For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? (Romans 8:24)
Last week, in one of my classes we were talking about hope. I made a comment that giving people hope is ultimately what religion is all about. My professor responded, “Zachary, I think you need consider the difference between hope and optimism and make sure you’re not mixing them up.”
This led to a fascinating conversation, which I so wish I could recreate for you. We did a little research and found society uses the word “hope” differently than the church uses the word. Society treats “hope” as a synonym of “wishing.” The church reflects on how “hope” is connected to Jesus.
Theologically speaking, “hope” represents a belief that God suffers with us but does not desire for us to suffer. The resurrection story of Jesus provides a framework where we see God suffer in the present moment, but that God also overcomes suffering. God therefore will not leave us in suffering, but desires to help us resurrect from the forces that make us suffer.
In essence, optimism focuses on the good, where hope endures the reality of suffering because of a belief that things will eventually be good. There is nothing wrong with being optimistic (it sure beats the alternative) but the Bible preaches hope, not optimism. It recognizes that for things to get better, we need to confront realities of pain and discomfort, knowing that God is in the work with us.
When I look at this verse above from Paul, that is what I see him arguing. Here Paul reminds us that we don’t dream and imagine possibilities that already exist, but rather we work towards what we believe life could be.
Hope implies a level of effort, of struggle, of creativity, and of perseverance. As Christians, we are called into that work to spread hope to the world.
(For more on this, the book The Theology of Hope by Jurgen Moltmann is excellent.)