Kia mau ki te tūmanako, te whakapono me te aroha | Hold fast to hope, faith and love

 “And now Faith, Hope and Love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is Love”

1 Cor 13: 13

Hope is an interesting word. So many different ways to use the word, and so many different objects to direct our hope towards. And depending on what we’re hoping for, the intensity of the hope can vary wildly.

I hope that it’s a sunny day. 

I hope that my sports team wins.

I hope that I find love.

I hope that I win lotto.

I hope that I get the job.

I hope that my friend is healed.

I hope that we’ll have a family one day.

And hope is complicated. Because what if we’re hoping for something that’ll never come to pass? What if we’re hoping for something that’s truly impossible, and I do mean truly. We love to be told that anything is possible; to be told that “if you can dream it, you can do it!” But of course some things are impossible. No matter how much I practice, I simply can’t fly. Despite my passion for sport, I’m never going to make the New Zealand cricket team. And no matter how much I want it, I’m never going to be as good a singer as Mariah Carey in the 90s.

So what happens when we direct our hope toward things that will not happen? 

Or what if we hope for things to happen that could happen – but still don’t! Maybe that can be worse in some way. The thing that is genuinely possible can be dangling out there in front of you but never actually arrives. This is what the ancient proverb Jewish speaks of when it says that hope deferred makes the heart sick.

Some say that we should always hope for something better to come along. We can live with hope that the best is yet to come. Maybe it’s the preacher who says that what you want is just on the other side of your breakthrough. Or maybe it’s the movie character who comforts another in the midst of crisis by saying “everything is going to be okay, I promise.“

This hope - that what we want will come to pass - is a natural part of the human experience and it can be a helpful motivating force, but it has its limits too. And sometimes it can become a problem, especially in our modern consumer society in which advertisers have learnt how to play on our hopes for something better.

Just have ‘this’, and you’ll finally experience the kind of life you really want. 

You can put your hope in that object, only to find that it does not result in the kind of fulfilment you were hoping for.

In fact, for some philosophers hope is one of the greatest problems of the human experience. We are always looking ahead, waiting for that which will come in the future to satisfy, to fulfil, to make us happy, to fix us. We live our lives waiting for that time to arrive when everything will finally be as we desire. 

Two of the main philosophical complaints about hope are:

  1. Hope prolongs our agony because it keeps us hoping in futility for something that will never arrive. And even if the thing that we hope for arrives, it will never satisfy us in the way that we hoped it would, and we’ll end up hoping for something else. Nietzsche called hope the “worst of all evils because it prolongs the torment of man”.

  2. The French philosopher Camus suggested that hope for a future utopia distracts us from the here and now and makes us unable to appreciate the beauty of this life. We’re always enamoured with the future that we want to come to pass, and so miss being present.

But the Christian philosopher Marcel suggests that there is a difference between “I hope” and “I hope that…” 

The statement “I hope that… ” applies hope to a desired outcome. But the statement “I hope” does not anticipate a particular event. It says that even if nothing changes, everything is not lost. For Marcel, hope is the “response of the creature to the infinite Being to whom it is conscious of owing everything that it has.”

“Hope in” is about being rooted in the present. It enables us to face the future, but does not require the future to go a certain way for us to be satisfied. And this is the claim of many of the ancient psalmists who encourage us to “hope in the Lord”

Psalm 71:5-8

“For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,

my confidence since my youth.

From birth I have relied on you;

you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.

I will ever praise you.”

In the story of Jesus there is a profound affirmation of a God who is good. This means that our “hope in” is grounded in the idea that ultimately God is good, and so it is goodness that lies at the heart of reality. This kind of hope can be an anchor for the soul because it is not reliant on any particular outcome. Hope that is “in God”, rather than “for something”, is the kind of hope that can be truly meaningful for us.

Romans 15:13

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”