The nurse met us in the sterile, grey hall again. “We weren’t able to do the procedure, but there’s one more thing we can try.” At least three times, one nurse or another met us in the hall with essentially the same statement. At least three times, my heart grabbed onto that slim chance and held on…hoped on.
I left the second, bigger hospital, sure that this new facility with different doctors and fresher equipment would make a difference. But when the phone rang the next morning, I had to face the facts: even our last option hadn’t worked. We said goodbye to my father the same day, but even as I stood by his bed, some small part of me thought he might just wake up, might just look at me.
I watched for God to do a
miracle even while I didn’t
want to hope any more.
In the middle of those days in the hospital, I walked the halls and wondered at this strange thing we call hope. I’m a practical person, not a pessimist but a realist. I knew the chance of recovery was low, but still, I thought something might change. I watched for God to do a miracle, but at the same time—in the same breath!—I didn’t want to hope any more. I wanted to accept the almost-certain outcome and begin to deal with it. I wanted to make decisions based on reality, on probabilities and reasonable expectations. But hope pushed me to stretch for the unlikely. In retrospect, it was the impossible.
Let me make this clear: The fact that God didn’t do a miracle—that He didn’t give my father a few more years on earth—changes nothing about the way I trust Him and love Him. It’s this weird hope thing I want to explore today.
The Apostle Paul liked this word. He used it fifty-four of the eighty-three times it appears in the New Testament (NIV). (By the way, Peter used it five times in just three chapters of 1 Peter.)
I scanned through Paul’s use of hope. He employs two levels of meaning for the word (only considering elpís, the noun, and elpízō, the verb). On the simpler, worldly level, it means “expect with desire” (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament). Paul used this meaning to talk about his plans in the same way we would, meaning his personal desire, maybe even anticipation.
I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. -Romans 15:24
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. -Philippians 2:19
And perhaps even here:
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. -Philippians 1:20
But more often, Paul uses hope with a spiritual connotation—both the noun and the verb.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people. -Ephesians 1:18
For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. -Galatians 5:5
When Paul and all Christ-followers since him speak of hope, we’re talking about far more than expectations or plans. Hope becomes more like anticipation, an assurance of what we know will happen, even what is already happening in the spiritual realm. Hope is one of the primary components of faith (so the writer of Hebrews says in 11:1) and sustains us when we can’t see where God is directing us. It’s good that this kind of hope persists.
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest.
The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”
But then there’s that other kind of hope…
I am confident God
can do anything.
I am confident that God can do absolutely anything and that much of what happens in the world is beyond our understanding apart from Him. There’s mystery in the world…perhaps most evident in the remarkable human body. There’s also power in our desires. While I don’t believe it’s true, I can see why people say, “If you want something bad enough, you can make it happen.”
What’s my best definition of earthly hope? Expectation eclipsed by desire.
I’m a little angry with
worldly hope right now.
As long as there’s even the slightest bit of potential, earthly hope stands right beside it. Hope grabs us even when we try to reject it. It flirts with delusions and makes its bed with desire. I’m a little angry with that kind of hope; I just realized it. I feel like it betrayed me, like it led me on then left me hanging there in the hospital hallway.
Turns out, Paul probably did go to Spain (re: Romans 15:24), but not right away. He spent at least two years under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28). I wonder if he felt betrayed by hope. I wonder if he despaired of ever travelling to Spain.
We know he didn’t waste his time moping and sighing while in Rome. Check the last verse of Acts:
He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! -Acts 28:31
That was while he was under house arrest. How could he do that? Because of the other kind of hope: the hope we have in Christ Jesus.
There are a couple of words I refuse to say (‘Busy’ is one of them.), but I will not reject this word, hope. I will continue to use it, continue to think on it. Because my hope in Jesus never betrays me. That’s the hope I will hold on to.
In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. -1 Peter 3:15a
Have you ever wanted something so badly, hoped something would happen or not happen? Have you been this level of disappointed? How’d you deal with it? (Or did something I said strike a chord with you?) I’d love to hear from you in the comments.