It’s that time of the year again. American leaders square off against each other in a bid to win their party’s nomination, and then ultimately – with the approval of the majority of the nation – the job of President of the United States. It’s a time of campaigning, rallying, and slogan raising.
I remember 8 years ago watching the story of a junior senator narrowly winning victory over Senator Clinton in the Democratic Party presidential primary, and then ultimately going on to win in the November national election. Barack Obama swept to power on the tails of a campaign that caught the imagination of many.
The core of his campaign was built on a message of hope. A vote for Obama is a vote for change for the better, essentially. One of the lines from Obama’s acceptance speech to the Democratic Convention upon winning his party’s nomination stands out to me:
“When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.”
The rhetoric of his speech hinged around this statement, evoking feelings of despair that many connected with. ‘Boy, it does feel like nothing changes!’ ‘It sure does seem like it’s always going to be this way.’ Then from the pit the speech soars and captures the imaginations and intrigue. From hopeless, to hopeful. Courtesy of some very talented speechwriters.
Because even when it seems hopeless and despair is de facto, there is a very human desire to want to believe in something better. Some of the wonderful stories we see and watch – Slumdog Millionaire, The Shawshank Redemption for example – connect so meaningfully with us because they capture the essence of hope, and the ultimate objective of hope fulfilled.
Google defines hope as, “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”
Hope is a wonderful feeling. I remember, when I was younger, I fell out of a tree on my Grandfather’s farm. I say I fell out, but really I fell through. A rotten branch gave way as I pulled myself up on it and I careened back to earth before I could let out a shriek. I didn’t fall from the tree to the ground so much as falling through the tree and all its branches to the fork in the trunk about 5 feet from the ground. And there I remained wedged, head down in pain and panic. My cousin stood there looking at me with huge eyes before he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll go get dad.’ A small feeling of hope briefly overcame the more immediate feeling of pain.
When the person in a car accident is told after the bystander has called 999, ‘Hold tight, help is on their way’ they are being offered hope.
That feeling of relief can sustain a person in dire circumstances, willing them to continue on. Which is why, when hope fades, so too, so tragically and so often, life does also.
When I felt hope, stuck in the tree, it was hope that my father and my uncle were near by and they would know what to do. They’d get me out. My feeling of hope was based on experiential knowledge. It wasn’t a disconnected hope upon by hope, but a solid expectation according to an experienced reality. Dad had been there before; Dad will be there again. For hope to offer true relief it must be connected to true reality. For when hope is not anchored in what is real, then with time and trial it fades. It was interesting to watch, over the years that followed Barak Obama’s first national victory, hope fade as many in America felt things didn’t go according to their expectations.
There’s a story in the Bible where a friend of Jesus, called Lazarus, dies. Jesus went to comfort Lazarus’ friends and family and finds Martha. Martha believes Jesus, had he been there, could have saved Lazarus.
“Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”” (John 11:21–24, ESV)
The Jews had an expectation of hope that in the last day there will be a resurrection of all people. This great hope was a sustaining belief through troubling times that in one day, things will come good. The dead will rise and grief will be done away with.
To Martha’s hopeful declaration to Jesus that Lazarus “will rise again” Jesus says:
““I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”” (John 11:25–26, ESV)
The Jewish belief that one day the dead will rise is of some hope to Martha. To this belief Jesus declares himself to be that very resurrection, and furthermore life itself. Jesus takes an abstract concept of a future hope and declares himself to be that hope. History will then play out his own death and resurrection, anchoring his declarations and challenging people the world over to explore his statements, inviting everyone and anyone to trust in him.
Jesus then asks Martha if she believes him, to which in verse 27 Martha affirms she does. This same question is asked of all of us, ‘Do you believe this?’
A true hope is something evidenced, that requires trust. Jesus offers himself as grounding for hope; a future promise backed by a historical foundation.
Christians have a firm basis for hope. The foundation to their belief is rooted in actual events that happened in this world (see our series on the historical facts of the Resurrection Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4).
Hope built on certain expectations does not disappoint. It is a wonderful life-affirming, future-expecting, confident understanding that becomes a hallmark of a true believer. It is truly thrilling and greatly desirable. For the Christian, the hope of Christ is what we have come to believe in and what we proclaim to this world. We have hope because of who Jesus is, and what Jesus accomplished. Now that’s a hope worth campaigning for.