The Christian and Hope
In the Greek author Hesiod’s Works and Days we learn of the myth of Pandora, who was a beautiful woman given a container by the gods which she was told to never open. At some point, as could be expected, she opened the container, and out came all sorts of evils: sickness, pain, suffering, death, etc. According to the legend, she closed the container leaving only one thing in it: hope, which would console humanity despite all the evils which were released into the world.
We find the story of Pandora and her box poignant because of the sustaining power of hope. As Alexander Pope memorably said, “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Almost everyone nourishes and sustains hope so they can persevere and survive the trials of life, whether poor or rich, “first world” or “third world,” in prosperity or adversity. But in what, exactly, do we place our hopes and dreams?
The world attempts to put forth a lot of attractive options in which to hope. Many find money and stuff attractive: they hope their investments, financial resources, and things will provide them with satisfaction in life now and later. Some put their hope in physical appearances and the satisfaction of bodily desires. Others invest all their hope in their children and grandchildren. Many, whether they want to admit it or not, hope in their future abilities, and are confident in their ability to make things better. Meanwhile, marketers and salesmen work diligently to try to get us to put our hope in their products. Politicians promise the sun and moon, and far too many are induced to put their hope in political endeavors.
We could hope in such things, but we would always find them brought low, frustrated, or perhaps even worse, ultimately unsatisfying. Money often fails, and cannot bring happiness even if we maintain it. The body grows old and does not perform as it once did. Children and grandchildren grow up and often go their own way. At some point almost all of us reach the limit of our shrewdness and ability to make things better, and suddenly today is better than tomorrow. No product really satisfies, nor does any company really want you to be satisfied, or else you would not need to buy their products anymore. Politics devolves into an endless fount of hopelessness: most of the time politicians do not change much of value, and even those things which do change are often subject to revision.
The hope of Christians is firmly grounded in God for the resurrection of the dead. Christians are saved in hope: we recognize that there is more to living than this life, and therefore we cannot hope in anything which is of this life only, but hope in the life to come (Romans 8:18-25). Paul fixed his hope on the resurrection from the dead, willing to consider everything else in life as garbage if he could only attain to it (Philippians 3:7-11).
For Paul, the hope God extended to His people involved the resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:6, 24:15). For many Christians today, conditioned to see their hope from God as something in heaven, emphasis on the resurrection may seem strange. Why would Paul consider the hope of resurrection such a big deal?
Paul recognized the problem of life clearly: God made a good creation, but it has been corrupted by sin and death (Romans 5:12-21, 8:18-25). On account of sin and death, any hope in this life as currently established is futile: everyone will die, and everything on earth is subject to corruption and decay. Since the problem is sin and death, the solution would involve the elimination of sin and death, and this is what God has accomplished through Jesus’ death and resurrection: Jesus overcame sin by dying on the cross, and He overcame death in His resurrection (Romans 8:1-7, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 56-57, 2 Corinthians 5:21). In the resurrection God would redeem the body (Romans 8:23). One could imagine a view in which the creation itself was the problem, and thus would need to be overcome, but that is not the picture Paul provides. It is more akin to the picture suggested by Plato and embraced by the Gnostics, who would deny the resurrection of the body and desired to escape the material world and obtain spiritual bliss. The Gnostics were universally condemned as heretics by early Christians, and for good reason (2 John 1:6-9). We do better to understand the problem, and therefore the solution, as Paul did, and not as Plato and his followers (cf. Colossians 2:8-9).
Pandora’s story resonates because we have all suffered the evils which were represented in her box. We are tempted to find hope and refuge from these evils in things in this world. Money, physical appearance, children, grandchildren, our own lives, products, and all other things are gifts God has given us. If we turn our hope away from the hope of resurrection in God in Christ, we are not trusting in God anymore, but looking to satisfy hope in these things which God has given. God has given many good things; yet they are not absolute. They cannot endure the confidence of our hope. They inevitably disappoint. And we are ultimately left discouraged.
Hope in God in the resurrection will fully satisfy, for on the great and glorious day of resurrection, all that we truly need and truly desire will be satisfied. There will be no more pain; suffering will cease. God will wipe away every tear from the eye. Distress, devastation, destruction, and all the other horrors and evils which have afflicted us will be a memory. Instead we will have eternal life with God in the resurrection body, one with God in Christ, raised like Him, dwelling with Him, enjoying eternal life in Him (1 Corinthians 15:50-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Revelation 21:1-22:6).
On that day, in the consummation of all things, hope will have accomplished its purpose. We will no longer have need for hope, for our hope will be fully realized, and who hopes for what one can already see (Romans 8:24-25)? Hope may spring eternal in the breast of mankind, yet hope can only find its full satisfaction in God in the resurrection of the dead. May we put our trust in God in Christ and share in the resurrection of life for eternity!
Ethan R. Longhenry