If what we hope for doesn't turn up, what then? Should our dreams become waking nightmares, our expectations be crushed, our rights violated or our very soul torn apart by grief, what meaning has hope for us? Is hope a destination which is never reached, a station at which trains never arrive? What sense is there in this little word which plays such a prominent part in the writings of St Paul?
I think that with its orientation to the future, hope is the liberating trust which Christians have in the presence of God who is constantly seeking to make all things new. The ongoing work of creation, the eternal artistry of love, is the very nature of the God in whom we live and move and have our being. I guess that for me, hope is aligning myself to God's love as it will surely and certainly be in the future. It seems to me that it can only be from this position of trust and spiritual security that Paul can state the conviction in the passage above so clearly. Such hope has the power to help us face the future, because come what may there is nothing love cannot face (1 Cor.13:7 REB). All that is life-denying, degrading , hurtful and destructive is set within this post-Easter understanding. Pain, tragedy, loss and death are facts of life: they need not augur for the utter futility of hope. It is from the givenness of such aspects of human being as these that we have to fashion a coherent way of speaking hopefully.
There is a passage in the writings of Julian of Norwich to which I keep on returning. I think she displays a profound understanding of the texture of such hope when she says:
You will not be overcome.
God did not say you will not be troubled,
You will not be belaboured,
You will not be disquieted;
But God said, You will not be overcome
To be overcome, ultimately, would be to find oneself apart from God. Therefore hope does not disappoint, because God never abandons us. I think it is this truth which Paul unfolds in the quote above from Romans 5. To hope in and for the presence of God is to trust in a given of creation itself. And so we each become part of the others hope as God invites us to share freely in the work of new creation. God is love, so to share love is to participate in the never-ending process of hope-making.
In the epilogue to their book Hope Against Hope, Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart turn to the work of the French catholic poet Charles Peguy for inspiration, and his picturing of hope as a small girl. They say that "while the small child may be a natural symbol of hope, hope is far from natural. Writing in the face of a dark future, Peguy thought hope an astonishing miracle, by comparison with which the two other theological virtues, faith and love (charity), seemed obvious and virtually to be expected. Faith sees only what is, in time and eternity, God and creation. Charity loves only what is, in time and eternity, God and the neighbour. " For Peguy hope is altogether more special, because "hope sees what has not yet been and what will be, she loves what has not yet been and what will be. In the future of time and eternity." Drawing on this Bauckham and Hart believe that "hope does not grow up. In an age of fading and lost hopes, this is, so to speak, the hope for hope. Hope must always be born anew: "the little girl hope is she who forever begins." (Peguy)
So the birthing of newness and the eternal becomingness of love are woven deeply by God into the fabric of despair and death which clothes our everyday experience. As such hope does not grow up; it is always freshly gifted by God, and does not disappoint.