Hope is a complicated thing. Not only does its nature change as you and hope mature together, but no one ever really defines where it comes from in the first place. Well, today is your lucky day, because I intend to take a stab at defining where hope comes from and the nature of hope as it changes from inception to maturity. Read on!
After I wrote the word “prelude” I realized I was using a musical term for “that which comes before.” Most people would have titled this “Introduction.” With that aside said, let us proceed with the introduction.
The Come, Follow Me manual for the Book of Mormon ends with an emphasis on the hope Moroni expresses for the future of his people, specifically his brethren the Lamanites. That got me thinking about all the references the prophets in the book make to their hope for the future redemption of their people, including the Lamanites. Their eyes were always on the future, even as they struggled with their current-day challenges.
In the midst of this effort to figure out why hope was such a big deal to them all through the Book of Mormon, we had a youth speaker in church who spoke on hope. I noticed that at no time did he ever define hope or tell us where it came from. All he was able to do was to quote scriptures where prophets spoke of hope. It was just one long string of quotes on hope. I felt very unsatisfied. I wanted to understand hope, not just be fed other’s comments of appreciation about it.
So this article is the result of my pondering and contemplating about the nature of hope, how it starts, where it comes from, and how it changes over the course of time and experience with it. I hope it helps you feel more comfortable with the concept of hope in some way.
When I write, I don’t usually have everything all mapped out ahead of time, it comes out however it comes out. I just start writing and everything flows onto the page. But I can tell you that I will try to separate the topic of hope into distinct pieces so you can look at things like where it comes from and how it develops, etc.
This is one of those topics you need to think about and see how you feel as you read. So give yourself some time and some emotional space to let this sink in and see if it fits with your experiences in life. Let’s begin!
Our innate nature
When we talk about animals we often refer to their instincts, their built-in behaviors that cause them to nest at specific times, to migrate to specific places or to do things in specific ways. I have been told that humans have very few instincts beyond things like flight or fight reactions to fear. But as I thought about hope it occurred to me that all of us have needs that we rarely address verbally. They are felt within us, are universal, and manifest themselves in a myriad of ways.
An example of our instinctive needs is that of finding solutions to problems. We all look for answers to problems when presented with a challenge or a perceived shortage of something. If we are cold we seek for a way to get warm. How we get warm may be solved in many ways, but we want to be warm, so we hunt for a way to do that.
But there are some categories of problem solving that goes above and beyond the mere creature comforts, like being warm. If I recognize that my life seems meaningless, I begin to search for a way to make my life feel meaningful. Such thoughts and feelings are every bit as powerful as my wanting to be warm because I am currently cold. Getting warm when cold is a pressing need that usually trumps more philosophical needs like wanting to have meaning in my life. But when my physical needs are met, those of the emotional kind often reassert themselves, demanding to be heard.
We don’t know where these sensed needs for answers come from. I can only assume they are part of our eternal nature that God made sure we had available to us in mortality to help lead us to search for Him.
Where hope is born
When I have written about faith and hope in the past, I have often (scratch that – usually) written that hope and faith is a chicken and egg scenario. We don’t really know which comes first. I now definitely believe that hope comes first. To arrive at this conclusion I had to first try to define where hope is born, and how it comes into existence. That is when it came to me that we have these instinctive desires for answers or possibilities for solutions that are part of our eternal nature.
As an example, if I am first introduced to Christianity, not knowing anything beforehand about Jesus or the teachings of Christianity, I may already have a nagging feeling deep in my soul for more or greater meaning to this life. When I am told about the promises Jesus makes to those who follow him, I see that his promises might just fulfill my desire for more meaning. There is a possibility here that what I seek has just been found. This is the birth of hope. And this is where my definition of the beginnings of hope comes from.
Definition of hope
Hope is born in the perception of a desirable possibility.
Now that I see that someone may have an answer to my questions or need for meaning, I can begin to act on the possibility of bringing to pass my desired hope for meaning (which is our example). When I use my hope of the availability of something that will answer my need, and I act on my hope, we call that faith. Faith is an action word that describes what we do to act on our hope or our belief. Hope is the fuel, and faith is the fire that changes us from what we are to what we can be. This is a process, but I believe this is how it starts.
What I am talking about here is immature or baby hope. This is very different from adult hope, but it is a starting place for all types of hope. I believe that we cannot exercise faith unless we have hope in something first. Hope is why we do something. Faith is practicing the belief in our hope that brings about the changes we desire in our life. There must be hope for faith to be exercised, for the hope of an answer to a question or that something better will take place if action is applied to our belief is what motivates us to act in the first place.
Note that there is no proof yet that what we hope will happen will actually take place. Hope, by definition, is the desire for a favorable future possibility. Faith is the action we take to prove that our hope either will or will not reveal to us what we want to find. When I read the Book of Mormon and feel good about it, and I take that feeling to the Lord and ask if what I have read is true, I am hoping that my good feelings will be confirmed by God. The prayer is my acting out my faith in that feeling. This is what the Lord refers to as praying with real intent. I really want to know if what I suspect to be true actually is true.
The growth of hope
Once I have tested my hope through faith (action of some sort), and I receive verification or confirmation from God that what I hoped was true really is true, I now have a kind of hope that is not just experimental. Now my hope has been proven to be valid and I can use that baby hope to experiment on other things as well. Just like a child grows day by day, and year by year, our hope also grows in like manner. We use the process of seeking answers and using faith to get answers over and over again, and through this process our hope becomes stronger and stronger.
What happens to us as our faith and our hope become a more integral part of our life is that we can now see that immediate needs can be met through the process of accepting hope then acting on that hope using faith, and answers will come. Now we begin to exercise hope in slightly more future things, and don’t need everything in which we exercise hope and faith to be immediate in nature.
An example of this might be the paying of tithing. Witnesses of tithing don’t usually come immediately, but come after a sustained period of paying tithing. Once we have been paying tithing for a while, we begin to realize that there are evidences in our life that we are being blessed in many ways. They may not be financial at all, but we find that we are solving our problems more easily, that unexpected blessings are flowing naturally into our lives that we never saw before. It is almost like awaking from a dream and realizing that changes are happening that we never recognized before. This continues to cement our hope/faith cycle, and we are able to sustain our faith for longer periods of time.
Eventually, we become comfortable enough with this process of hoping for something then acting on it (faith) that the words of Christ that teach us of future rewards in the eternities begin to take on an immediacy for today. I begin to realize that if I really want to live with Christ and God in the future, I need to keep the commandments and learn to be more and more like Christ today. Even though my focus is moving from just mortality, like it was in the beginning stages of hope, to my future in the eternities, that future is dependent on my actions today. I actually begin to live today for the eternities tomorrow. This is the effect of mature hope.
Mature hope is able to handle the immediate desires of today, but also is able to sustain me, through my ever increasing ability to exercise faith, to live for the future. Have you noticed as you read the Book of Mormon that all the prophets spent a lot of time, talking to the people about future generations? I think this is because they were trying to get the people to see the need to repent today in order to bless the lives of their posterity for many generations to come. The prophets were always trying to get the people to see the big picture of the plan of salvation. The people already knew they were in mortality, but their vision was still locked on today, and not the big picture of where today was going to take them. The same is true today. We need to learn to hope and exercise faith that will sustain us today for the blessings of our life in the hereafter. This is the sustaining power of mature hope.
What does this have to do with Christ?
Up to this point I have only been talking specifically about the origins and process of using hope to exercise faith so we can become something better than we are today, and so we can satisfy our natural desires for answers and solutions that plague every soul who enters mortality. What I haven’t yet mentioned is that none of this is possible without Christ. Remember that God, our Father, has told us that none of us can return to Him unless we do so THROUGH Christ. Christ is our conduit and our path back to God. There is no other way nor means by which we can go home, only through Christ.
It is because of Christ that God answers our prayers. We cannot exercise faith, and have it be productive and beneficial to us, unless we access Christ’s atoning sacrifice. His sacrifice on our behalf is why God is able to grant us forgiveness, why the Spirit is able to enlarge our abilities, our insights, change our heart, and grant us views of eternity. All of it would be impossible without Christ and his sacrifices for us. Everything good in our life is because of Christ. To claim that anything good can come to us outside of Christ is to deny the extent of his contribution to our welfare. The scriptures are very explicit that ALL good comes from and flows from Christ.
At this Christmas season, we are usually more prone to reflect on the role of Christ in our life than at other times of the year. Sad, but true. So when you think about Christ, and look back on all the answers you have received throughout your life, remember that all those answers come only in and through Christ’s involvement in your life. All our hopes and dreams in this life, especially those that have to do with our future happiness in the eternities, come all because Jesus was obedient and willing to give his all for our welfare.
There is so much for us to put our hope or trust in. We can hope for a glorious resurrection where we will receive a glorified body like Christ has received. We can hope for an eternity surrounded by our loved ones, with everyone progressing and growing together in love and peace. All our heartaches from this life will be done away, and all the tears will be wiped from our eyes. Only joy and rejoicing will be our lot, if we our life is filled with hope and faith today.
Since I started this article with a musical reference, I thought I would end with one as well. This would be the conclusion, that which comes after (another musical reference).
There are many other aspects to hope I have not covered here. My intent was to define for myself the origins of hope and how it affects a person’s life. I hope this has been beneficial to you. Now take this and refine it with your own reflexions and pondering.
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