It has been said that a person can live about 40 days without food, three days without water, eight minutes without air; but only for one second without hope. Well, probably for more than one second– but you get the point. And it’s true; we need hope to live. There have been many studies of people in extreme circumstances, such as concentration camps, or lost in the wilderness, or when severely ill or deep in grief. And those studies always show the same thing; that those who maintain hope have a far better chance of surviving and thriving than those who give up on hope.
It has been said that there is no medicine like hope; no incentive so great and no tonic so powerful as the expectation of something better tomorrow. G. K. Chesterton said: “There is one thing which gives radiance to everything; and that is the hope of something good just around the corner.” Therefore, say the motivational speakers, ‘let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future. And I’ve heard it said many times that a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.
The Bible agrees. God’s Word has much to say about hope, and, what it is we should hope for. The Bible’s list of the top three things in life is in I Corinthians 13:13 which says, “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” Love is still the greatest, but hope is right there in the top three. In Hebrews 11:1 two of those top three are linked together when it says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
So hope is good, and we cannot live without it. However, hope can also be bad, as many of our hopes do, in the end, deceive us. Without hope, the heart is broken; but the hopes themselves, when unfulfilled, will also break your heart. So the cynics will say “Too many high hopes, mean too many disappointments” and “One who hopes for nothing, will never be disappointed” and “Hope is a fraud which never ceases to deceive us.”
Oddly enough, the Bible is also on board with this view. I Chronicles 29:15 says, “Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.” And Job chapter eight compares many of our hopes to a spider web which gives way as soon as it is leaned upon. “Such hopes cannot be relied on,” it says, “and so they perish.”
The word ‘hope’ appears 180 times in the Bible; sometimes in the positive sense, and sometimes with the negative connotations. One of the most interesting of those 180 uses of the word hope is in Zechariah 9:12, where the Lord says to the people, “Return to your stronghold, you prisoners of hope.” ‘Prisoners of hope’ is an intriguing blend of the positive and the negative. ‘Return to your stronghold,’ it says, and that sounds good. But ‘prisoners’ of hope? Who wants to be a prisoner of anything? What does Zechariah mean when he refers to us as “prisoners of hope?”
We cannot live without hope, say the motivational speakers and the Bible, so have hope: ‘If you can dream it you can do it, turn your scars into stars, and no matter how dark the night, the sun will always rise.’ But hope will always deceive, always disappoint, say the cynics and sometimes the Bible.
Think about it. What happens even when you get whatever you are hoping for? Are you from then on forever satisfied, or, do you immediately start hoping for something else, without which you will again be disappointed? On and on we are led, never getting everything we hope for, and often being disappointed even when we do get what we want. It is hope that keeps us going, and hope that keeps us disappointed. We are just what the Bible says we are—“Prisoners of hope”—always living in hope, yet never getting all our hopes satisfied. (continued…)
Zechariah 9:12 — Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
I Corinthians 13;13 — These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I Chronicles 29:15b — Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.
When the woes of life o’ertake me,
Hopes deceive, and fears annoy,
Never shall the Cross forsake me;
Lo, it glows with peace and joy.
—In the Cross of Christ I Glory, verse two, by John Bowring (1792-1872)