are wrong every week in their predictions about the outcomes of sports contests. Howie, Terry, et al. never have a perfect record for the season with their “expert picks.” But God doesn’t guess about future events. Neither does He offer expert prognostications. His promises carry the substance of who He is. In this sense, we experience hope as faith looking forward.