13For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations") - in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become "the father of many nations," according to what was said, "So numerous shall your descendants be." 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness." 23Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
ὃς παρ’ ἐλπίδα ἐπ’ ἐλπίδι ἐπίστευσεν -- that's what Romans 4:18 looks like in the original language. Literal word-for-word translation would be rendered: "Who against hope in hope believed." The NRSV above has it translated, "Hoping against hope, he [Abraham] believed ..." The NIV has it, "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed ... " Between the two English translations, the NIV does a better job in capturing the in hope [Abraham] believed. What's the big deal?
Perhaps not a big deal but I would say it's a significant enough of a deal that gives us crucial insight into the dynamics of faith. This part of the verse is saying that Abraham believed in God because he was able to hope in God, despite the human impossibility of the situation (i.e., "against hope"). The first 'hope' in the Greek refers to the hope as understood in terms of human possibility; the second 'hope' refers to the hope as understood in terms of God's promise.
Here's the crucial link: It is impossible to believe wholeheartedly in God in the present if you cannot hope in God for the future. Conversely, if you can hope wholeheartedly in God for the future you can believe in God in the present. The impossibility I'm talking about is psychological impossibility. If we are of sound mind -- that is, if our thinking is consistent and not divided -- then we naturally allow our future outlook to shape our present prospects. If you think something bad will happen tomorrow, it'll give you fear today. If you think something wonderful will happen tomorrow, it'll give you joy today. Because we are temporally aware creatures who can imagine or anticipate the future, we are vulnerable in the present by the powers of our imagination and anticipation. All these abstract terms and concepts are grounded in our actual, lived experience.
Let's look at Abraham again. Abraham hears from YHWH that he [Abraham] will become "the father of many nations." But what's the actual situation? We know the story: both he and Sarah are super-old. There is old and there is "super-old." Super-old (not a biblical term) means that there is no way physiologically speaking that Sarah in her old age can conceive. (Once in awhile the National Enquirer will have a story of a woman in her 50's conceiving but Sarah is way beyond the AARP membership age.) So, what will Abraham do? Abraham knows what he's heard from the Lord. Abraham decides to hope in God, knowing that God makes promises which he will keep. That is the only ground for Abraham to stand on, because at this stage there is nothing else available in the way of grounding. There's no precedence (Abraham does not know the story of Abraham and Sarah), no testimony from others, no clear sign even from God Himself. Only thing Abraham is certain of is what he's heard from God. That's it! Question: is that enough?
Abraham does not have much choice actually. The only choice before him is either to trust/believe what God has said, OR, distrust/disbelieve what God has said. Abraham's trust or distrust will determine the outcome. Not that Abraham is stellar throughout as a paragon of faith. Actually Abraham falters. He gives into his wife's suggestion to have a baby will his maidservant, Hagar. Maybe God's promises need a little helping from us. But Abraham holds on, in hope! It is really Abraham's hope in God that makes it possible for Abraham to trust in God's promise that he will become "the father of many nations." Without hope, faith is lost.
Seems like a little thing, but it's so critically important, not only for Abraham, but for all of us when we hear the promises of God for our lives and for those around us. If we can learn to in hope believe, then who knows what marvelous outcomes there might be as the Lord unfolds His plans for His glory and for our joy!
May the Lord give us the gift of hope in Him, today! May the Lord sustain you with His goodness and wisdom. May the Lord paint a beautiful picture of your life that's full of joy, success, breakthrough, and deep satisfaction in Him. Amen.