Hope and Religious Faith
“Practice hope. As hopefulness becomes a habit, you can achieve a permanently happy spirit.” ~Norman Vincent Peale
Hope is a virtue recognized in all religious faiths. The very existence of a religion as a guide to right living implies the hope that by conducting ourselves as prescribed, our lives, the lives of others, and in some cases, our afterlives, will be better, happier, and more prosperous.
Let us look more closely at hope as one of the key virtues in both the Jewish and Christian faiths. The Book of Psalms, for instance, makes several references to hope, in which it seems very closely related to the idea of faith:
Psalm 25:3 “No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame.”
Psalm 25:4-5 “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
Psalm 39:7 “Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.”
Psalm 42:11 ” Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Psalm 119:49 “Remember your promise to me, for it is my only hope.”
The Book of Job presents an especially memorable lesson about both hope and faith. No matter what harm befalls him, Job still trusts in God’s ultimate goodness and love and refuses to curse Him and reject Him. Job accepts that there must be a reason for his suffering even though he doesn’t understand it or like it and he doesn’t think that he deserves it.
And despite the theologically suspect tale of God and Satan taking bets on whether Job would break, there may have been a reason for his torment: Job put more faith in his own righteousness than in God. Yet though he gets mighty angry with Him, he never turns his back on Him, and finally repents his arrogance-after which God rewards him several times over. Perhaps the primary lesson is that as long as we don’t break faith with God, then no matter how difficult things might get, we always have reason to hope things will turn out well in the end.
This is consistent with the Christian idea of always having hope so long as we place our faith in Jesus Christ. Even if we have sinned greatly and turned away from the straight and narrow path, hope always lies in the redemptive promise of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
The Apostle Paul wrote several times of hope, especially in his letter to the church at Rome. His message in that letter recalls the hope illustrated by the story of Job, then refers to the hope promised in the Scriptures, and finally describes hope as a gift of grace from God received through the Holy Spirit:
Romans 12:12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
Romans 15:4 “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
And finally, the most famous mention of hope in the New Testament is, of course, Paul’s description of it as one of the three primary Christian virtues in I Corinthians 13:13: ” Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Paul may have defined love as the greatest of the three, but that still makes hope pretty darned important!
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Psalm 130:7 “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”
Proverbs 23:18 “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Isaiah 40:31 “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
“Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.” ~ Pope John XXII
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.” ~ Anne Lamott
“The spiritual task of life is to feed hope. Hope is not something to be found outside of us. It lies in the spiritual life we cultivate within. The whole purpose of wrestling with life is to be transformed into the self we are meant to become, to step out of the confines of our false securities and allow our creating God to go on creating. In us.” ~ Sister Joan Chittister
“What gives me the most hope every day is God’s grace; knowing that his grace is going to give me the strength for whatever I face, knowing that nothing is a surprise to God.” ~ Rick Warren
Joan Chittister, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope
Sister Joan Chittister’s story of struggles with suffering and despair, and her account of the way hope grows within us.
Nancy Guthrie, The One Year Book of Hope
A collection of readings from the Bible together with daily reflections organized to help those suffering pain and loss in life to find meaning, encouragement, and hope.
Nancy Guthrie, Holding on to Hope: A Pathway through Suffering to the Heart of God
Nancy Guthrie interweaves her own story of loss and grief with the biblical story of Job, and describes the path she found from suffering, through hope, to renewed faith in God.