The word hope is used almost 150 times in the Bible. It’s a common theme. I think it’s also sometimes misapplied today. In Romans 5 we read, “we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint.” As I head down that line of thinking it makes sense at its onset. Difficulties help us endure future challenges. Then continuing to endure confirms your spiritual identity has truly been forged. This is what Paul says in Romans ultimately brings about “hope.” But what is meant by hope? Whether dealing with a momentary sickness or a chronic illness, people hope for healing. Whether experiencing a temporary tragedy or in the midst of a lifelong trial, people hope for relief. But that’s not the hope it could be referring to. Because let’s shoot straight, some people just don’t get better. Some people’s lives just don’t improve. Right? Now Christians get a little squirrely here. You have one camp saying that they just didn’t have enough faith, and if they had more faith then their circumstances would have been changed, because… bible verses. Then there’s the other camp saying that it was always God’s Will for them to go through that trial and there’s nothing we could do otherwise, because… other bible verses. But both these beliefs fall short of interpreting this passage because it says “hope does not disappoint.” If I hope to be healed or rescued or saved and it doesn’t happen, I suppose I would be “disappointed.” My expectations shape my reality. For instance, if you went to see the movie John Wick with the expectation of a melodramatic husband soulfully dealing with the loss of his wife, puppy, and Mustang Cobra… you were disappointed in the dialogue, acting, and musical score. If you wanted to see Keanu kill some bad people using a martial art form of gun fighting known as gun kata and get submerged in a seedy world of underground hit-men, you were not disappointed. The highest grossing movie of 2017 so far is Fifty Shades Darker (yep, don’t want to hear people complain about how evil, immoral, and misogynist our governmental leaders on when that’s the #1 movie of the year… do you think Americans might be voting in people like themselves?) If people accidentally saw the movie thinking it was a fixer-up show dealing with various exterior paints with everyone’s favorite couple Joanna and Chip, then “disappointed” might not be a strong enough word. And stuff like this does happens, my wife and I have friends who saw The Great Wall and thought it was going to be a historical docu-drama. (There’s a mutant dragon army.) People want comedies to be funny, horror movies to be scary, and historical fiction to at least be 15% accurate (that’s for you Braveheart.) If we don’t get what we expect, we are disappointed. I don’t judge movies based on how close it came to Citizen Kane. I judge it based on expectations the previews and the overall tone of the film gave to me.
When it comes to hope. We can’t help but be disappointed if we don’t get what we are looking for. But what if the character that was forged through the perseverance and the tribulations didn’t bring us to a point where we hoped things got better? What if we started to hope in something else or (as I drop the mic) someone else. What if those events start causing us to hope in Christ? What if those difficulties and challenges start framing this life and putting them in the perspective of eternity? What if trials and tribulations and sufferings draw us closer to the one who brings Ultimate rescue and salvation? Yeah, that wouldn’t disappoint. God never does when we look at what He actually promises and what He always delivers on. God never fails.