The Paradox of Hope

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jason Bandura works with the Glen Elm Church of Christ. Married to Shannon, he is Dad to three delightful daughters. He lives on the Canadian prairies and writes occasionally HERE.]

hope street signHope gets overlooked.

Recall the famous summary of 1 Corinthians 13:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

In our hustle to award the gold medal to love, with an awareness that faith “obviously” receives silver, we miss an obvious question: What is hope even doing on this podium?

To even be part of this triad, hope is apparently a big deal.

In fact, my friend Andy Dufresne would argue that you can hardly underestimate the power of hope.

Connecting a sense of hope to the music exhibition that landed him in solitary confinement, Andy argues that places like prison make the need for hope that much more pronounced. His friend Red disagrees, and strongly: “Hope is a dangerous thing. It can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to the idea.”

Perhaps you’ve heard that whisper in your heart: “Hope is a dangerous thing.” It’s a sense that hope is weak or wishful, a too-fluffy sentiment in a world of harsh reality. And it tempts us to give up hope in realms of life where disappointment is getting old. Why bother?

Screwtape LettersThe classic “Screwtape Letters” depicted the mentoring of a junior demon by his senior, with instruction and strategy on how to ruin the life of a believer. Even today, this book can make a thoughtful reader curious: “If the devil were targeting my life, on what would he set his sights?”

My guess? Hope.

Hope fuels and fertilize every one of the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5), while a sense of hopelessness sets about tainting and shrivelling that very same set of fruit.

As we said, hope is a big deal.

But here’s the paradox: While hope is indeed a big deal, it typically involves very small moves

Popular imagery of hope consistently depicts smallness:

  • Speck of Light: The human eye is said to be able to perceive a single candle miles away, illustrating the power of even a sliver-sized hope to draw us forward and call us on.
  • Anchor: Perhaps an anchor strikes us as a well-sized item, but in relation to a ship, it’s astounding that such a proportionately-small object, securely grounded, can root an enormous vessel.
  • Dove with Branch: One imagines the wild excitement of eight ancient people on an Ark, reasoning that a cilanto-sized piece of greenery was indicative of the impeding existence of a tree and then a forest and then a plot of land and then a future.

And that’s how hope works. Hope is the tiny thing that turns “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” just a micro-measure into “Sigh… well… maybe I can.”

Consider Psalm 147:10-11:

10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; 11 the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

How shocking are these words to folks who obsess over proving and improving ourselves! We take pride in our abilities to “stick it out” and “buckle down” and “measure up”. Imagine that the Mighty One delights not in our massive efforts to impress Him, but in our small motions toward trusting Him. We hold that God is great and grand, so we theorize that He is impressed by “great and grand”. But it appears that our steering hope – often feeble and flimsy and faulty and fickle – toward His unfailing love is actually what thrills His heart.

Hope is a big deal.

But hope involves small moves.

And Advent — with all its smallness of infant and stable, of manger and Mary — seems a timely point to once again set our sights on hope and the One who provides it.

What small move might you make today?

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