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The difference between biblical hope and wishful thinking

Saturday, August 24, 2019, 0:00 (IST)

I'm not sure if it's a hobby, or a habit. Maybe it's just how God regularly reminds me of his creative power and reliability. I've grown fond of taking photos of the sky, and particularly the sky over our nearby lake. My camera fits in my pocket, no fancier than a smartphone (which now that I think of it, is pretty fancy).

But before my smartphone days, I'd comment to my sons as we drove to school, "Wow, boys! Look at the sky!!" They'd stare through windshield, squinting into the sunrise, and barely nod.

"It looks the same every day," one of them growled.

They were young, tired, and headed to school, so I shouldn't blame them for their unenthusiastic response. I probably uttered the same ridiculous sentence to my mother.

I was irritated until I realized they are completely accustomed to radiant sunrises. When purple and coral come spilling over the horizon, they are not surprised. Perhaps because they've seen it so often.

A Site for Sore Eyes

A missionary from China visited our church at the height of the SARS virus outbreak. He spoke of their work and commitment to their Chinese church despite the health concerns. He talked about the dense population and the needs of the culture. They were headed back to China but glad to be near home in South Dakota. As he talked about the comforts of home, he got choked up talking about the sunrise.

The sunrise.

In China, (in the city where they worked) massive buildings and dense smog obscured the sunrise and sunset. Every day. To see it and talk about it, brought him to tears.

He did not harbor the bored over-familiarity of my tired little minivan passengers.

How can the sunrise bring tears? Why do I marvel and think it worthy of a photo and a caption, and an Instagram post? After all, "It looks the same every day."

Some would say the sunrise brings hope. Hope of a bright new day, which conjures up happy feelings that things will be better. In the musical Annie, our beloved protagonist sang, "The sun'll come up, tomorrow,... clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow."

But that's not completely true, is it?

What is Hope?

I've wrestled with the word "hope" this year.

Here is what hope does not mean: wish hard and it might come true.

We desperately need hope. We need an anchor, a steadying foundation, something we can know for certain will happen. We need something good and solid we can fix our eyes on like the steady line of the blazing horizon.

Hope, as it's used in the Bible, holds none of the uncertainty of wishes. Biblical hope is a future certainty you can expect and count on. It's not based on the strength of your wishing or outside chances. For the Believer, our hope is based on the irrevocable work and words of Jesus.

The great exchange Jesus initiated on the cross—our sin for his perfect life—is the reason we have hope and certainty. It's the guarantee of a bright new day the apostle John glimpsed when he wrote: "And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new."

There is a future certainty—a hope—a day when sadness and sorrow will be washed away. When God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All those things will be gone forever (See Revelation 21:4). The apostle Peter writes, "...set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:13, NET)

It doesn't mean the in-between time will be a cake walk. But Jesus guarantees the certainty of his presence in the pains of earth and the promise of a pain-free future. With a hope like that flaming on the horizon, "the things of earth become strangely dim."

Alexander MacLaren writes: "Just as when a man's eye is fixed upon the reddening dawn of the morning sky, all the trees and objects between him and it are toned down into one uniform blackness, so when we have that great light shining beyond the earthly horizon all the colours of the objects between us and it will be less garish, and they will dwindle into comparative insignificance. It is not so hard to bear sorrow when the light of a great hope makes the endurance but for a little moment, and the exceeding and eternal weight of glory more conspicuous than it."

Annie was partly right, we have this hope, this certainty: the sun will come up tomorrow. The bright new day is most certainly up ahead, even if it's obscured by buildings and smog or thunderheads and fog. God is presently painting the sky, turning the Earth, and preparing a pain-free, glory-filled future.

May it colour every circumstance with the brilliant hues of eternity and obscure every temporal trial in between.

Shauna Letellier is the author of Remarkable Hope: When Jesus Revived Hope in Disappointed People. Drawing upon her degree in Biblical Studies, she weaves strands of history, theology, and fictional detail into a fresh retelling of familiar Bible stories on her blog and in her books. With her husband Kurt, she has the wild and hilarious privilege of raising three boys along the banks of a river where they fish, swim, and rush off to ball games. Connect with her at