December 13, 2006


2006 1534 page29 cap few years back I studied the medieval Christian text, The Cloud of Unknowing, as part of a university course. Quoted in an essay I read recently, this book of mystical spirituality suggests: “Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than two. . . . Fasten this word to your heart, so that whatever happens it will never go away. This word is to be your shield and your spear, whether you are riding in peace or in war. With this word you are to beat upon the cloud and the darkness above you.”
I shared the quote with my wife and her almost instant reaction was to tell me she knew “my” word—but she said I should work it out myself. I was intrigued and bugged her the rest of the day, until she relented. I liked her suggestion: Hope.
As a single-word summary of Christianity—and Adventist Christianity in particular—hope works well. Based on the reality and promises of God, a mustard seed of hope is always more significant than a mountain of despair. That’s why Paul could assure us that the hope that grows through the experiences of our life and faith “will not disappoint us” (Rom. 5:5, NLT).*
Hope is the shining star to guide our lives, to spark our faith, and to spur our faithfulness. As one writer put it, “A true Christian should have but one fear—lest he [or she] should not hope enough” (Walter Elliot, The Spiritual Life). In fact, Paul went so far as to suggest Christians should “overflow with hope” (Rom. 15:13).
2006 1534 page29Hope should be a steady and ever-present element of Christian experience. Hope is what we celebrate when we rejoice in the sunny days of faith; and hope is what we cling to when all we can see is darkness and all we can hear is silence. That hope is of equal relevance amid our times of challenge and triumph; it is what sets hope apart from mere wishful thinking. There is a tangible reality to hope, even when it is at its most intangible. “Ultimately our gift to the world around us is hope. Not blind hope that pretends everything is fine and refuses to acknowledge how things are. But the kind of hope that comes from staring pain and suffering right in the eyes and refusing to believe that this is all there is” (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis).
Such hope has a world-changing quality to it. It is not focused on ourselves or our “escape” from the realities of life, but on God as the center of our hope and on others as those who can benefit from and share in the hope we have been given. Our hope is not some kind of self-centered insurance policy; instead it’s a call to be agents of hope in a sometimes hopeless world. Hope is the foundation upon which we can build a life and faith that matters, that makes a difference in a world that needs to be different.
According to the writer of Hebrews, such hope is the foundation for basic Christian living: “Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near” (Heb. 10:23-25).
Hope is the “shield and spear” with which we counter the real assaults of life, from the terrifying tragedies that shake us to the core to the succession of minor disappointments and discouragements that wear away at our souls and our best intentions. Even when all else fails, we can hope that somehow this matters—and that this simply cannot be all there is. Hope trusts that there is meaning even in apparent meaninglessness.
Amid the challenges and opportunities, disappointments and celebrations, fears and joys life throws at us, I hope. When I look at myself, when I look at the church, and when I look at the world, I can’t see anything more important or more relevant than hope.
*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
Nathan Brown is editor of the South Pacific Signs of the Times and the South Pacific Division Record. A collection of his columns is available in book form from Signs Publishing Company. For information visit  .