I hear a lot more talks and lessons on faith and charity than I do on hope. I suspect it is because most people don’t have much of an idea what the doctrine of hope is. I don’t have room to present all of my thoughts on hope or support them properly, but here are the highlights. I’ve broken them down into five points to make it easier to disagree with me in an organized fashion.
Point 1: In the scriptures, the word “hope” means something different than in the vernacular. Today, hope has become synonymous with wish. To hope for something generally means that we have wishful thinking about it. We hope our team wins the game, or we hope it doesn’t rain. In this sense, our hoping is merely thinking it would be very nice if such and such took place.
In my dictionary, there are two definitions of hope. The first is: “to wish for something.” The second is prefaced with “archaic” and reads, “To have confidence; trust. To look forward to with confidence or expectation.” The scriptures have this archaic definition in mind rather than the modern definition.
Point 2: In the scriptures, hope is focused on eternal life:
Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest. (Alma 13:29)
In the scriptures, faith is not merely belief, but is centered on Christ and his atonement; hope is not a wish, but is an assurance of eternal life; charity is not just love, but the love of God, our love for God, and God’s love for us.
Point 3: Moroni gives the key to understanding the scriptural concept of hope. He says that the confidence of hope is based on a promise from God:
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise. (Moroni 7:41)
This is crucial. The point here is that we gain a hope by receiving a promise of eternal life. Our “hope” (confident expectation) of eternal life is due to our faith (trust) in the promise we have received that we will be raised unto life eternal. Because the promise of eternal life comes in and through covenant, to be cut off from the covenant cuts one off from obtaining hope. This is the basis for Paul’s statement to the Gentiles, in which he explained their situation in the times when they were not allowed to participate in the covenant:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11-12)
Covenant promises are the basis of our hope.
Point 4: Hope functions on various levels. The entry level of hope is based on the promises found in scripture that those who believe will be saved. Our hope increases as we strengthen our faith in the promises we have received and as we obtain stronger and more specific promises from the Lord.
The promises of the gospel culminate in the “more sure word of prophecy,” otherwise known as the “oath” from the oath and covenant of the priesthood. Given what has been said of hope above, it should be no surprise to find this oath associated with the “full assurance of hope” (Hebrews 6:11). The book of Hebrews ties this all in with the Abrahamic covenant.
The funny thing about the story of Abraham is how many different times Abraham received the famous promises of land and posterity. He made a covenant in Gen 15:18, then again in Gen 17. In Gen 14 (see especially the JST) Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, at which time he received the fullness of the priesthood, according to Joseph Smith (TPJS 322). Then, after all of that, when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, he found a ram in the thicket and had another encounter with God in which God swore an oath that Abraham would get the promises. The book of Hebrews gives this commentary:
And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast. (Hebrews 6:15-19)
Notice the strong connection between the oath and the hope, which serves as an anchor to the soul. Joseph Smith asked what could make someone more sure than to hear the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son?” He answered:
Though they might hear the voice of God and know that Jesus was the Son of God, this would be no evidence that their election and calling was made sure, that they had part with Christ, and were joint heir with him. They then would want that more sure word of prophecy, that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Then, having this promise sealed unto them, it was an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast. (TPJS 298)
So, the idea is that we cannot be fully confident that we will obtain eternal life (i.e. we cannot have a full assurance of hope) unless we have a promise from God to us specifically. Notice that Joseph uses the exact phrase “anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast” from Hebrews. Hope is the anchor. It is based on a promise.
Point 5: I am already too long, so I will just tease this one. The fifth point is that hope is related to faith and charity (hence the familiar trio). Faith grows into hope, and hope enables charity. As Joseph said:
Until we have perfect love we are liable to fall and when we have a testimony that our names are sealed in the Lamb’s book of life we have perfect love. (TPJS 9)