When somebody asks you if you are going to get what you are looking for, have you ever said, “I hope so!” Or, when you send someone to the grocery store to buy some items, and after they’ve gone, you say, “I hope they don’t forget the milk or eggs?” The word “hope” seems simple enough to explain, doesn’t it? But here is an encyclopedic definition: “The supernatural, infused, theological virtue that makes it possible for the Christian to expect with confidence to attain eternal life. The theological development of the virtue of hope has been less marked and less fruitful than that of faith and charity. However, hope is mentioned in the Scriptures hardly less frequently than are the other two theological virtues.”

Did you understand all of that? I had trouble grasping it too. Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, an author, researcher, speaker, and public science communicator interested in using psychological science to help all kinds of minds live a creative, fulfilling, and meaningful life, has some interesting things to say about “hope.” He begins by saying that talent, skill, ability—whatever you want to call it—will not get you to where you want to be. Sure, it helps. But a wealth of psychological research over the past few decades shows loud and clear that it’s the psychological vehicles that really get you there. You can have the best engine in the world, but if you don’t learn to drive it, you won’t get anywhere.

Psychologists have proposed lots of different vehicles over the years. They are all important. One vehicle, however, is particularly undervalued and underappreciated in psychology and society. That’s hope. Hope often gets a bad rap. For some, it conjures up images of a blissfully naïve person pushing against an immovable wall with a big smile. That’s a shame. Cutting-edge science shows that hope, at least as defined by psychologists, matters a lot, says Kaufman.

He goes on to say that hope is not a brand-new concept in psychology. In 1991, the eminent positive psychologist Charles R. Snyder (1944–2006), an American psychologist who specialized in positive psychology and his colleagues came up with “Hope Theory.” According to their theory, hope consists of motivation and pathways.  The person who has hope has the will and determination that goals will be achieved, and a set of different strategies at their disposal to reach their goals. Put simply: hope involves the will to get there, and different ways to get there.

Kaufman then asks, why is hope so important? Well, life is difficult. There are many obstacles. Having goals is not enough. One has to keep getting closer to those goals, amidst all the inevitable twists and turns of life. Hope allows people to approach problems with a mindset and strategy-set suitable for success, thereby increasing the chances they will actually accomplish their goals.

Furthermore, hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic reasoning motivational system. Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow thoughts, not the other way round. Hope-related perceptions are important. Hope leads to learning goals, which are helpful to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track. A bulk of research shows that learning goals are positively related to success across a wide swatch of human life—from academic achievement to sports to arts to science to business.

Kaufman finishes by warning that those lacking hope, on the other hand, tend to adopt goals they can master. People with mastery goals choose easy tasks that don’t offer a challenge or opportunity for growth. When they fail, they quit. People with mastery goals act helpless and feel a lack of control over their environment. They don’t believe in their capacity to obtain the kind of future they want. They end up with no hope.

But there is a psychological and spiritual manual written thousands of years ago that is relevant for today’s world. It is called the “Word of God” – Bible, for short. So, what do the Holy Scriptures have to say about “hope?” We can go all the way back to King David, who said, “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.”[1] And the prophet Jeremiah shares God’s words to him that says: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”[2]

We should never mistake “hope” for “wishful thinking.” The Apostle Peter wrote to the believers, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” That means hope is something that reaches even beyond this life.

The Apostle Paul also rejoiced in hope. He prayed for the believers in Rome, saying, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”[3] So, we are not the only ones with hope, God is the source of our hope. That is why he also told them to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”[4] Oh my! Sounds like hope shows up when we are in tight situations and undergoing hardships.

That may be why the Apostle then advised the Romans that “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”[5] So, what does this lead to? Paul says, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”[6] And that leads us to one of the most well-known verse of hope: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the assurance of things not seen.”[7]

So, whatever you do, whatever you may do without, or whatever you feel is not going to be yours, never, never, never lose hope! – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Psalm 39:7

[2] Jeremiah 29:11

[3] Romans 15:13

[4] Ibid. 12:12

[5] Ibid. 15:4

[6] Ibid. 8:24-25

[7] Hebrews 11:1

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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