Over 15 years ago I remember hearing a sermon that was entitled something along the lines of, “Can God Continue to Bless America?” The answer the speaker offered, after having outlined the many sins of the American people at large was, “No.” The suggestion given to the audience was to prepare for trials both from an increasingly atheistic nation and from a God withdrawing His blessings as a response to sin.
In the years since I heard that lesson, I’ve heard many others stating similar things. And yet, in those intervening years, I’ve seen God carry the United States through a global financial crisis. I’ve seen Him see the nation through the tenure of leaders in government that some Christians said would destroy this nation. Some truly tragic things have happened relative to the popularity and practice of sin in this nation, but some very good things have happened both in the brotherhood at large and in my own ministry among God’s people. In fact, time and time again God has blessed me in ways “exceedingly abundantly above all that” I could “ask or think” (cf. Ephesians 3:20).
The rhetoric of those preaching gloom and doom seems to be outpacing the reality that I’ve experienced. Is my experience unique? Or, instead, is my experience one that has been shaped by hope? And should this same hope shape the experience of other Christians struggling under the weight not only of life’s burdens but of the impending doom they feel is coming to this nation?
The Role and Realm of Hope in a Christian’s Life
Hope is a central part of any Christian’s walk with God. When Paul sought to distill into a sentence the essential and abiding forces at work inside of Christians, he said, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). That hope is not greatest does not mean it is not essential. The Psalmist ties our hope to our pleasing God when he says, “The LORD takes pleasure… In those who hope in His mercy” (Psalm 147:11). Jeremiah ties our hope to our being blessed, saying, “Blessed is the man… whose hope is the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:17). Paul even seems to connect hope with salvation when he says, “We were saved in this hope” (Romans 8:24).
The specific hope Paul has in mind in Romans 8 surrounds “the redemption of our body” (Romans 8). Poetically, the redemption of our body is us being invited to share in the glory of God (Romans 5:2; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; Ephesians 1:18-20; Colossians 1:27). Practically, it is when our body will be resurrected by Jesus at His coming, and when we will then be invited into the heavenly home of God (Acts 23:6; 24:15; 26:6-8; Colossians 1:5). This hope was given life “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Jesus’ resurrection inspires us to hear and obey His voice so we too can be raised.
Though hope in a bodily resurrection is central to our faith, it is not the only source or subject of hope in our hearts. The faithful of all ages have found themselves “contrary to hope” believing “in hope,” trusting in God’s promises instead of Satan’s lies or even their own knowledge or perception (Romans 4:18). Hope often travels with faith (Romans 5:2; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5; Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; 1 Peter 1:21) as it is both a precursor to faithfulness in the face of tribulations and a product of tribulations endured through faith. God’s strength in carrying us and others through tribulations produces hope even as it produces perseverance and character. We become more and more convinced and convicted as we trust and obey God and see His love on display (Romans 5:3-5).
Though hope permeates every aspect of our walk and is inspired by many things, the bedrock of hope remains the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Love caused Jesus to die for our sins and to rise from the dead so that he might take death captive and give gifts to men (Ephesians 4:7-10). Faith informs us that Jesus did this and then persuades us that if we die to sin and pattern our lives after Jesus, we too can be resurrected. Hope convinces us that neither death, our greatest enemy, nor any lesser difficulty we face, can stand in the way of God’s redemption of us from our sins and of our resurrection. No area of our lives is left unaffected by hope; as Paul said, “in nothing I shall be ashamed” (Philippians 1:20).
What Hope Should Produce in Us
With the lifeblood of hope coursing through our veins, we as Christians ought to rejoice (Romans 12:12), and our rejoicing ought to be unceasing (Philippians 4:4). A dear brother and teacher of mine named Curtis Cates defined hope as “joyful trust combined with expectation.” As our hope is not “in this life only,” we are never “of all men the most pitiable,” or at least should never be (1 Corinthians 15:19). We should not only trust in God’s deliverance but expect it, not just from death itself but from anything that is contrary to our spiritual development and ultimate salvation (Romans 8:28-39).
Hope shouldn’t just produce confidence in the face of trials. Confidence in the fact that God is working in us should exist alongside of confidence that God is working through us. The faith that informs our hope also instructs us that we have a role in creating and strengthening hope in others. Faith and hope mingle together and lead us to embrace this role and believe in its potential.
Told a certain way, Paul’s ministry can be seen as a journey from failure to failure. Take the trip we often call Paul’s first missionary journey for example. Paul arrives in Salamis and is subjected to the railing of Elymas. He travels to Pisidian Antioch and is expelled from the region. He comes to Iconium and flees because of a plot to stone him. In Lystra, that plot becomes reality; he is stoned and left for dead. It doesn’t sound very hopeful, does it?
When Paul tells the story, it sounds very different though. He returned to Syrian Antioch after this journey and “reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). There had been many trials and tribulations, but there had also been great successes. Thus even as “they shook off the dust from their feet” from Pisidian Antioch, the Bible reads, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:51-52).
Paul didn’t just have hope in God; he had hope in people. Paul had never been to the church at Rome, but hope led him to believe these gracious Christians would help him on his journey to Spain (Romans 15:24). Paul had what he described as a steadfast hope for the sinful Christians at Corinth that they would partake of God’s consolation (2 Corinthians 1:7) and grow in faith (10:15). Hope caused him to see the Thessalonian brethren as being with the Lord when He returns (1 Thessalonians 2:19). I have to believe that one of the things Paul intended for us to imitate from his example (1 Corinthians 11:1) was the hope that he placed in people and their future.
Some Concluding Thoughts
I began this article by reflecting on the question I heard asked and answered all those years ago, “Will God continue to bless America?” Do you want to know my answer? I have no idea! Like the disciples who asked about the fortunes of the physical nation of Israel, I’ve learned, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7).
America might end today, or it might exist until the Lord returns. While I know the particulars of the country ending and/or facing physical persecution for my faith would be incredibly challenging, as general prospect, I do not fear them. Further, I know that if I cling to my God and my hope, God can not only see me through them but work amazing things through me as I endure them.
In the meantime, I’m going to do my best not to preach gloom and doom for America. I know it would be wrong to say, “‘Peace!’ when there is no peace” (Ezekiel 13:10), but I also know that I’m neither a prophet nor in the audience of a prophet who has a message of doom from God for this nation. Instead, I’m in the presence of Immanuel, the God who is with us (Matthew 1:23), and He’s the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). Wherever Jesus is, there is peace, and there is hope!
Instead of preaching gloom and doom, I intend to do my best to preach the empty tomb. The empty tomb exists whether America does or does not. My hope is not in America, it is in Jesus. However, because my hope is in Jesus, I have hope for America – not for the government or even the ideals behind it, but for the people in it. I have hope that the hope that I have discovered in Jesus can and will be discovered by others.
Christians, we are called to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Peter assumes, yes even of an audience “grieved by various trials” (1:6), 1) that every Christian has hope, 2) that people are going to see that hope, and 3) that people are going to ask about that hope.
Listen carefully: If all we preach is gloom and doom, if all we say is, “What is this world coming to,” and, “America is coming to an end,” no one is going to ask us about our hope. They probably won’t even believe us if we tell them that such a hope exists. One thing that has struck me in becoming aware of just how corrupt the government of Rome was in the first century is just how little Christians talked about it. Is there a lesson for us in that? I’d say there is. Let’s quit being political analysts and prognosticators, and instead be proclaimers of hope.