Last Sunday evening, the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI, 23-20. That’s not a matchup that most people would have projected at the beginning of the season; it’s not even one that was likely at the outset of the playoffs. That unpredictability is part of what makes a football season so exciting. The Super Bowl was the long-awaited culmination of a journey that began, by one way of looking at it, some 5 months ago, with the kickoff of the first week of the 2021 season. On another level, it commenced as soon as the last Super Bowl ended: starting with roster changes that occur in free agency and the draft, building through organized team activities and training camps, dragging through the seemingly interminable preseason games as teams prepared. From a player’s perspective, it is multiple years in the making, back perhaps a decade to their days playing high school football, or even another decade to some sort of peewee league.
However you define the parameters, there is a tremendous amount of anticipation leading up to the game that will finally be resolved. At the outset of each season, every fanbase clings to hope for their team in the ensuing year. Some of those hopes are little more than wishful thinking; others are more grounded in reality. But, steadily, those hopes are dashed for every team but one.
We often build up hopes like that in our everyday lives. They might be mundane or they might be far-fetched dreams, but the key is that they are not rooted in any sort of expectation that a thing WILL happen; rather, they are simply what we WISH would happen.
Hope is a vital concept in Scripture, too. But its usage there is very different from ours. In Hebrew, the two most common terms translated as “hope” come from roots that can also be rendered as “to wait.” The meaning is entirely context dependent, based on the expectation of the subject: if there is confidence in your waiting, that is hope. The Greek term used in the NT builds on that, conveying not merely a desire, but an anticipation of a good outcome. In particular, the object of hope in the NT is often the promises of God, which are clearly associated with joy and confidence.
There are a couple of things worth noting about our hope, then. For one, hope always entails waiting. Now, you can wait without hope (as fans of the Detroit Lions can likely attest). But if you are hoping, you are waiting. This helps clarify how faith and hope are related, yet different: now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is fundamentally our trust in God. That trust is grounded in hope, the confident expectation we have in him. Faith takes God at his word, accepting the gifts of his promise today; hope confidently expects the fulfillment of that promise tomorrow. The key is that there is always a future dimension to hope.
That means, secondly, that the object of our hope will determine its quality. You might hope that the Texans win the Super Bowl next season. Just a few years ago, that would have been a strong hope; next year, any objective observer would declare that to be pretty foolish. There are some in this world who live without hope, as Paul notes in Ephesians 2:11-12. I am convinced that most people cannot live like that; some degree of hope is essential. The question is where those hopes are placed.
Those who live in this world with false hope are far more numerous than those with no hope at all; they are all around us. And this is far more insidious than having no hope. Someone with no hope might accept the Christian hope. But someone with a false hope must first admit that they were wrong, that their hopes were misplaced, and alter their worldview—that’s hard.
But that points out, finally, the quality of Christian hope in comparison to false ones. It is not a pie-in-the-sky wish. It is assurance. An old hymn we sing points this out:
My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.
After the crucifixion, the hopes of the disciples were shattered. As those on the road to Emmaus expressed about Jesus, we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (Lk 24:21). They misunderstood what God’s plan was, so when their expectations were dashed, their hope was lost. It was a false hope.
But the resurrection restored their hope, with new joy and power. And that is precisely where our hope lies: I wholly lean on Jesus’ name—there is no stronger basis for hope than that. God has already won the victory! Our hope is based on the certainty that Jesus is risen from the dead, and that one day, he is coming back. Let us, then, wait in hope—not in ourselves, but in him.