I have been reflecting a great deal upon hope in this Lenten season. This started when I preached on the second Sunday of Lent about the phrase “hoping against hope” (Romans 4:18), an expression Paul uses to describe Abraham’s and Sarah’s radical faith in God. They left their homeland and trusted when God said they would bear children in old age.
The Greek phrase that has been translated “hoping against hope” is really “beyond hope in hope,” and I find that very attractive. It means that there is a normal line in the sand of what is considered prudent or possible or likely hope, and then there is the hope beyond that: the hope that something ridiculously impossible will happen.
Relationships that look irrevocably broken will be restored.
People on death row will be set free.
A very aggressive cancer will be cured.
Peace will come to the Middle East.
“Prudent” hope is no hope at all. If we only hope for things that we are pretty sure will happen, we are not exercising faith, but rather assuming a suitable risk of our emotional currency. We are actuaries of our faith. We fear that hoping for something that is unlikely is unwise, unsophisticated.
The hope of which Paul speaks is the radical, mystical hope of Christianity: a hope that abandons the world’s wisdom about what is likely and thus worthy of our meager human expectations. Radical Christian hope believes that no matter how bad things can get, there is resurrection in the end. God is capable of turning around the worst of situations, beyond any good outcome we could imagine.
This is the message of the cross and the resurrection for me, in both trivial and truly dire circumstances. No matter what, God saves.