I’ve been praying through a recent challenge on 1 Cor.13. For me the high point here was seeing how hope was an area that I needed to focus on. The low point was realising that if ‘love hopes all things’ then I am seriously lacking in the love department.
So I sat down (as you do), in order to unpack the relevance of this. I put my learning into practice and concluded that the next logical step was to move on to the part where Paul states that ‘love is patient’.
I was wrong.
As I currently understand it, hope only has a limited interconnectedness to patience. This is because hope is not passive.
Patience on the other hand can be antithesis of hope. Patience, it could be argued, requires passivity, i.e.: “waiting on the Lord”. It can also fuel complacency, thereby deferring hope. (Pr.13:12 ESV).
This led me to ask whether or not, hope waits in same way that patience does?
My answer so far is no it doesn’t, here’s why:
Hope is more of an active ingredient. It is an important part of a love that rejoices in the truth and not wrongdoing. Joy and truth are correlated elements that flow on from hope. For example: a love that hopes seeks truth. By utilising the tension between anticipation and uncertainty we are submerged into a deeper understanding, which views faith as a hope-filled paradox. Or as Kierkegaard put it: true faith is the ‘virtue of the absurd, an infinite resignation – a hope that those who give all will be given all’ (‘Essential’ 1997:95).
It is true that hope can be let down by truth, and therefore be disconnected from joy. For example: the clash between impossibility and possibility witnessed in that crushing blow, when a job application is unsuccessful. Or the point of impact that is felt for years after the dissolution of a key relationship in our lives. However, even when truth seems to dispossess hope, it can never be defined as hopelessness.This is because even despair ‘presupposes hope’, or so Jurgen Moltmann asserts. He writes that ‘faith is called to life by promise and is therefore essentially hope, confidence, trust in the God who will not lie but remain faithful to His promise’ (‘Theology of Hope’, 2002:29-30).
It is a big call to ask someone who sees themselves as being without hope to be patient. Those experiencing the heart-in-your-throat agony, that no matter what you do, you are left feeling like you are grasping for air and rescue. The kind of anxiety where each individual piece of your broken heart seems to painfully amplify your heartbeat, magnified by the battering you may have just received.
No where is the disconnection between waiting in hope and waiting as patience exemplified more, than in the false belief that “time heals all wounds”. Words like, sort it out, get yourself together, surely you should be over that by now. These passive aggressive statements all infer that patience is the source of healing.
This time of reflection has shown me that hope is an unreasonable necessity that leads to joy. Although patience is important, hope aligns us towards joy in a way that patience cannot.
Being told and treated for a portion of my own life, as though I was unworthy and not deserving, tended to negatively reinforce a frustrated and chaotic mixture of possibility and impossibility. This produced a paradox that is best described as a morbid hope. No life can come from such a distorted, oxymoronic view of hope. Just as Chesterton pointed out in ‘Orthodoxy’: moonlight is a morbid light, it does not produce life because it provides ‘light without heat’ (RB, 2006:18), so a morbid hope cannot not produce faith.
Hope is rebellious. It defies. It motivates and surprises us. It awakens us from the complacent acceptance of the status quo, setting us in motion towards a joyful anticipation of what comes next. Hope allows us the room to view a sigh as confession, a breath as prayer and faith as obedience. It tells us not to give up when everybody says we should.
Perhaps having hope should be likened to having a curious obedience. An act that moves us towards a place of interest in what God might do. As we process our lives theologically in the midst of uncertainty, we are lead to pray in solidarity with King David: ‘when I’m afraid I will put my trust in you, In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust’ (Ps.56:4).
Patience may be a practical product of hope that rightly teaches us to wait on the Lord. However patience seldom aligns us towards Father, Son and Spirit in the same way that hope does. Here we are directly steered into participation with the Divine Other, in whose joy we find our strength (Neh.8:10, Jn.15:11, 2 Pet. 1:4-9 ESV).
Because hope gives faith legs, joy and truth empower the powerless.