The Hope That is in You

The good news narrative of God’s engagement in this world should render Christians the most hopeful of all people. Not a gee-willickers kind of hope, but the sort of deep-in-the-gut, grounding hope that can even steady those around you.

I confess that this kind of hope has been a challenge for me lately. Every time I see another news story of oppression or violence, every time a friend shares a personal struggle with family illness, every hateful bit of speech or cards-stacked-against you scenario will build and build until it seems that Rowling’s dementors are hovering overhead, waiting to suck the happiness out of every soul.

At the same time, I am haunted by a passage of scripture. Does this ever happen to you—where a verse or phrase gets stuck in your head or keeps coming up in sermons or conversations? I am convinced it is the Holy Spirit at work in my heart. Lately, he whispers “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in you.”

This phrase comes from a passage about suffering in 1 Peter:

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For

‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days,

let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;

let him turn away from evil and do good;

let him seek peace and pursue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

and his ears are open to their prayer.

But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” —1 Peter 3:8-17, emphasis mine

In high school, I locked onto verse 15 (“always being prepared to make a defense...”), likely hearing it out of context, and got it into my head that “defense” was the key word. The implications seemed obvious to me.  Make sure I know how to argue the existence of God. Be ready to answer any atheist’s tough questions about the Bible. Learn the best comebacks if someone tries to question an aspect of Christianity. In the 90’s, apologetics was really trendy, and though understanding the nuances of our faith and being able to wrestle through some of the more difficult questions in life certainly have their place, I don’t think Peter was writing here about the merits of good debate.

In the larger context of Peter’s letter, nestled in this section about suffering, HOPE emerges as the operative word. And hope is certainly what I need to focus on during trials.

As I meditate on what comes before verse 15, Peter’s encouragement for our weary hearts and instruction for taking steps forward gains some perspective in light of the gospel. He urges us not to be troubled by suffering or to fear it, and he reminds us that in the midst of suffering God offers us blessing. What a tremendous reason for hope! But he doesn’t end there. In quoting Psalm 34, Peter reminds us that God sees us and hears our prayers. Being known in this intimate way feels good in and of itself, yet God is more than just a faraway friend, who writes from time to time and stays up to date on our social media feed. The foundational reason for our hope is established earlier in Peter’s letter:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” —1 Peter 1:3-5

This deep and abiding love—an intimate, sacrificing love that drew Christ willingly to the cross on my behalf—is more powerful than a wizarding spell to ward off the hopelessness in our world. It is with this love in full view that Peter offers his instruction: to live in tenderness, humility, and unity; to be a blessing to our neighbors; and ultimately, to articulate our reason for hope with gentleness and respect.

If you find yourself struggling against darkness this week, I encourage you to meditate on 1 Peter. May you find peace and ease in the instruction there, as you look full into the wonderful face of Jesus.
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