“But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they shall be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. … And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ”
I Corinthians 13:8,13 NIV
The Apostle Paul’s love chapter is one of the most famous parts of the Bible. In fact, it may be one of the best known and most beautiful writings in western literature. It is a standard at weddings and many folks who are not remotely biblical scholars are at least familiar with this chapter.
It gives us the Big Three in faith, hope and love. Love is clearly in the big three. After all, if there is a more famous passage in the Bible it is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. “. (NIV). It is the central point of the Christian faith. Faith itself is mentioned over and over again in the Bible.
How then, does hope make it into the Big Three? Quick, recite several famous hope verses. Cite one off the top of your head. It’s not easy to do. Yet, hope is in the Big Three.
Even the Bible seems to short hope of much ink. Hope is mentioned 180 times in the Bible, including numerous incidental references such as the apostle Paul telling someone in a letter that he hoped to see them. Faith gets 458 plugs and love 686. It appears that love is the greatest, at least in emphasis, and hope might indeed be the forgotten concept. In fact, law gets mentioned 676 times. Die and death are mentioned a whopping 1,029 times. On a happier note, joy gets 242 hits and peace checks in at 249. All of these numbers are from an internet concordance search of the New International Version of the Bible.
Hope seems to get much of its ink in the Book of Job, a rather depressing read if there ever was one. Ten percent of all biblical references to hope are found in Job. Yes, things turn out well for Job in the long haul but who wants to go through what he did? He lost all his possessions, his family died and his health was wrecked. Job never curses God but Job does curse the day he was born. Job says in chapter 30, verse 26 “yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness”. Yikes.
Still, Isaiah says “but those who hope in The Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, the will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (NIV). So what’s to be made of hope? Why is it so central to the apostle Paul, at least?
Perhaps the beginning of getting a grasp on hope starts with Paul, who in verse 12 of the love chapter cited above says , “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror”. In other words, maybe the key to understanding hope is in our lack of a seeming ability to understand it or to understand why it is so important. We are told in Colossians 1:5 that faith and love spring from hope. Maybe we need to practice hope a little more and accept that we don’t understand it well and may not even know why it’s important.
Hope is one thing that is never seen. Ever. Occasionally we believe we see love in action or evidence of faith, as mysterious as those two things can be. Yet no one ever sees hope because it is always in our future. Again, quoting Paul, “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?” Romans 8:24 (NIV).
Maybe it is a western thing or modern day arrogance that restricts us from hoping. There is no evidence for it so why even bother thinking in a hopeful way? By definition, the hoped for thing hasn’t happened yet. Further, some of the things we hope for never do turn out as we hope. Has everyone in the world managed to marry Prince or Princess Charming? Probably not.
This problem, however, lies not with hope itself but the thing hoped for. If we hope for a million dollars, a better time in the 100 meters or a new fishing boat, we may well never obtain those things. It’s seems that while God does care greatly about us and our well being–after all, he feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies of the field–God is not a water boy. He is not a butler, a genie or a magic wand at our disposal. There are many things of this earth that are perfectly fine things. But we should not have faith in what a million dollars will do or fall in true love with the fishing boat.
God invented faith, hope and love. They are wondrous things. However, they don’t exist outside of God, at least not truthfully. They are a part of God, not apart from God. Our hope is in Him because He is love. That is the Christian faith summed up in a short sentence. Granted, theologians might expand on that sentence but I think God would agree. At least I hope.
Copyright 2013 Daniel Blake