Middle Child Syndrome
Hope is an odd duck. It’s like the middle child of “faith, hope, and love;” it slides under the radar. Sometimes I think I’ve genuinely confused faith and hope—turned them into the same thing. But hope is not faith. And hope is not love. The three are completely separate while being somehow completely interconnected and related.
I didn’t actually realize my confusion around hope until recently, when I started Romans and got to chapter 5, which says, “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” And I got stuck here. Because it says that suffering produces endurance. Alright. Endurance produces character. Sure. And then it says character produces hope. No no no no no.
Character, according to Webster’s Dictionary, means, “moral excellence and firmness.” Yes. That is how I think of character: ethical, righteous, capable, integrous. I do not think of someone with good character as being “hopeful.” Why would integrity or moral excellence produce hope?
Hope, according to Webster’s, is “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true.” This is real, y’all. Hope means excitement and anticipation. It means desire and wanting. That’s why I think, often times, that hope is actually the most difficult of faith, hope, and love. Because when you allow yourself to get excited for or desire something, it is incredibly heart-wrenching when that something doesn’t actually happen. It feels foolish, to hope for daylight and then be left standing in the dark. It feels idiotic, to be optimistic and then be slapped in the face with reality.
Our world tells us, “if you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.” People are said to create their own heartbreaks through expectations. So, I suppose the other option is to live outside of hope. To not desire, want, or anticipate. To not be let down. This ability—to somehow stabilize emotions—sounds easier. In fact, this is easier. This is comfortable. We live in a fallen world that really stinks and is filled with break-ups and cancer diagnoses and lay-offs and mean people and climate change.
The rest of the section in Romans 5 though, reads, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” And this is where I was convicted. This is where my confusion went away, and I finally had clarity in understanding why character produces hope. For Paul to write, “and hope does not put us to shame,” means that he knows how shameful it can feel to hope for something and be let down. Because hoping is difficult. Hoping leaves one feeling devastated. And yet, we were not made for this fallen world. We were made for another country—a homeland that is good and perfect and whole and lovely. To see goodness and believe for wholeness and hope for the best is not foolish, it is the heart of God. It is the heart of God to be let down by this fallen world and still believe that the best is yet to come. It is the heart of God to be let down by broken people and still trust that they are made in the image of a holy and perfect Lord. The Holy Spirit has been given to us for the sake of seeing and believing for reconciliation.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, says, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world... Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
I now refuse to take being called “optimistic” as a negative. I refuse to allow myself to live in a world in which I expect the Enemy to win. Our God has won, will continue to win, and knows only how to win. So, I hope. And it will not put me to shame.