“Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.”
As a theological virtue, hope is given or infused by God. It is not something we create ourselves or something we can achieve through our own effort. With faith and love, it is a gift. We must receive it. This dynamic reveals something else extremely important about hope. We must receive it, but we must receive it from someone, namely, God. Therefore, hope is not an isolated practice, discipline, or virtue. It is not a concept that dwells within you or me only or individually.
No. Hope is by its very nature relational. For hope to exist, we must be in relationship with God. We must encounter God, experience his love, and entrust ourselves to him. We must surrender to God’s love for us, turning away from all the things that make up our false selves to accept the reality of who we truly are: the beloved of God. We may be pessimists, realists, or optimists on our own, but we can’t have the vision of hope without some relationship with God.
So, how much relationship is enough? That’s a dangerous question because the answer is not quantifiable or able to be tabulated. The simple and unnerving answer is “more.” In relationship with God, we never reach enough. That’s not the way faith or love work. There is always a next best step to take, a deeper level of surrender, a more profound understanding of truth, a greater sacrifice, a more joyful generosity, a better way to live—more justice, charity, and holiness. We never reach a point of static achievement. We are either growing in our relationship with God or we are turning away. In this life, we are never done. There is always more.
Of course, that’s only one side of the coin. The other side is quite comforting. God is never done, either. He has given us everything and continues to give us everything. God never writes us off or leaves us alone. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, constantly calls us by name, searches for us when we stray, nourishes us, gathers us, carries us and guides us. Closer to us than we are to ourselves, our God is like a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. God always does more. Wherever we are in our relationship with God, he is right there with us. God’s grace cannot be quantified or tabulated, either. It’s amazing. And there is nothing more we can do to earn it. It is enough.
As we all know from our own lives, relationship is a two sided coin. Relationship with God is also two sided—our lack of sufficiency and God’s over abundant sufficiency. This reveals even something more about the mystery of hope. You may want to hang on to something.
It seems quite clear that in our fragility, our hope is in our strong God. But, God in his strength has placed his hope in his fragile flock. Our hope is in God. God hopes in us. Our hope is sure. God’s hope is fragile, uncertain, faltering, wavering, and dependent. And, yet, he waits for us. God keeps watch for us. He eagerly yearns for our coming. Our hope will be fulfilled. Will God’s? That, my brothers and sisters, in perhaps the most surprising aspect of God’s love for us, actually depends on us.