by on March 26, 2024

"Hope" is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the Gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Emily Dickenson

When I was in college, I wore a ring with a single feather across the band. If, according to Emily Dickenson, “hope is the thing with feathers,” that feather served as a daily reminder for me to hold on to hope. But, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I really knew what it meant to hope.

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary gives us a pretty straightforward definition for hope:

  • “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment, also: expectation of fulfillment or success”
  • “someone or something on which hopes are centered”
  • “something desired or hoped for”

In the Bible, however, there are countless Hebrew and Greek words that translate to our English word for “hope,” and their meanings vary. I believe this is where my ignorance originated.

The problem with our modern understanding of hope is that it too often has no real foundation. If we’re being truthful, most of our “hopes” are no more than “wishful thinking,” or “sentimental optimism.” But before we get too discouraged, this is where understanding biblical hope can open a whole new window to assurance.

Let’s take the book of Romans for example. No other book of the New Testament mentions hope more than the seventeen times the Apostle Paul mentions it in his letter to the Roman church. In fact, in the entirety of the Bible, only the Psalms mention hope more! What’s even more interesting is that, of those seventeen occurrences, five of them accompany hope with the words “waiting,” “patience,” or “endurance” (see Romans 3:3-5, 8:24, 12:12, and 15:4). To understand the correlation between these concepts, let’s consider the message of the gospel…

We are all sinners. As Paul says, we “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2), and the only just punishment is death (Romans 6:23). But God, while He is just, is also compassionate, kind, and loving, and He put that on display by sending His one and only Son – Jesus – to pay the penalty for us, once for all, by dying in our place (John 3:16, Romans 5:8-10, Hebrews 10:10). And the best news? Death was not the end! Jesus rose from the dead, closing the gap in our separation with God, so that we could have eternal life with Him (Romans 6:4).

This is the gospel, the good news we celebrate at Easter! But, imagine you’re an Israelite, living in a time before God sent Jesus to earth.

You would have heard prophecies like, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14), and “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). You would have known that God promised a Savior, and heard story after story about how God fulfilled promises in the past; your life was spent waiting – hoping – to see this promise fulfilled.

This reminds me of two friends we read about in Luke 24. Two days after Jesus died, they were walking to a village several miles outside of Jerusalem. As they walked, discussing the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, a man joined them. We know from Scripture that this man was actually the resurrected Jesus, but these friends didn’t recognize Him. As they continued walking, Jesus asked them what they were talking about. Surprised, one of them responded, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?...Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:18-21).

Did you catch that last line? “We had hoped…” It’s the same Greek word we see repeated throughout the book of Romans. They had waited. They had been patient. They had endured. And maybe it seemed like they had been teased with an answer. They had gotten their hopes up…only to be disappointed.

A few verses later, we read that their eyes were eventually opened, and they recognized the man walking with them was Jesus. Imagine how they must have felt realizing there was more to the story! Their hope was restored because Jesus was alive! The resurrection gave them a place to anchor their hope, and it does the same for us. Because death was not the end for Jesus, it’s no longer the end for us. When we put our trust in Him as the only way to be reconciled with God, we can rest assured that we will spend eternity with our Creator. The foundation of our hope shifts from unreliable, wishful thinking to God’s fulfilled promise through the living Jesus. As Romans says…

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God… For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 

Romans 5:2, 6-11

As the years have gone by, I’ve come to understand that “holding on to hope” really means living from an eternal mindset – having certain anticipation of spending eternity at peace with our Creator. Like the bird in Emily Dickenson’s poem, we will go through trials and storms, but even life’s toughest circumstances can’t drown out hope’s song. No matter what comes our way, hope remains. And it’s all because Jesus lives. 

Written by Monica Kirsch, Content Writer