Pinning Our Hope on God’s Covenant Promises
“Theological hope is a hope for relational union with God.”1
In her recent book Daring to Hope,2 Katie-Davis Majors tells a story about inviting Katherine—a sick, widowed mother of five—into her home in Uganda to assist her with care. Along with being HIV positive, this woman was suffering from tuberculosis which was growing more complicated with each passing day.
Knowing from medical experts the future appeared dim, Katie hoped for impossible healing to take place within Katherine’s frail frame, regardless of a dark diagnosis. Relentlessly, Katie continued to pray audacious prayers and dream for a flourishing future for this lady and her children. Begging before God’s throne of grace with belief and expectation, temporal healing never came. At the young age of thirty, Katherine breathed her last breath and entered eternity.
Like Katie, many of us have hoped through despairing circumstances—only to see God answer in an unanticipated manner. We have experienced unexpected outcomes to our prayers and dreams which, in the dark night of the soul, have made it difficult to comprehend even the relevance of hope.
We have also encountered situations where God’s responses aligned with our own personal desires. We prayed to a certain end, and God answered in such a way that was in exact accordance with our request.
These seemingly paradoxical experiences make it challenging to understand how to properly appropriate our hopes through the trials and triumphs of life.
How do we continue to hope when we are unsure how God will answer our prayers? When considering a compelling theology of hope, we must distinguish between two kinds of hope—natural and covenantal. Differentiating between these two forms enables us to tighten our grip on the covenantal hope we have in Christ—which unites us to the Father through the work of the Spirit. When natural desires end in discouragement, covenantal hope is the hope that does not disappoint (Rom. 5:5).
Natural hopes often include a lengthy list of meaningful longings. We might hope for a friendship to be realized or relationship rectified. Some may hope for children. Others desire physical or spiritual healing for themselves or a loved one. A person might rightfully long for financial security, government stability, or personal safety. Many yearn for reprieve from insecurity, stress, anxiety, fatigue, or depression. Rarely is there a of lack “items” on the list of desires when it comes to this type of hope.
Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung describes natural hope in a modern context when she states, “Contemporary usage of the term ‘hope’ usually refers to a feeling, a wish, or an optimistic disposition toward the future.”3 Natural hope includes a desire or expectation oriented toward an outcome that is preferable and positive. For example, a single person might desire to marry in the future. The object—or outcome of this hope—would be manifested at the altar through marital vows which bring the two individuals into an intimate, relational union.
Since the desire for marriage is a natural hope, the ultimate object of this hope—when realized—is still finite. One day, the marriage and union will end (Matt. 22:30). This is not to say singles are wrong to hope for marriage (quite the opposite); but rather, even marital covenants are not eternally binding. When we filter our finite hopes—whatever they may be—through the lens of an eternal perspective, we can distinguish certain differences between natural hope and covenantal hope.
God is our eternal Hope. From the Abrahamic (Gn. 15) to the Davidic (2 Sam. 7) covenant, we observe God’s unchanging character through His desire to be in relationship with His people throughout the Old Testament. The covenants brought God’s people into union with Him through His promises which led to their ultimate hope—the assurance that Yahweh was indeed with them and would remain faithful to His promises. Israel was to position God as the ultimate object of their hope in both their hearts and minds.
The Major Prophets spoke of a New Covenant where the Spirit would be poured out on God’s people (Ezek. 36; Jer. 31). With the ratification of this covenant, the nature of God’s character has not changed in the least (Heb. 6:17). As partakers of the New Covenant, the author of Hebrews explains that we possess an even greater manifestation of hope. Hebrews 7:22 states, “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” Thus, we are heirs to a rich inheritance of covenantal hope, and this is absolutely guaranteed.
So what—or Who—exactly is this New Covenant hope that is sure, steadfast, and anchors our souls? (Heb. 6:19).
This hope is Christ Himself. The Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, is the better object of our hope. Christ is the expectation and infinite end. Christ offers us a greater hope because we now have direct access to God through the blood of the Lamb and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Covenantal hope draws us into boundless, unending companionship with God. In the dark night of the soul, when we struggle to keep hope, we can pin our natural hopes to the cross when expectations remain unmet.
We can tell our souls, like David did, to hope in God’s covenantal promises:
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him. (Ps. 42:5)
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him. (Ps. 42: 11)
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him. (Ps. 43:5)
We will praise Him once again—whether here or when we see Him face to face—because at some point our present reality will reach an intersection with eternity.
1Cobb, Aaron D. and Adam Green. “The Theological Virtue of Hope as a Social Virtue.” Journal of Analytic Theology 5 (2017): 230-250.
2Davis-Majors, Katie. Daring to Hope. New York: Multnomah, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2017.
3Konyndyk DeYoung, Rebecca. “Practicing Hope.” Res Philosophica (2014): 388-409.