Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
What do you expect in the near future?
In Chicago, we can expect winter to be cold, snowy and long, but we can also expect a warm summer and a beautiful fall. (Spring is non-existent.) I expect to attend two family weddings this summer, which I expect will be great fun, and to take a trip or two this year.
Expectations are based on past experience or a trajectory moving toward the desired outcome. There is also an element of control in our expectations, for they are often cause-and-effect-based. For example, if I do good work, I expect a raise. If I don’t get a raise, or if it’s not as much as expected, I get upset.
That’s expectation. Now, what are your hopes?
In early 2016 I hoped—but did not expect—the Cubs to win the World Series. Experience had taught me not to expect great things from the Cubs, but recent years had encouraged a little hope.
The Difference Between Hope and Expectation
Hope requires more faith than expectation does, and admitting that we’re not in control: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The Bible teaches us to hope more and expect less.
The word expectation is used only six times in the ESV Bible, and the word expect, 20 times. It’s used three times in Proverbs, and all three speak negatively of the expectations of the wicked or wealth. Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…” (Luke 6:35).
The word hope is a different story. It is used 164 times in the ESV translation with the most occurrences in the book of Psalms (which is no surprise). However, the book with the second-most occurrences of hope is the book of Job. That surprised me.
The Reason Job Had Hope
The book of Job tells the story of a man who was living a blessed life, who was generous, faithful and godly—until one day he lost everything. I mean everything. The book is a recounting of his conversations with unhelpful friends about his situation, and it concludes with God saying, essentially, “I’m God, and you’re not.”
Job’s friends could only imagine a cause-and-effect relationship between Job’s past actions and his current problems. They were assuming a worldview based on expectations; even if they hadn’t expected Job’s situation, they figured that he must have asked for it.
However, Job stubbornly insisted upon hope. In one of the most remarkable verses in the book of Job, he says, “Though he slay me, I will hope in [God]…” (Job 13:15). He was miserable, and he acknowledged his painful position, yet he was hoping in God, resolutely depending on him in true faith.
Job’s friends had expectations. Job had hope. Hope comes from a place of God-focused faith, while expectations come from a place of self-focused entitlement.
There is a world of difference in those two concepts. Can we expect any good thing from life based on our good behavior? I hate to break it to you, but no, we cannot. The world is in conflict over countless unmet expectations. Is there any hope for us? Yes, by the grace of God, there is.
The Person Who Is Hope
Jesus Christ’s birth took everyone by surprise, and his death was even more unexpected. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we receive the gift of eternal life, although we have done nothing, and have absolutely no reason, to expect such an astonishing blessing. The grace and mercy of God leave no room for our expectations.
We have confident hope, however, in everything that has been promised us in Christ. In this life, we will have ups and downs, but God’s promises will be realized:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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….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. (Romans 5:1-5)
The Reward of Hope
The epilogue of the book of Job tells of Job being blessed again with seven sons, three daughters, and restored wealth. It’s a fitting metaphor for how our hope in Jesus Christ will ultimately be rewarded, with the gift of Christ himself and all his eternal riches and spiritual blessings.
We will have endless days to spend with him, and we will know immense wonder for all eternity. It’s impossible to describe what God has for us in our future, for we are told that “…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Job hoped in God in the face of all evidence to the contrary, and his hope was well rewarded. Ours will be too.