We commonly use the word “hope” in at least two senses. Some times we speak of “hoping against hope.” In this sense we use “hope” to indicate a kind of doggedness of will, but it is a sheer doggedness without real expectation of fulfillment. Hope thus experienced is more desperate than it is, well, hopeful. At other times we speak of “hope” more in terms of confident expectation, of trust that something will occur or be fulfilled. Hope thus experienced is not desperate but, well, truly hopeful.
Peter, a disciple of and witness to Jesus, wrote this letter to followers of Jesus scattered around Asia Minor in the early 60s A.D. He wrote to encourage and foster hope and faithfulness in those dispersed Christian communities. The hope of which he spoke was hope of the latter kind – expectant and confident of fulfillment of God’s purposes in the world and in the lives of his beloved people.
Peter wrote of hope not because he was naïve. He had seen the worst, from his own failure before Jesus to Jesus’ horrible death. Yet he knew also the great mercy of God leading to new birth, to new life in the risen Jesus. In a sense, after all he had been through with Jesus, Peter knew this mercy better than he knew his own failure or any other failures in life. God – loving, good, and powerful – thus gave him hope in Jesus.
Nor were Peter’s readers naïve. They knew trouble, discomfort, and adverse circumstances. Though they lived in it, they were “strangers in the world.” This was a period of increasing persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. They suffered or expected to suffer. Yet they also experienced God’s mercy and new life in Jesus. God thus gave them hope in Jesus.
We may look at the world around us, and at our own life, and we may ask what hope there is. Is there only hope against hope? Or is there true hope – expectant, trusting, confident? There is hope, declared Peter, not by ignoring trouble and adversity, but amid trouble and adversity, in that God in mercy gives us new life in Jesus. Through worship, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, and faithful living, we experience Jesus, and God fashions hope in us, more each day. And so in turn we become agents of hope in a world in desperate need of it.