The Thrill of Hope

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn’

This lyric comes from one of my favorite Christmas carols: “O Holy Night.” I’ve always been captivated by the curious phrase, the thrill of hope. I’ve always wondered something. What is it, exactly, that makes hope thrilling?

Thrilling isn’t usually how we think about hope:

We hear about false hope all of the time.

People use the word hopefully when they really want something to happen (but they’re pretty sure it won’t).

Some use the word hope frequently because they’re positive people who like to express a general sense of optimism.

We talk about hope as a feeling or a vaguely positive emotion one experiences from time to time.

We’re quick to point out when someone has lost hope or gives up hope.

If we’re being honest, the idea of hope being thrilling is odd. Roller coasters are thrilling. A basketball game that goes into overtime is thrilling. Bungee jumping is thrilling (I’ve heard). How can hope be thrilling?

I believe it all comes down to what or whom is the object of our hope. Hope can be thrilling as long as it is built on something that is trustworthy and sure.

Hope isn’t thrilling if it is built on my desire to see the Colts to win the Super Bowl. It’s not thrilling if I’m brimming with confidence that my favorite politician will keep all of his or her promises when he or she is in office. Hope doesn’t thrill if it depends upon seeing my lottery numbers on the screen. And, hope doesn’t thrill when I’m leaning all of my weight on a job, a hobby, or a relationship for a sense of purpose or wholeness.

Hope is thrilling, however, if it is built on something true, real, right, and good.

What is hope?

When Christians talk about hope, the thrilling kind of hope from the Christmas song, we aren’t attempting to manifest something that isn’t real. We’re not engaged in wishful thinking or conjuring up what we wish for by the power of positive thinking. We’re not being irrational, weak, or dishonest. Nor are we ignoring or making light of the obvious pain, angst, suffering, and brokenness of the world in which we live. When Christians talk about hope, we’re making a powerful statement about the truest truths, the real-est realities, and the certain-est certainties. Real hope is built upon the truth of what God has done and the absolute certitude, on that basis, that he will do what he has promised to do.

The thrill of hope

Hope is thrilling—at Christmastime and throughout the year—because the reality of that miracle-baby in the manger is the God-man on the cross, the risen and eternal Savior. We can be thrilled will hope because we know that he will return to bring us home.

I pray that your heart leaps with joy, anticipation, and excitement this Christmas, that you experience the thrill of hope about which you’ll sing.

O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born

The Best Antidote to Unhealthy Theology

A few days ago, a member at my church got in touch with me about some unhealthy theology that a loved one of hers was beginning to wade into. This person had stumbled across a theologian whose teaching had raised her suspicions. She was determined to understand the teaching she was dealing with and she wanted to be able to point her loved one toward better alternatives.

She was right to be concerned.

Her loved one had stumbled across the late Clark Pinnock and some of his writings about a concept called open theism. This is the teaching that some aspects of the future remain unknown, at least with certainty, to God. While Pinnock and other open theists state that parts of the future are unknown to God, the Bible says otherwise. God is omniscient. “God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act” (Grudem, 1994, p. 190).

  • God knows himself so when he reveals himself to us we can trust him.
  • God knows all things including the entire realm of possibilities that may result from the hundreds of choices each of us make every single day.
  • And, God knows all of it in one panorama; where we see one or two pixels at a time he sees the entire sweep of history all at once and in high-definition.

Wow!

I don’t know about you. It’s comforting to me to know that we serve a God who is wise enough to know everything that has, is, or will ever happen and, at the same time, good enough that he allows his creatures to experience free will. We err greatly when we believe and teach, as Pinnock did, that our own choices trump God’s knowledge. And we err greatly when we believe and teach, as some have done, that God’s omniscience reduces us to mere puppets on a string or resigns us to hopeless fatalism. God is good and wise enough to hold both of those tensions in perfect, divine balance.

So, what’s the best antidote to unhealthy theology?

When I consider all of this, I can’t help but think that it’s pure wonder. What else can you do? How else can you react? Since we serve a God this great, there’s little else to do than to be in awe.

Each of us may carry around elements of unhealthy theology. Hold them up to the light of the truth of God’s character. Wonder at his grandeur and goodness. That’s the best antidote to unhealthy theology.


Reference: Grudem, W. (1994). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Knowing Our Kids Outside and Inside

We experienced a milestone as a family late this morning. We had a swallow study at the hospital. It’s a fascinating procedure. Owen ate and drank barium-laced food and drinks while a technician, speech therapist, and radiologist watched a live x-ray picture of the chewing and swallowing. They wanted to be sure that Owen—a kid who had a tracheostomy until he was four years old—was able to chew and swallow safely. This was his best swallow study yet. He’s getting stronger and more coordinated. And, over time, it’s getting safer and safer for him to eat table foods.

As I watched Owen’s skeleton chewing a barium cookie, I chuckled and thought, “We know this kid both outside and inside.” For us, that’s literally true. We know every square inch of his body both outside and inside.

I pray that it’s also a spiritual truth.

What do I mean by that?

Parents—us included—know all about our kids’ outsides. We observe and scrutinize constantly. And, let’s be honest, so much of our parenting focuses upon questions like these: Are they playing well with their friends? Are they sitting up straight in church? Do their socks match? Are they using their manners? Are they getting good grades? Are they behaving? Are they disobeying? Are they acting out inappropriately?

All “yes” or “no” questions. All focused upon externals.

What would happen if we spent more time focusing on our kids’ insides? What if we examined the underlying causes for the behaviors we witness? Why are they acting out? Is it because of fear or guilt? Why are they struggling in school? Are they coping with a learning disability? Are their friends teasing them? Why are they rebelling? Is it because they are crying for attention or validation? Why are they refusing to go to practice? Is it because they fear failure when it’s game time?

Questions of this type could be difficult to answer. They require time, careful thought, and prayer. All of them hinge entirely upon the relationships parents have cultivated with their kids, relationships in which the truth can be spoken in love, relationships of trust, relationships of faith.

Why is it so important for us, as parents, to commit to knowing our kids outside and inside?

When we focus exclusively upon our kids’ outsides, their behaviors, we create little legalists. We raise conformists, performers who learn how to look good on the outside while pride and rebellion reign on the inside.

When we focus on our kids’ insides, their hearts, we establish a context in which grace can flow freely. We get to partner with the Spirit in shaping their little hearts, turning them toward their Father.

That’s the entire goal of parenting.

By the way, if we’re struggling with where to begin, we can take our cues from our Heavenly Father. After all, isn’t he more concerned with our insides than our outsides?