My column of July 1, 2019, while the leadership tussle within the PNP was peaking was titled ‘Hope: Fundamental but Fragile’. Recently in another column in this newspaper ‘Hope Revisited’ (March 19), I urged the point that it is the guarantee/guarantor beneath hope that determines whether it is good hope (confident realism) or bad hope (blind optimism).
I want to probe this guarantee/guarantor issue a bit further.
You no doubt have heard the notion that when you are in a dark/lonely area and feel afraid you should “whistle and keep your company” or some such action. I described this in a speech at UTECH, in blunt Jamaican language, as “eediat bizniz”, blind optimism, “fool fool”!
No matter how loudly or sweetly you whistle you are still alone there and foolishly making your presence known to an unseen person or entity [duppy?]. The guarantee beneath such hope is like soap bubbles, inadequate.
Christians who love to console themselves with certain songs of hope like ‘My Hope is Built on Nothing Less’ or ‘Because He Lives’ without more (as the lawyers would say) need to probe the essential content of those hymns, identify and analyze the purported guarantee/guarantor beneath the hope being peddled by the hymns.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28 advances a major thesis of hope which begs for analysis, and in response to this thesis, we must avoid two extremes.
We must avoid the extreme of rejecting this thesis out of hand simply because we inwardly believe that all peddlers of hope sound confident but are contentless in their assertions.
We must avoid the other extreme of ready acceptance of the thesis simply because it is in the Bible and because you believe the Bible is inspired by God.
Here is Paul’s thesis of hope, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the ones called according to purpose.” I preached on this text years ago and urged the congregation to raise questions about the thesis to ensure that we exercise our God-given brains in interaction with the essential arguments advanced by Paul to ground his thesis.
I am irreverent like that in my teaching ministry. [No doubt some brethren are happy that I am now no longer in the pastorate, anywhere].
It is certainly not the ‘all things’ of daily life that possess the power to work together for the believer’s good, instead, it is God who causes all things to achieve that end.
There is need to query the meaning of ‘good’. Does Paul mean that all the situations and circumstances of life work together, by divine agency, for the immediate comfort and convenience of an individual? Presumably not.
The ‘good’ seems to be suggesting the ultimate more than the immediate. This becomes clearer as we reckon with the fact that Paul is arguing to the goal of glorification – that certain ‘shall be’ which provides a coping and conquering perspective on the circumstances of life in the present.
This is not to negate any present, immediate benefits being derived from even adverse circumstances, but it would appear that Paul’s argument incorporates the present but transcends it.
Paul does not leave it to us to determine the characteristics of the people with this special assurance, this peculiar comforting hope; subjectively, they love God and objectively, they are the ones called according to God’s purpose.
The progression of ideas that Paul advances is from sovereign purpose to sovereign acts effecting that purpose.
Paul is saying that hope for the Christian, has guaranteed certainty (not mere probability), not because of the Christian’s subjective attitude to God but because the Christian is called in accordance with God’s purpose.
Having stated his thesis, Paul then offers three arguments in support of it. I can explore only the first argument here and that briefly.
Paul simply wishes to comfort and console Christians and entice non-Christians with the thought that God’s purposeful activity governs the whole of the believer’s life.
Why does and why must all things work together for the believer’s ultimate and even immediate good? Because of GOD’S PURPOSEFUL ACTIVITY.
Watch that tremendous 5-fold activity of God in vv. 29 and 30. God foreknew, God predestined, God called, God justified, God glorified.
I do not have the time or the knowledge to explore all that these delightful verbs mean but we must take time to hint at some of what they seem to suggest.
God foreknew (this is to know beforehand and set affection upon); God predestined (the idea here is to decree some things, and so let loose power in the world to accomplish those things); God called (here it means to pull into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ through the call of the gospel); God justified, a legal term (the idea is to acquit/declare not guilty of a sin-charge); God glorified (this is to transform or change thoroughly).
The use of a past tense is normal and expected in foreknew, predestined, called and justified, being terms expressing accomplished or completed activities, but, on the face of it, glorified is unexpected.
There is no real sense in which God’s activity of glorifying the believer is either finished or completed. So technically, glorification is yet future. Has Paul blundered in the Greek? No, here is the heartwarming genius and insight of Paul.
When God is at work in your life, what He has promised/purposed to do, which has not yet happened. can be treated as having happened already, because it must happen.
God is purposely active in the believer’s life and nobody can thwart God’s purposes for the believer. As it were, in using a past tense when speaking of the future glorification of the believer, Paul is expounding the ‘wasness of the shall be’. An awkward idea I know but work with this half-crazy former Greek lecturer.
This then is the chain of events that, for Paul, envelops the believer. The believer is caught, willingly and pleasantly so, in the machinery of divine sovereign purpose, being propelled from the pre-temporal pole of ‘foreknowledge’ to the temporal or post-temporal pole of ‘glorification’.
There is no circumstance of life (not illness or death from Covid-19) which does not fall between those poles, and since they do they are themselves caught up in the machinery of the divine purpose and thereby become subservient to that purpose.
All things, therefore, must work together for the ultimate redemptive well-being of the Christian because of the purposeful activity of God.
Having been flooded with thoughts of the purposeful activity of God for the elect, an activity that encompasses and controls the whole spectrum of reality (pre-temporal, temporal and post-temporal), what can the elect reply? What reasonable inference can be drawn from the body of truth presented (v.31a)?
The Apostle answers in v. 31b with composure and certainty, “If, or more correctly (based on the construction in the Greek), since God is for us who can be against us?” Put differently, since God is actively safeguarding our highest good who or what can wage warfare against us successfully?
God is the guarantee and guarantor that all things will work together for the believer’s ultimate good, regardless.
This hope is not blind optimism but confident realism because it is grounded in Almighty God. This is the hope that comforts.
Let the non-Christian whistle in the dark and say ‘where there’s life there’s hope’ let the Christian say ‘where there is hope in God, there is vitality in life, there is comfort in grief, there is assurance, no matter what.’