Monday, May 24, 2010


I struggle with hope. On a good day, I can manage something approximating to faith, even if it does more often than not sound more like 'if you say so' than 'may it be to me according to your word'; on a very good day, there is even something a little bit like love, although not in anything approaching 1 Corinthians 13 categories. But hope I find tricky. Frightening, actually.


Well, yes, because so often what you hope for doesn't happen. I don't have anything in particular in mind - in fact, if I'm honest, I have to say that many of the things (and most of the important things) that I have hoped for have come to pass. But there is a sort of generalised, low-level anxiety that hope just raises expectations which could be dashed; that it isn't quite clear what it would be safe to hope for on a daily basis.

I am aware that this is a very grave failing, and probably falls under the heading of cowardice. I would like to say I hope to get over it, but, well, you know.

But this morning I was reading my Church Dogmatics, as you do in the morning, and I came across Barth's discussion of hope, in his survey of the doctrine of reconciliation. He points out that for the Christian the big hope is to be with God, serving God, as a willing and righteous partner - he actually makes the interesting point that what we hope for is exactly what Pelagians and semi-Pelagians have always said we already have, namely the ability, given by grace, to really co-operate with God. That is the hope. And of course the big point is that this hope is already fulfilled in Christ. He, as a man, occupies that position now, and therefore guarantees that I will also occupy it. Hurrah!

But that wasn't the bit that really struck me. He goes on to say: "But in the one hope there will always be inseparably the great hope and the small hope. All through temporal life there will be the expectation of eternal life. But there will also be its expectation in this temporal life. There will be confidence in the One who comes as the end and new beginning of all things. There will also be confidence in His appearing within the ordinary course of things as they still move toward that end and new beginning..." Of course! Because all hope is wrapped up in, and joined to, that great big hope. Jesus is coming back one day, and therefore I expect to see him tomorrow - maybe not yet in the flesh, but at work in my life and my world. I have hope. And only for that reason: "the small hopes are only for the sake of the great hope from which they derive", but conversely "where there is the great hope, necessarily there are hopes for the immediate future".

Of course, these small hopes may not come true "in their detailed content", but "it is certainly in these many little hopes that the Christian lives from day to day if he really lives in the great hope. And perhaps he is most clearly distinguished from the non-Christian by the fact that, directed to the great hope, and without any illusions, he does not fail and is never weary to live daily in these little hopes".

Thanks, Karl. That transforms how I look at my future - the uncertainty surrounding employment in a couple of months time, the anxiety over future ministry, the various petty issues that will fog my vision tomorrow, and the day after that, and so on until I see Him face to face. Small hopes, relative hopes, not so certain hopes; but all witnessing and pointing to and grounded in a great, certain, coming hope.


You can find all this in Church Dogmatics IV.1, around about page 120.


  1. Thanks so much for posting this, Dan. For the first four paragraphs, I felt like you must be quoting me from somewhere, so much did it resonnate. Even when I imagine that I don't have a problem with hope, my life invariably throws up something to show that I do. It keeps coming back to this: do I really believe that Christ rose from the dead bodily, is alive and will return? Everything else must follow. Lack of hope, cowardice: it's unbelief, innit?

  2. Amen, Dan, I too am anxious about future employment, ministry etc, but am encouraged that the great hope will feed the small hopes. This is part of the argument of Rom 8:28-end of the chapter: because of the certainty of final glory we have confidence that whatever happens before will be for our good.