[Last time], I talked about a Christian ethic of hope—a hope not based on wishful thinking, but on the reality of God’s promises. It’s this Christian hope that gives us the joy, the self-sacrificial love, the boldness, and the endurance to carry on—even in tough times. You often see these fruits in the lives of devout believers.
For example: Justin Martyr, born around 100 AD to pagan parents; he grew up studying philosophy. But while in Ephesus he was impressed by the steadfastness of Christians under persecution and converted to Christianity. He is known for his “Apologies,” defenses of the faith addressed to those in highest power: the Roman Emperor and the Roman Senate.
Justin boldly defended the lives of his persecuted fellow Christians. For publically debating and defending the Christian beliefs in public, he was tried before a Roman prefect. When he refused to deny his faith, he was beheaded. But it was Justin’s hope in Christ that enabled him to boldly and sacrificially defend the truth.
Centuries later, Nien Cheng would stand up to the authorities of her day. Cheng was arrested in 1966 by Chinese Red Guards. Six years in prison she was pressured to make a false confession that she had been a spy for the imperialists. Despite torture, Cheng would not admit to something that wasn’t true.
Cheng was a Christian and although she couldn’t let the guards see her praying, she secretly turned to God and found solace for her grief and hope to face each day. Cheng was released under the pretense that her behavior had improved. But it was her hope in God that enabled her to endure her brutal treatment.
In a prison cell on the other side of the world, Armando Valladares spent 22 years because of his refusal to bend the knee to a communist regime. Valladares counseled and pled with other inmates to stay true to the faith over the 8,000 days of hard labor and solitary confinement.
He resisted communist indoctrination, saying “For me that would’ve meant spiritual suicide.” He says, “All the time I was in jail, I never gave up my freedom. My freedom is not the space where you can walk around in. There are lots of people in Cuba who have space to walk, and yet they are not free.”
For Vallardes, true freedom was “8,000 days of testing my religious convictions, my faith, of fighting the hate my atheist jailers were trying to instill in me with each bayonet thrust, fighting so that hate would not flourish in my heart.” When he was finally released with French intervention in 1982, he published his classic book Against All Hope.
For Justin Martyr, Cheng, and Vallardes, hope was not a flimsy optimism that everything would somehow work out alright. Hope was understanding that the reward for holding fast to God was a weight of glory that exceeded the pain of any momentary affliction.
For each of them, hope yielded joy, sacrificial love, boldness, and endurance. As we imitate them in their hope, these are fruits which not only would change us, but the world in which we live.