And not only this, but 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 . . . Romans 5:3-5 NASB
Hope – Is your idea of hope based in Greek thought or Hebrew patterns? How would you know the difference? Certainly Paul uses this Greek word (elpis) from a Hebrew perspective, but I’m afraid that most of us in the West read it as if Plato wrote the verse. Let’s see why.
The Greek idea of hope stems from Plato’s work Philebus. In that document, Plato says that human existence is determined not only by acceptance of the present and memories of the past but also by expectation of the future. Plato contends that hope is the subjective projection of our desires. In this way, hope is present comfort even if it turns out to be deceptive and uncertain. For the Greeks, hope is a psychological state that projects the good I desire into an uncertain future. It is, in modern terms, a useful crutch that people lean on in times of trouble. Its reality may be illusory, but it serves a useful purpose at the moment.
The Hebrew idea of hope is entirely different. The Greek word elpis is paralleled in Hebrew by four words: batah, yahal, qawah and tiqwah. The principle Hebrew term is batah, a word that we have often seen in the Hebrew context of “trust.” We’ve investigated the other words too. We found that the Hebrew view of hope is directly tied to the promises of God. Furthermore, the promises are given to the community of God’s people. Individuals participate in these promises insofar as they participate in the community. In other words, the future is not up to you alone. It’s not even about your desires. As long as you share in the community of God’s people, the expectations of God’s promises are secured. And the guarantee of this future hope in God Himself. Hebrew hope is not wish fulfillment (and disappointing actual results). Hebrew hope is not located in your psychological state of mind. It is grounded in God’s purposes for His community. You get to decide if you are coming along for the ride or taking your own train, but you don’t get to decide how it’s going to turn out.
There is enormous freedom and relief in this view of hope. I don’t have the weight of the world on my shoulders. My future, and the fulfillment of my hope, is not up to me. In fact, it isn’t even focused on me. As long as I am in God’s community, He assures me that I will be transported to His destination. I don’t even have to think about it. All I have to do is stay onboard. So Paul can claim that this hope does not disappoint. Why? Because there is nothing I can do to prevent its arrival. There is nothing I can do to remove its fulfillment. And, by the way, no one else can stop its coming either.
If I am living the Greek worldview, my future expectations may be dashed on the rocks of reality. But if I am living the Hebrew worldview, I will never be disappointed. The mere fact that I am living according to the Hebrew way of life assures me that God will bring me, and the rest of my brothers and sisters, to the final destination. The next time things don’t work out the way you planned, asked yourself which paradigm told you to expect otherwise.
Topical Index: hope, elpis, batach, tiqwah, qawah, future, Romans 5:5