Hoping in God

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. Psalm 42:5

Hope. We need it to live. Hope gives us courage and purpose to go on. With hope, we look forward with anticipation to some future event, and we are motivated and encouraged to keep going. Think about how you feel when you have something good to look forward to. How do you feel just before Thanksgiving or Christmas? How did you feel before you got married? How about the coming birth of a baby, or an eagerly anticipated event in your life like a job promotion or graduation from school? All of these things give us hope because we expect something good in the future. And because of that expectation, we are motivated to go on to fully experience the good thing we hope for. Hope fills us with endurance, perseverance, courage, and strength to keep going.

Hopelessness, on the other hand, has just the opposite effects. It saps us of courage and motivation; without hope, there is no point in going on. Do you ever feel hopeless? Have you ever thought about what life would be like to have no hope? Hopelessness leads to discouragement, which can lead to depression, which can lead to despair; at this point, life does not seem worth living.

God knows how we work, and exactly what we need. He should: he made us and knows us intimately. God is gracious to us. He is much better than we think he is, he is much better to us than he needs to be, and he loves us far more than we can imagine. And, God knows that humans need hope to keep living. He makes great promises to us in the Bible, and he backs these promises up with his character. He is both able and willing to deliver on the promises, and he obligates himself to us, even though we deserve nothing good from God. Even better, he goes to great lengths to tell us about his promises and to convince us that he means everything he says. What greater encouragement could we humans have, than to know that the God who created all things is good, loves us, intends good for us, and makes great unbreakable promises to us? God’s promises to us give us a double benefit: they motivate us now as we look forward to their future fulfillment, and the fulfillment of the promises gives us joy once the promises become solid, present reality. God is good to us.

Now, God is not like you and me. If he were, he would not bother to save us from our sins and from judgment as he has done in Jesus Christ. If he were like us, he would not reveal his good intentions toward us by making us promises, and in fact would likely make it hard to know his intentions; if he were human, he might want to keep us guessing and off-balance so he could control or manipulate us. He would not keep his word, and would not really care to convince us of his goodness. But, God is not like us. He goes to great lengths to reveal himself to us, to reveal his plans to us, to reassure us of his good purposes for us, and to keep without fail every promise to us.

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath,
in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.(Hebrews 6:17-20)

God does not want us to miss his promises to us. God accommodates himself to us and our needs; he adapts himself to us. His goal is to convince us of his love for us and to give us certainty about him. He goes to a lot of trouble to make it clear that his intentions toward us are only good and loving, and he gives us his promises in such a way that they must be fulfilled. God cannot lie; he is Ultimate Truth, and he is truthful. Yet, he not only promises us things, but goes on to back these promises up with an oath. He voluntarily doubly obligates himself to us so that we might have strong encouragement as we cling to the hope he gives us. We are pictured in these verses as being desperate, as we flee to Jesus Christ alone as our only hope. This hope anchors our souls to heaven, as if we had a tether attached to our hearts on one end, with the other end attached to God himself.

There are two important questions to be asked. First, is God able to deliver on his promises? This is likely the easiest question to answer. If there is a God, and I am certain that there is, he is by definition infinite and eternal. The God of the Bible is the only God, and he is able to do whatever he pleases now and into eternity. He is unlimited in power, wisdom, and knowledge. Nothing and nobody can keep him from accomplishing his purposes; neither all the powers of hell, nor the strength of evil people, nor our own personal weakness and sin can possibly pose a barrier to God’s ability to carry out his promises and purposes. Nothing can thwart God.

The second question is just as important: can God be trusted? This is really a question of what we think God is like. What is his character? What is God, really, at the core of his being? What is his essence? The following exchange in Exodus between Moses and God is enlightening.

(Exodus 33:18-23 ) Then Moses said, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. “Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD.
( 34:6,7) Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

Moses asks to see God’s glory. We might expect for God to then reveal himself in infinite, unapproachable light and holiness. Or, we might expect God to show himself as all-powerful, doing something like exploding a nearby mountain or immediately causing a tornado. Or, we might expect God to demonstrate to Moses how he created the universe and sustains it moment by moment. But, we are surprised at God’s answer. God says, “I will show you my goodness” (33:18). God equates his glory with his goodness. God’s glory, God’s essence, God’s core personality, is his infinite goodness.* More than any of his other attributes, God wants us to understand that he is good. He shows Moses his glorious goodness in chapter 34 where he proclaims his goodness in more expansive terms: he is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and truth. God’s glory is his goodness. We can trust God’s character because he is infinitely and eternally good.

Psalm 103:8-14 expands on this theme of God’s goodness.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us; Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.

God is full of compassion, lovingkindness and grace; he is slow to anger; he forgives and removes our sins. He understands us in all of our weakness, just as we understand and have compassion on our own children. God is thoughtful and faithful. He is understanding. Our natural inclination is to misunderstand God, to think he is like us, and to distrust him. But, God is not like us, and we can trust him. He is not petty, not touchy, and not easily provoked. He is not harsh and he is not impossible to please. He is not irritable and he is not unapproachable. He is infinitely good. We can trust God’s character, for he is good.

God’s goodness is not some abstract concept. He demonstrated his goodness to us by sending Jesus to be our Savior. And, Jesus provides all that we need for salvation from sin, from ourselves, and from hell.

(Romans 5:8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 8:32) He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Jesus is God’s Son, and he is God’s concrete demonstration of his goodness towards us. How can we doubt God’s love, goodness, and character? If God promises something, he is able to fulfill the promise, and he will fulfill the promise.

We should read the Bible through the “lens of promise”.** God has made us a multitude of promises in His Word, the Bible, and gives them to us through Jesus Our Lord. They are given to us, and God will deliver on them. They are for our encouragement and strengthening. They will help us press on. They give us hope. And God has gone out of his way to make them, to assure us of their certain fulfillment, and to make us aware of them. His promises are on almost every page of the Bible. All we need to do is read them, and thank God for them, believing they are for us through Jesus.

Here are a few verses that describe God’s promises to us, or are actual promises God makes to us.

(2 Corinthians 1:18-20) But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no.
For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us– by me and Silvanus and Timothy– was not yes and no, but is yes in Him.
For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

(2 Peter 1:2-4) Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;
seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

(Hebrews 13:5,6 ) Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,”

(Deuteronomy 31:6,8) “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”
“And the LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear, or be dismayed.”

(Psalm 50:15) And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.”

(Psalm 55:22) Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.

(Psalm 91:15,16) “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honor him.
With a long life I will satisfy him, And let him behold My salvation.”

(Isaiah 40:28-31) Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait (hope) for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

(Isaiah 43:1-5) But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.
“For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place.
“Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
“Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west.

(Isaiah 48:17) Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go.

We need hope to live, not just hope in relatively trivial events that we look forward to somewhere out in the future, or some general hope that tells us to stay positive and to keep hoping (in what?), but hope in God himself and the real and solid things that God has promised to us through Jesus. Hoping in God is not wishful thinking, it is not mere positive thinking, and it is not hoping in hope. It is confidently expecting God to be with us and to act on our behalf because, through Jesus, he has promised us these things. God gives us his promises, he binds himself by an oath to fulfill them, he makes certain that we are aware of the promises, and he undergirds it all with his character which is, in its very essence, good. God’s glory is his goodness. Hoping in a good and loving God is the only cure for despair, and the only thing that can give our lives meaning and joy. Hoping in God enables us to press on until we arrive safely in heaven.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. Psalm 42:5


* I had never seen this concept from this passage until I heard our pastor, Dr. George W. Robertson, refer to it in a sermon.
** Dr. Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.
To discover the only way to experience the hope discussed in this article, please see “The Ultimate Solution.”
Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this article as long as the wording is unchanged and there is no charge for the distribution.