In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, as the pilgrims neared the Celestial City they enter the River and Christian begins to sink in the deep waters. “Ah, friend, the chords entangle me! I’ll not see the land that sees milk and honey” Christian laments to his friend Hopeful. Christian loses hope and begins to believe his sin has separated him from Christ who has abandoned him and brought him into a snare. In the depths of despair, Hopeful encourages his brother in this tender way “These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters are no sign that God has forsaken you, but they are sent to try you to see if you will call to mind that which you’ve received before of His goodness and depend upon Him in your distress… Be of good cheer! Jesus makes you whole!” Upon hearing this, both pilgrims take courage, and they cross over the River with little difficulty.
How much like the words of Hopeful should our encouragement be in our counsel to others? As the words of Hopeful were a vital lifeline to Christian, so our words of hope should provoke the spirit of our counselees to recollect the goodness of God and convince them of a favorable outcome promised in God’s Word. Words of hope are an indeed essential lifeline in the counseling room to invigorate the spirit that hope in the Lord should never be lost, and Christ has indeed not abandoned them. But what is biblical hope, and why is it a vital lifeline to give gasping new breath to a soul discouraged and drowning in utter despondency?
The Guarantee of Biblical Hope
Biblical hope is confident, trustful expectation that a favorable outcome will occur in fulfillment of God’s promises. It is the lighthouse in the counseling room that guides the counselee to the safe harbor and refuge of Christ. Biblical hope is based on the sound reality that what God has done in the past guarantees us being set free to obtain future glory promised to us. The ground and object of biblical hope is the God of Hope Himself (Romans 15:13). Unlike biblical hope, worldly hope is rooted in a fallible person or unreliable situation or thing. Worldly hope is a wishful feeling that what is desired will happen without any certainty. Worldly hope is a hope that disappoints.
Biblical hope is not an elusive hope but a living and sure hope. It is based not on the temporal and what is seen but on what is eternal and unseen (Romans 8:25-26). Romans 5:1-5 assures that since we have been justified by faith and have access to faith into the grace we solidly stand on, the eventual outcome of our suffering is a character that produces endurance and a hope that does not put us to shame. Biblical hope does not put us to shame precisely because of God’s love that is shed abroad in our lives through the Holy Spirit, our guarantee and seal of future deliverance.
The resurrection of Christ, our hope, guarantees that we are more than conquerors of sin and death through Christ who loved us (Romans 8:37-39). When troubles come and sorrows abound, hope is the lifeline that invigorates the soul to great fortitude and endurance as Job attested, “though he slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). It is the guarantee of biblical hope that fully convinced Abraham to “believe against hope that he should be the father of many nations, as he had been told” (Romans 4:18) although he was almost 100 years old, and Sarah was past her childbearing age at 90 years old. It was also the guarantee of biblical hope that made the Hebrew boys defy King Nebuchadnezzar and proclaim, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).
The Giving of Biblical Hope
In each counseling session, the counselor should always determine to dispense biblical hope to the counselee. Without hope, there is no belief that change or transformation is possible. The deficiency of hope can catapult one to anxiety, distress, and depression as hope deferred makes the heart grow sick (Proverbs 13:12). Romans 15:4, however, assures us that “what was written in the former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
In the Scriptures, we find the words to encourage the soul. We remind the counselee of their position in Christ that Christ is alive and present in Heaven, a “sure and steady anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” as our faithful High Priest (Hebrews 6:19). We impress upon their hearts the work of the Holy Spirit that empowers them to abound in hope (Romans 15:13). We exhort them to live in full consideration and conviction of the goodness, faithfulness, love, and glorious perfections of God the Father who gives us every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). We assure them that “surely there is a future and [their] hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18). And we point them to songs and Psalms that lift the soul to draw from them a reservoir of fortitude that Paul and Silas drew from as they languished in the Philippian jail. In giving hope, we always cultivate hopeful prayer that Christ will fulfill His good purposes for them (Psalm 57:2).
The Glory of Biblical Hope
Though we are of the world, we are not of it. Our hope points to glory (Romans 5:2) as we rejoice in the glory of God and look eagerly to the return of Christ. We have the glorious hope that we are being changed and perfected into the very image of Christ. 1 Peter 5:10 reveals the glory that is to come – “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and forever, Amen”. Indeed, “we have the living hope through the resurrection of Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for us” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
As Christian’s heart sprung up in hope that the King had not abandoned Him and He could press on to the Celestial City, so we too offer the glorious lifeline of biblical hope to our counselees as Jesus carries them through it all. The same glorious hope that the dying thief on the cross had that Jesus would remember him when He came into His kingdom (Luke 23:43), and the same glorious hope that Paul held fast without wavering and professed that in heaven was laid up for him the crown of righteousness which will be awarded to him is the same glorious hope we have access to. There is life beyond this sin-cursed world, and Christ is coming soon, and His reward is with Him for those who have placed their hope in Him (Revelations 12:1)