How to have hope in hard times

June 11, 2020

In Hebrews 6, we encounter a writer who was addressing a community of believers who were struggling to hope in God. The author tells his audience, “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” In Hebrews 6:13-20, the author moves from the general exhortation to “have faith and patience” to specific details that should encourage his audience to demonstrate faith and endurance when they are struggling to hope in God. 

I believe this passage provides at least three points of guidance to help us when we are struggling to hope in God.

First, when we are struggling to hope in God, we need to consider the hope of others.

In verses 13-15, the author of Hebrews gives us a specific example of someone who placed their hope in God during an unbelievable difficult time. The example is the story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22. In the story of Abraham and Isaac, we encounter the man that God promises to make into a great nation. However, when God made that promise to Abraham (in Genesis 12 and 15), Abraham did not have any children. 

Eventually, as an elderly man with his elderly wife, Abraham and Sarah had a son, and his name was Isaac. Isaac was the promised son to Abraham. But in Genesis 22, we see God testing Abraham’s faith by calling him to sacrifice his son. This is an unbelievable call upon Abraham. Yet, with a heavy heart, full of hope in God, Abraham made his way to the mountain that God had appointed with the intention of sacrificing his son. At the final moment, just about the time that Abraham’s knife was about to drop on his son Isaac, an angel restrained him, and God provided a ram caught in a bush for the sacrifice. Abraham was committed to obeying God because he had hope in him. He believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead, if necessary. 

It is against the backdrop of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 that we are directed to consider Abraham’s obedience and patience. By hoping in God and patiently waiting, the author of Hebrews says, “Abraham received what was promised.” In Abraham’s case, the promise was that God would make him a great nation. And God kept his promises to Abraham, who continued to hope in God during exceedingly hard times.

What the hope of Abraham teaches us is that sometimes God will call us to certain things that appear to threaten all of our hopes and dreams. Sometimes we will find ourselves in the midst of great trouble, pain, and fear. And when this happens, we must remember stories like Abraham and Isaac and how God not only intervened but was actually working in the midst of the confusion, pain, and fear. While we might be uncertain, filled with confusion and fear, God is never uncertain, confused, or worried. 

When we are struggling to hope in God, we need to contemplate the promises of God.

The example of others who have hoped in God will help us to hold on to God as our hope when we face hard times. But why should we trust God in these hard times? How do we know that God will be faithful to us? While the hope of others is encouraging, it cannot be the sole reason that we hope in God. There has to be more. There has to be some good reason that God can be trusted. This brings us to the second point regarding what we need to do when we are struggling to hope in God.

Second, when we are struggling to hope in God, we need to contemplate the promises of God.

Verse 13 made this point: “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself.” This is crucial for understanding why God’s promises are trustworthy. God wants us to know how serious he is about his promises. So, instead of simply giving a promise, God takes an oath. The oath serves as a guarantee of God’s promise. God is swearing by his own reputation when he makes a promise to Abraham and to the descendants of Abraham. As Peter O’Brien commented, “The idea that God swears by himself (Ex. 32:13; Isa. 45:23; Jer. 22:5) indicates that he is bound to his word by his own character. His oath provides the guarantee that removes doubt and underscores the validity of the promise.”

What this means is that God would sooner cease to exist than break his promises that he has sworn an oath to fulfill to those who place their hope in him. The promises of God to his children are as sure as his character. He can no more fail to fulfill his promises than he can fail to be God. The promises of God are sure because God himself is unshakable. He cannot lie, as verse 18 tells us. And God intends for this reality to “greatly encourage” the heirs of the promise. And who are the heirs of the promise? Those who have set their hope in God. The heirs of Abraham’s promise are not his physical descendants. It is not those who keep the law. It is those who place their trust in God. The apostle Paul addressed this reality in Galatians 3, when he said, “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.” And then again, Paul wrote, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise.” 

So, we participate, enjoy, and inherit the promises of God’s blessing through faith in Jesus Christ. We, like Abraham, are called to place our hope in God, even when we are facing trials and difficulties that are inexplicable and overwhelming. And why can we do this? It is because God’s promises are sure to his people. He does not break his Word. And who are the people of God? Those who trust in Christ.

Finally, then, when we are struggling to hope in God, we need to confess the work of Christ. 

When we talk about persevering, placing our hope, and enduring patiently, if we are not careful, we can come to believe that everything depends on us. We can start believing that the only way that we can receive the promised blessings of salvation is if we work hard on our own. But if we start to think like that, we will soon weary ourselves with our own work and grow exceedingly discouraged.

However, as children of Abraham, our hope must rest in Christ. And as our hope rests in Christ, we must consider what that means. Verses 19-20 gives us a glorious glimpse of Christ’s work on our behalf. The author describes “this hope in Christ as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” In other words, the One in whom we have hoped is sure and steady. While the ship of our life is tossed back and forth by the storm, the anchor of our soul, Jesus Christ himself, holds us fast to the promises of God. 

How do we know that his promises hold fast for us? Because Jesus Christ, our Hope, has entered into the “inner sanctuary” into the presence of God as our mediator. Verse 20 describes Jesus as our forerunner who has entered “on our behalf.” Right now, even in the midst of the storms of life, our hope, which is not in the things of this world, but instead, in Jesus Christ, is in the presence of God the Father, serving as our mediator. As a high priest, Jesus represents us before God and invites us to follow him into God’s presence because he has made it safe for us. Jesus has dealt with our sin and uncleanness. He has made a way for us into the presence of God. 

So, when we find ourselves struggling, wondering, asking, “Am I going to make it? Am I going to be OK? Will I inherit the promises that God has made to me?”, we need to see Christ, like an anchor for our souls, immovably fixed behind the curtain in the presence of God the Father. He reminds us that because the Father is pleased with him, he is also pleased with those who have put their trust in him. And just as sure as Jesus was raised from the dead with immortal life, so we will also be raised with him. God is committed to us. In fact, God is more committed to bringing us safely through the storms of this life than we are to ourselves. And why is this the case? Because God has sworn an oath with his promise to make sure that all who trust in Jesus endure, persevere, and enter into the fullness of the eternal life that Jesus secured for us.

Casey B. Hough

Casey B. Hough (Ph.D., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as lead pastor at Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas, and assistant professor of biblical interpretation at a Luther Rice College and Seminary. Casey and his wife, Hannah, have three sons and two daughters. For more ministry resources from Casey, visit his … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24