Over the past couple of decades, neuroscientists inadvertently discovered something fascinating — our brains naturally default to thinking about the future. They happened upon this little gem through the use of control groups who were instructed in various MRI studies to “think about nothing.” As researchers learned, our minds quickly drift from nothing to something, and the something we drift toward is thoughts of the future.
In your quiet moments, notice your mind sometimes wanders to pleasant thoughts about a future where all is well. We call it daydreaming or wishful thinking. At other times, our thoughts stray into a future where everything goes wrong. Nestled between these extreme views of the future is hope. Hope believes the future will be better than the present, but it balances the optimism of one by anticipating the obstacles feared by the opposite.
A bright and glorious dawn awaits the Christian. One day, Jesus will descend to raise the dead and usher the righteous to an eternal home with God. This is the hope of the gospel, the living hope secured by the resurrection and glorification of Jesus. John 14:1-3 expresses this hope:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
God raised and glorified Jesus; Jesus will return to raise and glorify the righteous. This is our hope.
Some would call this wishful thinking, a comfortable lie to help us cope with a world of sorrows. It’s better, they say, to march bravely toward the dark night of nothingness. But where is the hope in this notion? As I mentioned in a previous post, there is reason to believe we are wired for hopefulness, a conclusion further confirmed by the natural tendencies of our brain “in neutral.” However, a philosophy that eliminates hope curses those who follow it with a loss of purpose and meaning. Without hope, where do we aim our lives?
Albert Camus once said, “Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.” Children console some who struggle to find hope in what they perceive is a hopeless future. Solomon, who was well acquainted with a God-less worldview, saw the flaw in this thinking:
“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?" (Ecclesiastes 2:18-22).
Fixing our hope in children is no more reliable than other options. While parents do their best to instill their values in their children, experience teaches that adults do not always hold to the values they were taught. As Solomon says, his successor could be a fool regardless of the wisdom and skill and knowledge he (Solomon) attained. Better to find satisfaction in the here and now than to trust others to “carry on” in your absence says Solomon. Even the invented hope is ultimately unsatisfactory.
This brings us back to our innate need for hope and how God responds to our need. God instilled a sense of eternity in our heart, a longing for immortality we all know from experience. We also crave an escape from suffering and a just response to evil. God has therefore promised a life beyond the grave free from tears, aches and pains. God will redress the evils of the world by holding all accountable for their choices. The righteous anticipate this better future and, as I will discuss in the next post, they aim their lives to seize the great prize. A glorious resurrection, a body fitted for eternity, and an existence without end sum up the Christian hope.