IS CHRISTIAN HOPE THE SAME THING AS WISHFUL THINKING? #ChurchOfTheUndead
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IN THIS EPISODE: What does ‘hope’ mean? Is hope just blissful fantasy; empty positivity? Is there a difference between hope and wishful thinking?
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Darren Marlar is a licensed minister through the Universal Life Church: https://www.themonastery.org. Find his other podcast, Weird Darkness, in your favorite podcast app at https://weirddarkness.com/listen. “Church Of The Undead” theme music by Epidemic Sound.
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“Hope” is a word we use often. We say things like, “I hope it doesn’t snow” or “I hope my family arrives safely.” The use of this word is even more prominent in the Church, and during the holidays as we sing about how the “hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”. (Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem if you were wondering.) But have you ever stopped and asked yourself, “What does hope mean?” Is hope just blissful fantasy; empty positivity? Is there a difference between hope and wishful thinking?
Hello, Weirdos – I’m Pastor Darren – welcome to the Church of the Undead.
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What is it that separates hope from wishful thinking?
Well, according to Google, not much. Google defines hope as “an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes.” This sounds well enough until we notice that Google’s definition of wishful thinking is almost identical.
Google defines wishful thinking as “an attitude or belief that something you want to happen will happen.” Both definitions contain the same components of inward feelings, positivity, and future events. So, does this mean that hope is just wishful thinking? Hardly.
The difference between hope and wishful thinking is substantive. The hope of the gospel is not some pie-in-the-sky fantasy. Biblical hope is life-giving and transformative. “No one who hopes in you will be put to shame,” says Psalm 25:3.
As Christian people living out hope in the Lord, we are called to share this hope with the world. Here are three important aspects of Christian hope and why it is fundamentally different than wishful thinking.
1. Hope Is Rooted in the Life
Biblical hope can’t be defined as escapism or blissful wish. Hope is not naivete or empty positivity. Biblical hope is rooted in everyday life. This honest look at life is what separates hope from wishful thinking.
Wishful thinking is an exercise in escapism, and it attempts to evade the difficulties of life by offering trite sayings such as “every dark cloud has a silver lining.”
Such sayings may sound good and pleasing, but they are nothing more than self-delusion. Psalm 33 classifies such delusion as “vain hope.”
The psalmist writes, “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save” (33:16-17).
Biblical hope does not point away from life toward some fantastic dream. Hope is honest about the struggles we face and the difficulties that may befall us.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set upon the living God” (1 Timothy 4:10).
Biblical hope is not an escape from toil but “a sure and steadfast anchor of our soul” (Hebrews 6:19). Hope allows us to face the toils and tribulations of our lives and to do so with an eye perpetually upon the Lord. Biblical hope is rooted in our experience of God’s unfailing love (Psalm 33:18).
God’s presence is always bigger than what we perceive. Thus, embodying hope necessitates that we trust in the future of our redemption and healing.
Hope combats the discouragement of our souls by reminding us of the redemptive activity of God. In hope, we dare to believe that God is present and active in our lives.
2. Hope Points to God’s Faithfulness
Biblical hope always points to the faithfulness of God. Our hope is never rooted in ourselves or our own abilities. Hope is never a flexing of our own strength. Instead, we “hold fast to the confession of our hope, for he who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
God’s faithfulness is fundamental to God’s character. God cannot be anything but faithful, for this is how God is revealed in Scripture.
In fact, Paul writes that “everything written in the scriptures was written to teach us, so that through endurance, and the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.”
The scriptures reveal the steadfastness of God’s loving mercy towards us. God has proven faithful to all of God’s promises.
Ultimately, the full expression of God’s faithfulness is revealed in Jesus Christ. Not only does Jesus give us hope, but he is also our hope (1 Timothy 1:1).
Paul writes, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so, through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Biblical hope is an active reliance upon Jesus as we walk through the events of our lives.
Again, we see the difference between hope and wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is an act of the self, not a response to the movement of Christ. In wishful thinking, we simply decide to adopt the façade of positivity and optimism.
Biblical hope, however, is the fruit of our relationship with Jesus. We have hope, not because we decide to be hopeful, but because hope is produced in us by Christ himself.
3. Hope Leads to Endurance
Biblical hope is intimately tied to our reception of the gospel. Thus, it is deeply connected to our faith. The Book of Hebrews reminds us that “faith is the confidence in things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1).
Hope, then, is the active expression of our faith. We cannot live out our faith in a hopeless manner; hope is “held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:23).
But when, then, do we do about our times of difficulty? Do struggles and hardships discredit the hope of the gospel? No! Ultimately, hope is a participation in the endurance of Christ. Christ is not one who hides from the difficulties of life.
Jesus walked the way of the cross and invites his followers to do the same. It is because we have a Lord who “for the sake of the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2) that we can live lives of hope-filled endurance.
The endurance of Christ in the face of the cross gives us the strength to endure the difficulties of our lives. Hope calls us to step into our unknown futures, confident that our Lord steps with us.
The assurance of Christ’s presence allows us to stand amidst any of the difficulties that we face. In fact, Paul writes that we can “boast in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
Wishful thinking, or vain hope, is only sustained for as long as we can muster our strength. Biblical hope, on the other hand, endures all that we face.
As Christians, we can walk the road of suffering and tribulation, knowing that the love of Christ surrounds us. Endurance, therefore, is the prolonged manifestation of hope.
What Does This Mean?
Living a life of hope is not just adopting an “optimistic state of mind” or an “attitude of positivity.” If it were, then we could replace the word “hope” with the words “wishful thinking.” Imagine if this was the case! What might happen to the testimony of Scripture?
Paul’s grand doxology wherein he prays that “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you may overflow in hope” (Romans 15:13), for example, would read, “May the God of wishful thinking fill you so that we may overflow with wishful thinking.”
Similarly, instead of a “birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3), the resurrection of Christ would lead us merely into a state of wish-based optimism. Oh, how empty such a gospel would be!
This is not the truth of Scripture. Hope is powerful, life-giving, and transformative. Hope connects us to the Spirit of Christ, who is alive and active in this world.
The world needs the gospel of hope. The world doesn’t need wishful thinking, empty optimism, or vain positivity; the world isn’t starving for escapism or pie-in-the-sky fantasy.
Amid the turmoils of life, whether it be job loss, addiction, poverty, or violence, the world needs the message of God’s redemptive love.
As Christians, we are called to be a force of hope in this world. The “God of hope” has produced hope in us so that hope may ooze out of all we say and do (Romans 15:13). This is our mission. This is our call. I hope you understand.
If you like what you heard, share this episode with others whom you think might also like it. Maybe the person you share it with will want to join this Weirdo congregation too! To join this Weirdo family yourself, find us on Facebook, listen to previous messages, even find out how to join me in my daily bible studies, visit WeirdDarkness.com/CHURCH. That’s WeirdDarkness.com/CHURCH. You can find the sources I used for this week’s message in the show notes. I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me, Weirdos. Until next time, Jesus loves you and so do I. God bless.