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.”