Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be, blest.The soul, uneasy, and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
- Alexander Pope
Imagine living in a world where there is no hope.
It would be a world where no one had any chance of improving his or her circumstances, where work went unrewarded and where, no matter how much effort we put forth, nothing would happen.
It would be a gray and desolate world, full of despair and feelings of helplessness.
Hope is essential to our lives, more essential than we ever realize – until we are without hope. The great Scottish historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle put it this way: "Man is, properly speaking, based on hope. He has no other possession but hope."
The apostle Paul placed hope high in the great trilogy of human feelings in his memorable essay on charity: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." ( I Cor. 13:13.) Only love and faith exceed hope in the expectations of the gospel.
There is a difference between faith and hope, although in the gospel sense they often walk together, so intertwined that we may have difficulty in separating them.
Faith is an unquestioned belief that does not require any proof of us. When we have faith, we've made a conscious decision that we will put our complete trust and confidence on the line, pledging our loyalty and allegiance. Hope, on the other hand, is at its core a feeling. We feel that what we want is what will happen. It's a desire, sometimes deeply held, sometimes a passing impression, that our expectations will be realized.
In the gospel sense, we could not have faith without hope. Paul wrote that faith is the "substance of things hoped for. . . ." (Heb. 11:1). To him, faith was created from the feelings of hope.
What is there about hope that makes it so important to us? The answer is simple: without hope, we are left unarmored against the world's formidable problems. Hope permeates our lives, and is implicit in our acts, both mundane and grand. We raise our children in hope of a better world. We attend school in hopes that we will improve ourselves. We plant crops in hope of a harvest.
We work diligently in hope that our effort will be rewarded.
And when sometimes we feel that any hope for an improvement is lost, we become cynical. In discouragement, we grumble about events as if we had no chance of changing them.
To sharpen our understanding of the absolute need for hope, consider its opposites:
- "Hopeless" carries a feeling of doom that is more than the absence of hope. If we are left hopeless, then we have no confidence that there will be a favorable outcome. When we say, "It was hopeless," consider what feelings of inadequacy it brings out!
- From hopeless it is only a short step to despondency. Our spirits are low and a sense of futility swallows us. What purpose then in continuing our efforts?
- And from there to despair, where an utter loss of hope overwhelms us with a feeling of extreme dejection. Of all human emotions, despair is the saddest for what it implies for our future.
Indeed, when we read the scriptural descriptions of those unhappy souls who are doomed in the afterlife, we're reading about despair. On them is pronounced the awful sentence: they have no hope. In a sense, when you define despair, you define hell.
In his final words to us, the historian and prophet Moroni cautioned: "Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
"And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith, neither can ye if ye have no hope.
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity." (Moroni 10:20-22.)
So the presence of hope is the essence of the gospel. Just as there is a downward progression from hopelessness into despair, so also is there a progression upward from hope through faith and into the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christ's overriding message was one of hope, for a better life now and an eternal life hereafter. Without that message of hope, our very existence is in question.
As Paul also told the Romans, "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. (Romans 8:24,25.)