I have spent time thinking about hope and fear and grace, mainly because of a quote that I was asked to react to. It was found on an outdoor decoration for sale at a local landscaping store.
“Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them.”
The author was a Roman Catholic priest, which, okay, you know where he’s coming from, but I hadn’t thought of a connection between hope, fear, and grace. Have you?
Most of the time, the Bible uses the word hope in terms of the afterlife. One example in Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” There are spots where hope is another word for optimism, as Paul hopes that the Jews would convert to Christianity (Romans 11:14), or hoped to spend time with certain people (1Corinthians 16:7, 1 Timothy 3:14). Does our outlook about life change because of God’s grace? I think so.
Will everything work out the way we want?
No, but we can be hopeful.
We are hopeful that God’s word works for the good of the individual, and if it doesn’t God’s Word still works… God says so in Isaiah 55:11 “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
“Extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us” – I’d be careful about a phrase that has grace as something God gives. We can speak Biblically of God giving us grace as long as we understand the Bible’s context that whenever God “gives grace”, He gives first of all because that’s who He is, a gracious God, and the “grace given” means whatever it is we receive is completely undeserved and a free action on His part.
The phrase, “God gives grace” can quickly lead away from grace…
if you think of all grace as some sort of “substance” He gives. Grace as a substance is then something that we can obtain. If grace becomes something we can obtain, than our effort obtains it (even it’s a small piddly effort). Then it’s no longer grace, but something we earn (even if the grace is way better than the effort we put in to get it). This is the trap of Roman Catholic theology, which speaks of grace but defines grace as a substance we obtain. Thus, a Roman Catholic theologian can say, “We are saved by grace” but mean “We are saved by obtaining grace.” This isn’t grace at all.
If fear is defined as anxiety about what’s going to happen to me when I die, then the Bible’s main definition of hope (in Christ being sure of something we have never seen) is the antidote for that. His perfect love for us, culminating in his sacrifice on the cross, drives out fear. 1 John 4:18 “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” I imagine when I die, I may be afraid of the uncertainty of the mechanics of death, but I’ll be thinking of Jesus the whole time and what He did for me, thereby giving me hope that my eternal fate is not punishment. Thus, the valley of the shadow of death –a scary thought– can be walked….
But that’s not the only fear/anxiety….
Just because a person has anxiety or fear,
doesn’t mean they don’t have saving faith.
The father of the demon possessed boy in Mark 9:23-24 says, “I do belief, help me overcome my unbelief.” The resurrection accounts has plenty of examples of people believing that Jesus rose from the dead but are at the same time afraid or anxious. Why does Jesus say, “Peace be with you” when he appears to them unless they weren’t at peace to begin with?
So, we don’t treat fear/anxiety as a Christian virtue, nor do we say, “No REAL Christian has fear/anxiety.” We address fear/anxiety as potential realities for the person still struggling with a corrupt and deceitful sinful nature. Maybe medications will help the corrupted brain, maybe some helps from a psychologist will enable us to reason with our unreasonable brains. But…
Such treatment is not complete
until you address the spiritual element of fear/anxiety.
We address them as Jesus did: identifying them and then preaching the Gospel to the soul dealing with them. Christ’s love for me starts with Him loving me, and comes to me as I am, anxieties and fears and all, and forgives me for all anxieties and fears, even those against Him. His love encourages me to pray to Him, sharing with Him all anxieties and fears… As Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest….”
Will we ever oust our fears?
Not even John in 1 John talks about a completely, perfect life free of sin this side of heaven. It’s always the goal to be better, to love more, and to continually drive out fear.
I do like the concept of “controlling a fear.” Controlling a fear, to me, acknowledges that there is a fear yet at the same time separates us from it. “Yes, I am afraid, now how am I going to deal with it?” instead of passively saying “I’m afraid, so I’m going to do what-it-falsely-promises-will-take-my-fear-away.”
So, how would I put fear, hope, and grace in the same sentence?
You can quote me on that.