I am not an especially optimistic person. Neither am I particularly pessimistic. It would be fair to call me a realist. So it might surprise you to hear that my realism is what makes me profoundly hopeful.
Hope is more than wishful thinking. There’s nothing wrong with believing that things will work out for the best. But hope is more than that. Deeper. More sustaining.
Hope is what keeps us going when our hearts are broken, our pockets are empty, and our shoulders sag with heavy burdens. Even if we’re lying flat on our face, watching our world unravel around us, or enduring unspeakable cruelty, hope sustains us. It’s the feeling in our gut that motivates us to persevere through adversity, resist injustice, and overcome setbacks.
I’m a Jesus-follower. So for me hope arises from an awareness that God loves us and is always with us, whether we are up or down, on a roll or on the ropes. And there is no clearer illustration of God’s love than the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Mark tells us that, as the third day was dawning, Mary Magdalene, James’s mom Mary, and Salome brought spices to anoint Jesus’s tortured, lifeless body. Instead, they found an empty tomb and got word that Jesus was waiting for them in Galilee. (Mark 16:1-8).
Jesus is risen. God’s love is more powerful than suffering, sorrow, and even death. God’s love was with Jesus through all the pain and the sorrow of the cross. God’s love descended with him into the grave. And God’s love raised him to a new life, a whole new kind of life.
For some, the sole message of the resurrection is that there is life after life. And I too believe that, when I breathe my last, my life will be changed, not ended. I will be reunited with those I love but see no longer.
But there is more to the resurrection than what happens when I die. I take my cue about that from the apostle Paul. He wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) In other words, the same love that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in you and me right now.
Eternal life is the kind of existence we begin to inhabit as we enter into relationship with Christ in our ordinary, everyday lives. In relationship with God, over time, we become our true selves. God’s love saturates and transforms us.
Because we are the beloved, our daily lives take the shape of love, and this kind of life has an eternal trajectory. No tomb can contain it. Eternal life has no end but begins right here on planet Earth.
God reaches out to us and embraces us in and through all the circumstances of our life. God created us to be in intimate relationship with us, not to stand at a commanding distance from us.
Many of us have felt God’s presence in a harvest moon, a setting sun, or a snow-capped mountain range. Nature’s beauty and grandeur can fill us with awe.
But we know that the world is not all glittering stars and bright rainbows. Misery, terror, want, and oppression mar the planet. Yet, still we can find hope because God shows up even in the ICU and the concentration camp. God dwells with us in beautiful and messy places alike.
Hope is our response to the awareness of God’s loving, life-giving presence. As a result, our faith in eternal life is more than just one more theological or philosophical concept about what happens after we die. It’s grounded in the experience of our everyday lives.
This is why I think of hope as a peculiar kind of realism. You see, realists strive to accept life on its own terms. I admit that this world is a messy place. And as the resurrection illustrates, God shows up in messy places.