How hope can keep you healthier and happier

We’re addressing the question, ‘IS THERE STILL HOPE?’ (see Part 1). Here in South Africa NEWS 24 announced a few weeks ago that as a result of the Covid-19 lock-down, even children are showing signs of neurological damage as a side-effect of the pandemic – I guess that’s global. When all seems hopeless in our world and we feel hope-less, even as Christians, where do we turn? As Part 1 revealed, the only ultimate solution must lie in the person of the resurrected Christ who straddles time and eternity.

Returning to our text-passage in 1 Peter 1:3ff, we notice that our Christian hope is not only anchored in the past but realized in the PRESENT. ‘On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (v. 3/CEB). Why a ‘living hope?’ (briefly)

a) It is based, as we noted in Part 1, on the intervention of the unique, living, trinitarian God in this world (v.2).

b) It is based, as we have noted in detail in Part 1, on the historical, resurrected Jesus (v.3).

c) It is based on the ever-living Christ, who ‘is the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Heb. 13:7-8). It’s a hope that is alive and well as Christ is alive and well. We’re all familiar with the saying,‘where there’s life there’s hope’ – for Jesus-followers it works both ways: where there is hope, there’s life! This ‘life,’ as the apostle John points out, is a relational and qualitative life, that of another dimension and kingdom, as we commune with Jesus every day.

d) It is based on a supernatural experience of the risen Christ, realized in mind, heart and life by the life-giving Wind of God! (Jn. 3:1-8) I.o.w. our hope is felt, it’s experiential.‘You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!’

Moving on, I believe we should not only regularly remind ourselves of the above, but learn to think more biblically about Christ and his kingdom message no matter how long we’ve been in the faith! Here I want to make a few references to NT scholar Dr. N.T. Wright and particularly his very enlightening ‘Surprised by Hope’:

Surprised by Hope (N.T. Wright) - MasterLectures

1) By recognizing that in Jewish thought, only a very thin ‘curtain’ separated God’s space from human space – in the NT a ‘paper-thin’ divide separates our earthly life from Christ’s kingdom life! We need to expect God, as we journey with him in meditation and prayer, to surprise us at any moment by ‘breaking through’ into our own lives and in the lives of those we touch day by day. Do we really believe that eternity breaks into our time and space whenever the Good News establishes justice and peace among humankind, bringing healing and wholeness to broken people and restoring relationship, both vertical and horizontal??

2) By realizing that ‘heaven’ is not up there in the sky somewhere. No, ‘heaven’ is God’s ‘control room’ for earth, and his Son Jesus is the new CEO! Wright submits that basically, heaven and earth, in biblical cosmology, are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter. They are simply two dimensions of God’s good creation. ‘All authority is given to me,’ said Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, ‘in heaven and on earth.’ (Mt. 28:18)

3) Jesus’ Messiah-ship was never intended just for Israel per se but for his kingdom worldwide (I have argued this exhaustively in previous blog posts: Israel exists for Christ, not vice versa). E.g. the historian-evangelist Luke insists that, since Jesus really was raised from the dead, the ancient Scriptures of Israel must be read as a story reaching its climax in Jesus and will then produce its proper fruit not only in Israel but in Jesus’ followers everywhere and, through them, in all the world. Thus our/the Church’s mission ‘is nothing more nor less than the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus’ bodily resurrection,and thus the anticipation of the time when God will fill the earth with his glory, transform the old heavens and earth into the new, and raise his children from the dead to populate and rule over the redeemed world he has made’ (Wright). To be totally practical, this could involve us (in a Good News context/Lk. 4:18-19) in running playgroups for children of single-parent working mums, running a drug-rehab home, facilitating a soup-kitchen among the poor, building bridges of peace cross-culturally, etc. Some years ago an English-South African young couple intentionally planted a house church in the notorious (for gangs, drug-running, violence) Cape Flats area to help young people find a new beginning, bravely using their home as a house church focusing on ministry to the needy in the community. They awaken and go to sleep with the sound of gun fire. Yet they persist because they believe God is active in healing broken people in a broken community. They believe that in the midst of despair, there is always hope in Christ (cf. Footnotes 1 & 2).

Another way to keep present hope alive is by ‘Keeping Christianity Christian’ (de Gruchy), i.e. by displaying Jesus to the world. Peter’s compatriot records how some Greeks came to worship in the Jerusalem temple (Jn. 12:20-26). They had heard about this Jesus of Nazareth who had raised his good friend Lazarus from the dead; they had seen him in the distance, but they really wanted to meet him firsthand and get to know him. So they came to a disciple of Jesus’ and humbly said, ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus!’ (v.21/CEB) So the disciples in turn introduced them to Jesus, who then told them about the meaning of what was happening to him and what it would mean to follow him. This cameo really describes the task of the Church! How often, unfortunately, Church institutionalism and traditionalism have hidden the real Jesus from sight (D. Bonhoeffer). Jesus is lost in the institution and Church constitutions and dogma, so instead of of the world seeing Christ at work through the life of his followers, he is hidden from view – that’s why I left denominationalism 14 years ago. My dear reader, what steps will you take to change this all too common negative image of the Church??

Peter concludes in our text-passage, that, whether we’re talking about hope past, present or future, we can never be sure of anything until it has been thoroughly tested. For this reason our faith and hope will pass through testings/trials, which can be very painful. Paul assures us that we’ll never be over-tested (1 Cor. 10:13), but we need to make peace with trial and testing until our final day on this earth (3). ‘You now rejoice in this hope, even if it is necessary for you to be distressed (deeply-felt, mental and emotional distress) for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though itself is tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed!’ (v. 6-7/CEB). The ultimate and very encouraging outcome of our sufferings is that we know that our faith is not something we have produced but given us by the living God. That’s why our faith is ‘valuable’ even in God’s sight, bringing the Almighty praise, glory and honour! (v.7)

In our third/final article on HOPE we plan to engage with its present-future implications for those trusting in God. (See FOOTNOTES)

✓ Biblical Images, Pictures and Free Stock Photos


(1) Cf. J. de Gruchy’s ‘Without Apology.’ Respectfully, I don’t go with all of his theology, but he does write from wide experience of the Church over a long and fruitful lifetime.

(2) Having planted a few house churches over the past 14 years in our metro, some among the very poor, I can testify of the hope the Good News brings in the most hope-less of situations. There are many books available on ‘organic house churches’ and how they function, by various authors, should you be interested: e.g. Wolfgang Simson (‘Houses That Change the World‘), Frank Viola (‘Finding Organic Church,’ ‘Reimagining Church,’ etc), Robert & Julia Banks (‘The Church Comes Home’), etc. Cf. Luke’s photograph of the Early Church reflected in Acts 2:42-47: of course we have to contextualize this in the 21st century.

(3) Western ‘Christian media’ often lives in total denial of this truth in their pursuance of a popular, comfortable ‘gospel’ which is in fact no gospel at all! I have to counter this worldly, power-driven heresy often in my oversight of house churches in our city.


Some years ago I attempted to keep fit by attending an aerobics class, in which we exercised ad nauseum to a high-volume song ‘Give Me Hope, Jo’anna.’ I imagined it referred to a young man and his lover-friend named Joanna, only to discover recently, to my total embarassment, that it arose from the 1980’s struggle years in Johannesburg, expressing the pain of Soweto’s citizens under the jackboot of the Apartheid military machine and the death of many innocent victims. Listen to the rendering of the song below (the sound and lyrics, poor at first, improve)…

For Some Older Adults, a Pandemic of Loneliness - UConn Today

Our question is one psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrestled with amid the horrific suffering of innocent Jews in the notorious Auschwitz death-camp: his ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ records the story of many fellow-prisoners who died almost immediately on losing hope of survival. Following the terrorist mass murders in Madrid in March of 2004, the killers proclaimed ‘You love life, we love death!’ A friend of mine in China tells of that massive nation’s soaring divorce rate: older folk, with financial support in mind, pressurize the younger set to marry early – but these same younger people grew up in 1-child households where they were the sole focus of their parents, their self-centredness definitely not making for healthy marriages! Jurgen Moltmann in his very recent ‘Hope In These Troubled Times’ mentions how humans cannot exist without the ecology and that God breathed his Spirit not only into humans but into all of his creatures (Ps. 104:24-30) – yet we are busy destroying these at an alarming rate. In my country SADAG reports that (no doubt accelerated by Covid isolation) 1 in 6 South Africans suffer from depression, anxiety or substance abuse: a family doctor in a small Western Cape farming community recently mentioned that approx. 80% of his patients are being treated for psycho-somatic illnesses. So, is there still any hope for our world, the Church, and you and me??

To tackle this really tough question, I invite you to travel back with me some 2,000 years to the life and times of the apostle Peter as he writes (startlingly) from Rome, under severe (documented) persecution from the notorious Nero: ‘May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance which cannot perish – an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time. You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed!’ (1 Pet. 1:3-7/CEB). Is the man crazy, or has he got hold of something unique here??

The apostle Peter, impulsive bully turned self-effacing servant of Jesus the Christ (1), sent this powerful encouragement via his amanuensis Silas (Peter’s written Greek was poor) to the mainly Gentile diaspora-groups scattered throughout northern and western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Maybe Silas had interested Peter in this area because they had not been touched by the apostle Paul’s church-planting journeys. These new believers were struggling to make sense of their faith amid their persecution and relative isolation. [Interestingly, Peter writes about their ‘salvation’ from a trinitarian perspective: these Gentiles were ‘chosen by the Father, made holy by the Holy Spirit, because of the faithful obedience and sacrifice of Jesus Christ’ (1:2/CEB)]

Peter’s promise of hope is founded in the historical PAST. ‘God made this Jesus to be Lord and Christ when he raised him from the dead,’ Peter proclaimed in Jerusalem (Acts 2:36). Sadly, much of postmodern Christianity, as a result of lop-sided existentialist teachers going back to scholars like Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann, and in more recent times the top-selling American mystic Fr. Richard Rohr, have subtly prised biblical spirituality from Christianity’s classic, historical resurrection-roots (2). The highly rated English NT scholar, Prof. N.T. Wright of St. Andrews University, writing of the early Christian hope in its historical setting, states ‘Take away the stories of Jesus’ birth, and all you lose is two chapters of Matthew and two of Luke. Take away the resurrection and you lose the entire New Testament, and most of the second-century fathers as well’ (3). Back to our text, ‘May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (v. 3/CEB). In other words, Christ’s resurrection-life produced a similar life in Peter and his readers! Furthermore, this ‘new life’ was not based on a human philosophy or a teaching but on a person, the risen Christ. Turning to Peter’s fellow-apostle, Paul, we can’t imagine Paul’s message without the resurrection: “I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins… he was buried, and he rose again on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the 12… then to more than 500 brothers and sisters at once – most of them are still alive… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I was born at the wrong time…. So if the message that is preached says that Christ has been raised from the dead, then how can some of you say, ‘There’s no resurrection from the dead?’ If there’s no resurrection from the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised either…. then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless… you are still in your sins, and what’s more those who have died in Christ are gone forever… But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead… Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too’ (excerpts from 1 Cor. 15/ CEB). The empty tomb was equally foundational in the writings of the early Church Fathers: Clement and Ignatius, Justin and Irenaeus, to name a few. It was one of the key-beliefs which infuriated the pagans in Lyon in AD 177 and drove them to butcher several Christians including their bishop. On a more contemporary note, the absolutely meticulous German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg has written concerning the resurrection, ‘The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believed it happened, you have to change the way you live!’ As followers of Christ we don’t take some ‘leap into the dark’ but in fact a ‘leap into the light!

Peter’s promise of hope is realized in the PRESENT. (v. 3/CEB). It also holds true for the FUTURE (v. 4-5) More about these in Parts 2 and 3.

In concluding part 1 (so much could be said on this subject!), let me say that the conviction of serious Jesus-followers around the world is clear: we believe the only real hope for the Church and the world at large, lies in the historic Good News declared by Peter and his compatriots of the first centuries AD. I hope this conviction grows on my readers as we proceed. As one who has traveled widely, I have seen, over a life-time, it’s practical outworking in faithful little Christian assemblies around the globe, in the lives of the poorest of the poor, and among the most unlikely ethnic groups of the world.


(1) Cf. at least 3 cataclysmic events in the life of Simon Peter dramatically shaped him for his future apostleship: his inspired confession of the Christ (Mt. 16:13-20), his personal discovery of the empty tomb (Jn. 20:1-9) and the Spirit’s empowering at Pentecost (Acts 2). If able, take time to read these carefully, yet imaginatively.

(2) I’ve been following a South African academic presently lecturing in the UK, Dr. Frederik Mulder (same surname and clan), challenging the Dutch Reformed Church in SA whose senior seminary professors, without exception, deny the historical/bodily resurrection of Jesus. They have so bought into the existentialism of Bultmann and others that for them the empty tomb is no longer vital to faith. This departure from the historical faith is producing sad results in the DRC seminaries, pulpits and congregations.

(3) Cf. Tom Wright’s thoroughly researched and thought-through ‘Surprised by Hope,’ p. 54.