HOPE(02): a different kind of waiting
I'm not very good at waiting, whether on the phone or in traffic; waiting for people who are late or for snail-mail to arrive. I know that much of life is waiting and most often it feels dead space that I must endure or an inconvenience that stalls the progress of my activities. However, there is a different kind of waiting that I experience; one that is filled with the energy of anticipation—like waiting to open a gift or meet my lover; waiting for a child to be born or an adventure to begin. I think that sometimes the waiting and anticipation is a key part of the experience—not just something to be endured, but something to be cherished and savored. There is kind of waiting that lifts my spirits and transforms how I experience the present. I believe this may be the kind of waiting that is at the heart of hope.
From my perspective, hope appears to have a blurred meaning. It seems to be used as a synonym for faith, at times indistinguishable and therefore lost in the vocabulary of those who have found new life in Jesus. Words like faith and believe sound more confident—more like trusting God’s statements and counting them as true. By comparison, hope may sound less certain, maybe even timid or unsure.
In my initial thinking about hope, I have considered five features of hope that seem to give the word its own identity:
1. Hope looks to the future. The Hebrew words translated “hope” in the Old Testament emerge from a core concept of waiting. Hope looks forward to receiving or experiencing something. Hope imagines a possibility and leans into it.
2. Hope expresses a longing of the heart. What we truly desire we hope for. We dream of it and anticipate possessing it. It is possible to believe many things and long for none of them. Simply because I believe (at least in theory) that something is true doesn’t mean that I am emotionally connected to it.
3. Hope has a source. It is based on some thought that has entered the mind—a suggestion, an offer, a promise. It is sparked by something that happens or a word that is spoken. Perhaps it’s the arrival of a love note or the rumor that a debt has been cancelled. It might be the presence of an advocate or the encouragement of a dear friend.
4. Hope implies the absence of something. We don’t hope for what we already have (Romans 8:24). Something is missing and its absence is inescapable. Hope embraces the possibility that what is missing might be fulfilled.
5. Hope alters my present experience. The very possibility of something else changes how I see the present. Without hope of a legitimate alternative, my present experience just is what it is. I must simply resign to the way things are—to how I am, to the futility of life and the finality of death. Hope of something else lightens the weight of what is now and draws me toward what has been offered—the possibility that there might be something more, different … better.
In my reconnaissance forays into the Scriptures I have encountered considerable language about waiting. But it’s a different kind of waiting—one that is filled with the energy of anticipation. It appears to be the language of hope.