Notes on The Meaning of Hope (4)
Previous Posts in this Series: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.
Chapter 4 of The Meaning of Hope is called "Hope within the Christian Fellowship: The Present Tense." When I first picked up this book, this was the chapter I couldn't wait to read. The reason is, the present is really where the rubber meets the road when it comes to encouragement. When I talk to someone who is going through a hard time, I can talk about what has been accomplished for that person in the past, and I can talk about what is awaiting him or her in the future, but what the hurting one really wants to know is, What about now? What about this moment? Because, truth to tell, they need some of that future bliss right here and now.
Somehow I know that most of the comfort we can possibly give is wrapped up in the words, "Trust the Lord," and yet these very words, when spoken to a truly hurting soul, often simply fall to the ground like pebbles tossed against a mighty wall. So my question from the start of this investigation has been, what is the meaning of hope for a man or a woman's present distress?
And so, with that introduction, let's have a look at what Mr. Moule has to say about these matters.
You'll remember, if you've been tracking with me on this, that in the last chapter Moule unpackaged the idea that our hope is firmly anchored in the mighty works of Jesus Christ at the Cross. This is the "past tense" aspect of our hope in Him.
Now for the present tense. Simply stated, the present tense of our hope is the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, there is no distinctively Christian understanding of the word hope. Moule says, "The presence of the Holy Spirit is the link between the mighty work of God in the past, in which our hope finds its anchorage, and the future realization of it: it is the present guarantee of a great destiny yet to be entered into."
Take a look at Romans 8, especially verses 26 and 27. This is a passage for people in trouble. This is a passage with the wisdom to know that we seldom really understand the kind of trouble we're in, or what we should ask for relief. We have an enemy, and he is cleverer by far than us. But there is one in us that cries out to God on our behalf: the Spirit.
Do you see what a mighty hope this is? Hope is, after all, for the troubled and hurting, the heavy-burdened. But through it all we know "there is a future." Moule writes, "There is plenty of distress, plenty of agonizing, a keen realization of how groping and feeble the Christian life is . . . but with it all there is the vivid conviction of a divine power already at work in such a way that Christians cannot but be confidant that the Gospel of the past is a present reality, so that the issue for the future also lies in the strong hands of God."
Here's what Paul says at Romans 15:4-- "May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may continually grow in your hope by the power of the Spirit."
Do you see? God wants us to have hope. And not just any fond wish, but the hope that does not disappoint, that is firmly anchored in the past, and certain to be fulfilled in a glorious future, but poured out now in our hearts as a foretaste and guarantee.
I used to think that everything runs down, dwindles, diminishes. Experience had taught me this, and all of nature seemed to confirm it. If you were hopeful today, tomorrow you would only discover how truly fleeting hope is. With Frost I believed that the only real question for life was "what to make of a diminished thing."
But the life in Christ is not at all like that. That life is about growth. Every day brings us a step closer to a wonderful destination, and so hope grows in us, spreading its light like the dawn. Moule: "God is the source of hope; the Spirit is its sustaining power; and hence it is the kind of hope that does not dwindle but gather force."
Is this mere escapism? I don't think so. This story, for instance, about Brother Yun, a Chinese Christian, is really a confirmation of the miraculous sustaining power of God-derived hope.
Moule has much more to say on the subject of hope in the present, but I want to leave you with two final quotation from chapter 4. These are just too good to merely summarize.
The first speaks of Holy Communion as an action that really represents the very focus of hope in the body of Christ.
"For there, taking the common, material things of daily life--food and drink--and dedicating with them our entire life and circumstances to God, we receive back from Him both the power and the commission, not to stand apart luxuriating in the joys of being safe together within the charmed circle of conventionally 'religious' experience, but to go out and get hurt and weary and frayed and rubbed by the surge and tumble of daily life, in the sure hope that through us Christ's healing, transforming power is being brought to bear upon the world He loves. 'The hope of our calling' is the confidence that in being summoned to costly and exacting service we are to find Christ with us in it."
And the second quotation is about the uses of hope:
Our faith "is not a faint religion of 'if only this and if only that'; not merely of aspiration for the future; not even only of exhortation; it is absolute declaration and statement: 'this and this has God done; this and this, by the grace of God, are we.' But the very certainty and security of these great indicative statements . . . are such as to drive us out with an imperative: 'this is what, in Christ, you have been made: now therefore become what you are.' "
And that "becoming" is the life in Christ.