If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable (1 Corinthians 15:19).
The Greeks told the story of Pandora, the first woman on earth. She was given a box (really, a jar) and told not to open it. But she became curious, and opened the box. Immediately came forth all sorts of evil that quickly spread all over the world. She quickly closed the box, leaving only one thing left in it: hope.
While the story of Pandora and her box is mythical, there are good reasons why it is told: there are plenty of evils in this life, and they provide all sorts of misery. People get sick. People get hurt. Things fall apart or decay. People die. These things are all distressing and sad, and to what do we look to ease the pain? Hope.
But is that hope a good thing? In the myth of Pandora’s box, it may or may not be. Maybe hope is seen as something that helps people; but one could also interpret hope in that story as another evil imposed upon men by the gods. If there is nothing better than this life, with a dreadful underworld awaiting us, hope is cruel. It gives the pretense of better days without ever being able to truly deliver.
So it is with all hope in this life. If this life is all there is, there is no good reason for hope: evil persists in the world and will continue to persist no matter what. People do bad things to one another. We can try to improve our lot, but we are still all going to die. There are good reasons why Ecclesiastes seems depressing: it looks at things only in terms of life “under the sun.” And if it is true that there is nothing beyond this life, then the most pitiable people are Christians, because they expended their entire lives in this most foolish hope that something better awaited them. They experienced all sorts of deprivations and sufferings, and all for nothing!
The sad reality is that any and all hope based in this world will fail. If there is nothing beyond this life, there really is no good reason for hope at all. How depressing! How intolerable!
Yet, as Paul goes on to declare, Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We have reason to hope, but this is not a hope based in the way this world currently works. Our hope must be rooted in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom which represents the expectation of a new and better world, one in which righteousness dwells (cf. 2 Peter 3:11-13). We might presently be subject to death and decay, but the day is coming when we will overcome such in the resurrection (Romans 8:18-25). That is hope indeed!
Many view this hope in escapist terms, assuming that the hope of the resurrection does not really change anything about life now. Such could not be further from the truth; our lives in Christ and the lives we are to live as conformed in His image are grounded in the hope of the resurrection (Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21). We can live our lives in this world the way God would have us live them precisely because we have hope for better days; if we somehow think we are just sitting around and waiting to get our ticket punched, we will find ourselves terribly disappointed on that final day (Matthew 7:21-23)!
This is why Jesus’ resurrection is so utterly critical: without it, there is no reason for hope. Without the resurrection, life is that meaningless trudge through pain and misery envisioned by the Greeks. Without the resurrection, we are lost in our sin without hope.
Little wonder, then, that Paul constantly emphasizes how we must be rooted in Christ and live for Christ (Romans 8:29, Colossians 2:6-7). He is the source of hope; through His resurrection, we have confidence that life is not meaningless and life is worth living. The reality of pain and misery is still there, but it need not define us or lead us to despair. We can overcome through Jesus in the resurrection. The resurrection changes everything. Let us praise God for Jesus and the resurrection and be sustained by our hope for the better world to come!
Ethan R. Longhenry