Hope Misunderstood

“The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” Proverbs 10:28

There are lots of reasons to think about hope and expectation in the days leading up to Christmas. We are looking forward to certain gifts, hoping that what we ourselves give will meet with thankful excitement, praying that our kids won’t get sick so we can go to the Christmas party or Christmas service. We expect certain traditions to work out, or to experience at least a small dose of peaceful or joyful feelings.

These are all expectations I juggle during the holidays. They can be burdensome, can’t they?

Then we have Advent. During Week One, we light the Hope candle. We wait in Hope. Since Advent is waiting for “long-expected Jesus,” for me Hope is not just Week One but almost the purpose of the whole season.

Proverbs 10:28 teaches that hope and expectation, while used (rightly) as synonyms, can also be two quite different matters. For me, they are often so. What I hope in and what I expect are usually different.

THE EXPECTATION OF THE WICKED NEWLYWED

Early in my marriage, I learned that my expectations were often my enemy. Most of my selfish fits were because my specific expectations of how something should go had not been met. I was not expecting to have to spend my first married New Year’s Eve at a wedding Cap had to film. I was not expecting to spend my firstborn’s first Christmas in the ER because she had the flu. I expected our finances to be different, more comparable to other families in our age bracket (see this post for how this very expectation almost tore apart my fledgling marriage).

All of the disappointments I listed above are understandable, but it did occur to me one day that most of my problems would be over if I could accept what was given me rather than demanding the thing I had imagined instead.

Most of my expectations are because of looking around me, whether to past precedent (traditions!), the media (THAT’s how I should look?), or other people (I wish we could also afford ___). A lot of expectations don’t come true, because (as I tell my five-year-old on a daily basis) why should wanting something make it automatically mine? The expectation of the wicked will perish.

THE HOPE OF THE RIGHTEOUS HOBBIT

On the other hand, the hope I have is “living” and in something “imperishable” (1 Peter 1: 3, 4). It actually WILL come to fruition, and no scheduling mishap or illness can stop it. No wonder it brings joy in Proverbs 10:28.

How do I define this hope? With a Tolkien passage, of course. Isn’t that one of the dictionary definitions?

In all seriousness, this definition of hope occurs in the hellish landscape of Mordor:

Sam struggled with his own weariness . . . and there he sat silent until deep night fell. . . . There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. . . . Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.

Expectation is subject to our own weakness and the darkness of our world. Hope lies—in the most beneficial sense—beyond our reach, unable to be ruined by our meddling.

The implications of my Tolkienesque definition are many. Where expectations come from looking around me, hope comes from looking up, beyond myself and my petty demands. Where expectations are often dashed, hope can continue even in the midst of deep anguish. Where expectations usually come from me, hope is given to me, from outside me.

If Sam’s star is a symbol of hope, and the cloud-wrack is the obscuring darkness that covers hope, then of course the pain and evil in this world is part of what can block our view. But might our very expectations not be part of the clouds, as well? My myopic focus on my expectations can block my view of what I should really be hoping in.

THE FRUIT OF HOPE

Distinguishing between “the expectation of the wicked” and “the hope of the righteous” has been extremely fruitful for me. Here’s a few ways it’s played out this Advent:

I was disappointed that my kids’ school schedule next year won’t go exactly as I expected. But my hope is that God will keep his promise, that if I do not grow weary in doing good, in due season I will reap.

I am disappointed that I can’t get my kids everything I want/expect them to have this Christmas. But my hope is that we have a generous God who will gladly give them all they need.

My friends’ expectations for their infant daughter were not that she would die from numerous birth defects. But their hope is that this life is not her, or their, whole story.

I expected, based on looking at couples around me, to be done with financial struggles by now. But my hope is that God is faithful to provide.

The people expected a political king to defeat Rome and rule over one kingdom. But God delivered a different king, the sort no one expected, in a way no one would have expected. But it’s precisely because he’s not the temporal king we expected–he came to die, not foment revolution–that he can be the one to bring us imperishable hope.

If we use my working definitions of hope vs. expectation, there is a solution for our expectations—and it’s not to throw them all out entirely. What has helped me is simply not to place hope in my sideways expectations: keep hope where it belongs. Likewise, the one expectation I know won’t perish is the one that our hopes—the star-above-Mordor kind—will be satisfied.

The expectation of the wicked will perish, but the hope of the righteous brings joy.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

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