"[Abraham] against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was [promised by God.]
"And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:
"He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
"And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform."
Romans 4:18-21, King James Version
The Greek word translated as “hope” in verse 18 is elpis, which has two meanings: hope (positive optimism), but also expectation (neutral probability).
The Apostle Paul is using Abraham as an example of the kind of faith the early saints needed: Abraham trusted God so much that even in contradiction of probability, he chose optimism and faith.
Hoping Against Hope
This verse is the source for the common idiom, “hoping against hope” (1). We use this phrase when we have an unquenchable desire for something, when we trust something beyond the limits of comprehension, and/or when in desperation we can’t bring ourselves to stop hoping—sometimes hope is all we have. God promised Abraham and Sarah a posterity that would number beyond the sands of the seashore. They were childless centenarians with aged bodies “now dead” as to their ability to have children (Rom. 4:19), meaning that having children was physiologically impossible. Today we’d say their situation was “beyond hope.” Yet despite all reason, “Abraham staggered [hesitated] not at the promise of God” (v. 20) because he was convinced that God wouldn’t give a promise He couldn’t fulfill (v. 21). His hope was born of faith and strengthened by past experience. Believing that God can work beyond the bounds of human logic enabled Abraham to trust Him even when it didn’t make sense.
Hope Based in Experience
The Lord eventually made good on His promise, and Isaac was born. This experience forged even stronger faith, which Abraham would need years later when he’d be commanded to sacrifice that son. Again he hoped against hope that God would still fulfill the promise of an endless posterity. And, of course, He did. The Lord has given me some promises that haven’t panned out. In prayerful moments of questioning, I’m reminded that I don’t know what fulfillment of those promises will look like (though I'm quick to jump to plenty of conclusions), and that there is still plenty of time—eternity, even!—for them to be brought to pass. So I’m left to hope against hope, trusting His plan for me. (Truth be told, even if those promises were left unfulfilled, the hope I feel in the moment is far more empowering than the despair I could be experiencing instead.)
Someone on the outside might look at my life (or yours) and say it makes no sense to trust or even believe in God. At times I've wondered that myself. Things that help me hold on to hope despite logic or reasoning include:
Recalling past experiences where my faith was made stronger. (It's easiest if they are written down, but even if not we can pray to remember such moments.) If God was with me then, He's with me now. If He had the power to fix things then, He can fix things now. If answers or help came in the past (even if it was after an extended period of waiting), I can find courage to keep holding on and waiting now.
Doing my part to keep an open connection with God. It's usually the little things: prayer, scripture study, Sabbath worship, following small promptings.
When have you hoped against hope? What kept you hoping?
How has your life been affected by trusting God’s promises over any other logic or probability?
see idiomorigins.org, dictionary.com, idioms.thefreedictionary.com, etc.