Of course, faith and love are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian—but hope? Does life in Christ mean having a perpetually optimistic, temperamentally upbeat take on life? Does it mean remembering that “every cloud has a silver lining”? Always “making the best of a bad situation”? Making lemonade “when life gives you lemons”?
Now, these very American sayings aren’t all bad. They can be helpful when we lose perspective amidst the minor setbacks and frustrations of everyday life. In those cases, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “It isn’t as bad as all that, is it?” But these little pieces of sound but limited advice have essentially nothing to do with the theological virtue of hope.
When, in fact, it is that bad—when real tragedy strikes—(saying,) “look on the bright side” amounts to a denial of reality. And denying reality is not a theological virtue. To the contrary, denial is one short step from despair, hope’s opposite.
This hope in no way denies or reduces the reality of suffering. It does not seek to “balance out,” much less eliminate, suffering. Rather, through hope our suffering is incorporated into the life story of Jesus. Just as the scars of Jesus were not erased in the resurrection, this incorporation does not wipe away the tragedies in our lives. Yet we will find them somehow transformed, healed, and redeemed in Jesus. And just as Jesus wept over the death of his friend Lazarus moments before raising him from the dead, our right understanding of reality and our full anticipation of the triumph of life over death does not eliminate mourning. The promise that Jesus will wipe away every tear is eschatological—it is a distinctly future event. That future is sure. Our task, then, is to live with a right understanding of present reality in anticipation of future triumph. To live hopefully means knowing that death is not the end, that the apparent power of the forces of darkness is an illusion, that our victory is sure.
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