Question and Answer

 What does the word hope really mean? I hear the word so often in church about anything from “hoping to be ready” to a vague “hoping in the Lord” to “I hope my teenager changes.” It doesn’t often seem to be said with conviction or foundation; it’s just a kind of expression applied to many circumstances.


What you’re describing is the probably well-intentioned but vague and often clichéd way that we often express Christian truths and theological realities, watering down their marvelous dimension and power. Josef Pieper has written about hope beautifully in his book Faith Hope Love. He says that “hope is either a theological virtue or not a virtue at all,” and “theological virtue is an ennobling of man’s nature that entirely surpasses what he ‘can be’ of him[her]self.” That is because, he adds, hope is inherently linked to Christ, the foundation of it all.

Hope is not optimism; hope is not temperament; hope is not denial, all of which probably many of us have confused with hope. Hebrews 6:19 describes the hope we have in Christ “as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Finally, in Pieper’s words, “Hope, as a virtue, is something wholly supernatural.” It stems not from merit, but from grace. “We hold Christ and are held. But it is a greater good that we are held by Christ than that we hold Him.” As Isaiah 40:31 beautifully tell us, “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.”

Reading about Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:7, I’m wondering what He means when He says, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” It makes me a little nervous about how I pray, as though I will be judged as insincere if I use too many words or pray too long. Does it mean we have to be careful in prayer instead of just pouring out our hearts to God?


Jesus is not suggesting here that all repetitious or lengthy prayer is meaningless. And I think that if you’re pouring your heart out to God, you are genuinely in relationship with Him.

Notice the word used to describe the prayers of the pagans: “to babble.” Jesus is describing a type of prayer that was being used more like a chant or incantation, using the same wordy phrases over and over until they had lost their meaning. These people were not praying to God from the heart; they were using so-called prayer as though it were a magic spell.

Some people have thought that a long prayer with impressive words earns more favor with God. Such a prayer is impersonal, done from the wrong motivation. We don’t impress God with our fancy words; we talk to Him from our honest hearts.

I think we do need to pay attention to the way we pray. Language is important; we can pray to God in our own words, not in the clichés we too often hear and think are expected of us. And it would be good for us to remember that the God to whom we pray is a God of love who listens, who doesn’t need to be coaxed repetitiously into answering us. We must pray knowing the character of God, which leads us to pray with an open hand.

I have always thought that the term character referred to a fictional person, such as a character in a play or novel. But many Christian teachers and writers use this term to refer to real people in the Bible. I really don’t understand why. I’ve even noticed it in Today in the Word. Why do we not refer to the real people in the Bible as historical figures? Why do we not refer to the writings in the Bible as accounts rather than stories? It feels like these word choices subtly teach that the Bible is a collection of man-made fables and stories. When we use these words with children, they are the same words used for the fictional stories they hear. They go to school and learn of historical figures with historical accounts, and it makes the people in the Bible seem less like real, historical people. So, I am hoping to get some enlightenment about these word choices as I find them distracting. I want to understand and move on.


Thank you for this question, which perhaps many people have had. The definition you give for the word character is actually a secondary definition. The primary definition is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” So when a Christian teacher or writer talks about a character, he or she means an individual or a person with distinctive moral and mental qualities. Calling an individual a biblical character in no way renders that person an invention. In the same way, story can be defined as an account of imaginary or real people or events. When we read or tell children Bible stories, we are telling them about what happened to people (characters) who actually lived and died, a reality that of course we must always emphasize. But the word story can refer to either real or imagined events. Neither character nor story necessarily means that the person or account is fictional.

BY Rosalie de Rosset, Professor of English, Homiletics, and Literature

Rosalie de Rosset has been teaching at Moody Bible Institute in the Communications Department for over four decades.  She is occasionally featured on Moody Radio. She is a speaker and writer and lives on the northside of Chicago, a city she enjoys for its natural beauty and multi-faceted art offerings.