The God of Hope
by Ted Schroder
The first Sunday after Pentecost in the Christian calendar is called Trinity Sunday, in which we are to remember the character of God as revealed by Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. How we view and experience the character of God determines our own spiritual health. All too often we craft God in our own image – of what we want God to be for us. Or we reject the image of God that has been modeled to us by the culture and the authority figures in our lives. But God is above and beyond us – God is an objective reality, not just a subjective construct. God is also nearer to us than our own breath. “God is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:27,28) He is both transcendent (existing apart from us, not subject to the limitations of the material universe), and also immanent (indwelling us).
J.B. Phillips in “Your God is Too Small” lists 13 destructive views of God. Our early conception of God is founded upon our experience of our parents. If there have been traumatic events, abuse, violence, or emotional absence, then we may view God as either indifferent to us or to be feared. If we were raised in stained-glass churches where worship was conducted in archaic language and old-fashioned music, then our view of God may be similarly colored. If the sermons were couched in theological jargon and aimed at an academic audience then God may be seen to live in an ivory tower and not be in touch with our actual lives. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some over-familiar presentations may cheapen our understanding of God.
The God of Perfection may be so unreachable as to be uncomfortable to associate with and may lead us to despair. So many representations of religion in the media are distorted and unreal. They set up God as straw men to be knocked down with contempt. God may be presented as an impersonal Fate that has no feelings for us. For others, God is the Great Disappointment, as someone not to be trusted: “I prayed, but God let me down!” God has failed us. We can nurture a perennial grievance against him. It gives us a good reason to cut God down to our size. We feel that he owes us, and that we have no obligation to him. To this way of thinking, God has much to answer for, if he exists! Blaming God for all our ills is an easy way to avoid personal responsibility.
Of course, the lives of many professing Christians present a view of God that is far from attractive. They may be insipid, pale reflections of a robust faith. For others, God is a Spoilsport, out to deny us any happiness. Or they say that God is a Dictator, who takes pleasure in telling us what to do, and seeking to micro-manage our lives so that we have no time for our own enjoyment. All the above are caricatures of what God is really like.
The Bible gives us a picture of the character of God that is comprehensive. Jesus came to reveal that God is our Father, a personal God who wants to live with us, and through us. St. Paul found that he could not find enough words to describe God. Using Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11 he bursts into a doxology of praise:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Since it is not possible to do justice to the whole character of God in one sermon let me take one aspect of the character of God and his purpose for us. St. Paul expresses a prayer-wish, a benediction in 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.
God is One who gives hope, sustains hope, crowns hope. Hope looks forward to the future. Paul looks forward to the future with a glory that will be revealed in a new universe which those who have faith in Christ will one day assuredly inherit. God is not the bringer of despair, but the conveyor of hope. Absence of a relationship with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, can only bring an agnosticism that results in despair. You either believe in a God of hope, or a black hole of nothingness, which brings despair. Those who despair easily have not met with Jesus. Those who have no hope are unable to trust anyone.
Faith and hope go together. If you can trust in Christ, the revealer of the God of hope, you can look forward to a glorious future. You can face the future with a spirit of optimism. “Pessimism is altogether alien from the true Christian spirit. A Christian will always be an optimist, not in a superficial, sentimental sense, but because of the great stronghold of hope which is his in Christ.” (W.H. Griffith Thomas)
As you trust in, believe in, God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace. Joy is energetic, peace is restful. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Peace is the great word of harmony, wholeness, and reconciliation. God wants to fill us with joy and peace. God is not content with handing out small portions of his grace. He wants us to know the abundance that he has in store for us.
I want to experience the fullness of joy and peace. When I don’t, I experience anxiety, dread, fear, the premonition of disaster. The only antidote for me is to trust in the God of hope. Joy and peace is the result of trust in Christ. When I am not placing my faith and trust in Jesus I lose my joy and peace. I am lost in anxiety, lost in despair, lost in depression.
Jesus told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, to illustrate the joy of finding something precious that was lost. The shepherd is filled with joy over finding his lost sheep. The woman is filled with joy when she found her lost coin. The father is filled with joy when his prodigal son returns home. “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in heaven, in the presence of the angels of God, over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:7,10,32) That joy should be ours when we find that can trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, because he is the God of hope – he fulfills his promises in the future. We should not despair. Instead we have every reason to hope.
Paul reminds us that the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus if we fight anxiety with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. (Philippians 4:6,7) Peace is ours when we find that we can bring our anxieties to God in prayer with thanksgiving, because we trust in Christ Jesus who reveals to us that God is a God of hope.
The fullness of joy and peace is not achieved by an act of the will. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the God of hope is brought to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul prays that we may “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
To be indwelt by the God of hope, to overflow with hope, requires an opening of our heart and mind to the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural energy that enables us to experience hope. It is not a natural gritting of our teeth in the face of adversity. Hope does not come to us as a result of endurance. Hope is the product of the overflowing of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we should seek the filling of the Spirit every day. “We who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:18,19)
The God of hope is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, revealed to us by Jesus, and given to us by the Holy Spirit. This is the true God revealed to us in the Scriptures. He wants to bring us joy and peace as we trust in him.
June 7, 2009
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