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“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” -Tom Bodett

A few years ago, I read an account of a Lithuanian family who was arrested and placed in Siberian Work Camps under the Joseph Stalin regime. 

I have read and studied the horrors millions suffered under Hitler but, I’m embarrassed to admit, I was not aware of the horrific atrocities many bore under Stalin’s thumb.

Brutal soldiers forced prisoners to live and work in subzero temperatures without proper shelter and clothing. The commanders only gave them tiny portions of food on which to survive each day. 

They endured physical, emotional and mental abuse at the hands of their captors and the prisoners themselves built the only shelters many had if they found driftwood with which to build. 

It was a desperate existence and most did not survive. It is of interest, however, to note as was also the case with Hitler’s barbarity many in Stalin’s camps survived because they held onto a spark called hope.

The Retrogression of Hope

As with many words, time has a way of redefining them. Words take on new meanings or place different emphases on standard ones. 

For example, the word awesome once communicated an overwhelming reverence or admiration for something. Now, many use the word to express casual feelings. “We’re having pizza tonight. Awesome!” 

Many have redefined hope and I consider several of these definitions retrogressive; taking a step backward from what hope originally meant.

If you ask people today what the word “hope” means, I believe you would receive some thoughtful answers. This is encouraging and yet, the words and actions of many, amid turmoil, reflect a retrogression of hope’s meaning.

Many people equate hope with good luck

Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash

It is not unusual to think or hear someone say something like, “I hope I can get out to my car before the rain starts.” At other times, one may enter a contest and “hope” to win a prize. 

Both examples place an element of good luck within the definition. Hope exists for some lucky or fortunate people and in time, my turn will come.

Many people think hope is a magic amulet or silver bullet

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Because we live in a world that is broken, scarred and unpredictable, hope has sometimes taken on the job of what some attribute to a magic amulet or silver bullet. 

When a loved one has had a biopsy taken from a suspicious lump, some empower hope to take over and turn the tide of a bad situation. 

It seems as if some people have carried with them the childhood notion that if we say within ourselves, “I hope this goes away. I hope this goes away, I hope this goes away,” it will. 

Some, perhaps unknowingly, give hope omnipotent power but only if they summon it.

Some define hope as solely an emotion

Photo by Adi Yusuf on Unsplash

After a successful job interview, I feel hopeful I will get it. I have hope because I feel it within. 

Someone else auditions for a part in a community play but doesn’t feel like it went well, so he or she has no hope. 

In situations like these, hope exists only because he or she feels it within; when someone does not feel the emotion, hope does not exist.

In all three examples, the definition of hope has retrogressed and falls short of how the word was defined in New Testament times.

The New Testament’s Definition of Hope

The New Testament uses the word, hope, 54 times. Hope is translated from the Greek word, ἐλπίς or elpis meaning, an expectation of what is sure or certain

There are three things in this definition I’d like to focus on and all are necessary components of what hope meant in Jesus’ day.

Expectation

The first word I wish to examine is expectation. This word is a verb and means to “look forward”. 

Without the second and third components of the word, hope, a vehicle that holds most people’s understanding of expectations can be sideswiped. 

Without “surety” or “certainty,” expectations can resemble fog that ebbs and tides in our emotional makeup, based solely on circumstances.

For example, I expected Outcome A to happen but Outcome B did instead, so my expectations were thwarted. 

The true meaning of New Testament hope only exists with the addition of the second two components, “sure” and “certain.”

Sure

To be sure of something means you are certain and persuaded. You are not sure based on circumstances nor emotions. 

It is a conclusion a person makes based on facts and, therefore, this surety is stable and solid.

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The Bible encourages us to “dig” for surety about the things of God. I Peter 3:15 (NIV) tells us this research is vital. “But in your hearts revere Christ the Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 

Within this verse itself, we are responsible to be prepared and dig for answers so when anyone asks why we have hope, we can tell them. 

The verse also implies this hope is such that will catch others’ attention, so therefore, we should be prepared.

Jeremiah 29:11(NIV) uses the Hebrew word for hope: וְתִקְוָֽה׃ (tiqvah) in a similar way. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

We expect hope because we are sure, having a reliance on the facts of God’s promises in his word.

Certainty

The word, certainty, is like the word, sure, but it has a subtle difference. The word, certain, means we have confidence in the information we have gleaned from our digging discussed in I Peter 3:15. We’ve looked and are sure of the facts and now we stand with certainty.

Biblical Hope

Biblical hope means, through the study of Scripture, we conclude and stand with certainty that we can take God at his word. 

This is not feeling dependent, it is a matter of choice on our part. We make this choice based in faith.

Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

God knew this hope and faith were difficult and I’m glad he saw fit to include Mark 9:24 (NIV), “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

This is my prayer of hope and faith.

Related.

Susan Grant has taught middle and high school students for more than 30 years. She is a member of the National Writing Project and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She has won writing competitions and published pieces of non-fiction, fiction and essays in publications including, Longridge Review, Chattanooga Writers’ Guild and the Bangor Daily News. Susan’s writing can be found at soulfitness101.com
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Susan Grant has taught middle and high school students for more than 30 years. She is a member of the National Writing Project and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She has won writing competitions and published pieces of non-fiction, fiction and essays in publications including, Longridge Review, Chattanooga Writers’ Guild and the Bangor Daily News. Susan’s writing can be found at soulfitness101.com

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