Hope Does Not Disappoint?

Paul states in Romans 5:5, the second reading for the Third Sunday in Lent, that "hope does not disappoint." Really? Hope does not disappoint? It seems to me that everyone at some time or another has had their "hopes dashed" or named a situation "hopeless". While it might be true that looking back on some youthful "hopes," one might see ephemeral or worldly desires – the desire to be rich or famous – or passing fancies – "I hope she talks to me" – it is certainly true that not every human hope falls into this category. What of the child who "hopes" that his or her parents get back together after the divorce, never to see this hope realized? What of people who "hope" for an end to war? What of refugees who "hope" for a place to live? None of these situations could be properly categorized as selfish desires or an immature "hope" for mere things. They represent human longing at its deepest and most sincere. Paul certainly was aware of hopes which had not been realized, either in his own life (2 Cor. 12:8-10) or those of others he knew and loved (1 Thess. 4:13), so what does he mean when he says that hope does not disappoint? A professor of mine used to distinguish between "hope for" and "hope in" as a means of discerning the difference between human hopes, however elevated, and theological hope, or hope in God. It does seem true that no matter how profound our human hopes "for" something, they can be disappointed and leave us raw and wounded. Yesterday, by chance, I came across a PBS production called Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. I had not thought of Jonestown for years or the death that entombed the hopes of many well-meaning people who had placed their own dreams for racial harmony and love of others and God in an increasingly mad man. These sorts of misplaced messianic hopes, embedded either in a person or in an institution – small or large – can leave one crushed, lost in the mire of despair, or, as in Jonestown, dead. The hope that Paul calls us to does not reside in human institutions or in human beings, but in Christ, the one who gave his life for us. This hope points to glory – "we boast in our hope of sharing in the glory of God" (Rom. 5:2) - but makes it clear that hope does not evade suffering but encompasses it. It is in our endurance of human suffering, loss and disappointment that we claim our hope. Hope in God transcends the lost hopes of human frailty and sin and begins to take effect in our life precisely when human hopes are gone (Rom. 4:18f). John W. Martens
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