Hope Isn't Positive Thinking

January 26, 2022
Tim Lien

“What we believe about the future determines how we live in the present.”
Timothy Keller,
Making Sense of God

“I hope I get an A in French,” my son said.  This was after a test that went sideways.
“I hope I get into First-Choice-University,” my 18-going-on-31 daughter says on a regular basis.
“I hope the Lakers don’t keep Russell Westbrook,” I mumble as I watch highlights of his lazy defense.
“I hope he calls me,” Single Lady thought over and over and over. And then thought over it some more.
“I hope I get this job,” Eldest Son told his mother over braised beef and savory, steaming noodles. “I hope so, too,” she replied.

If Keller’s simple proposition is true, we could easily mistake hope for positive thinking. Try hard. Smile. You can do it. Be effervescent, cheery. Keep grinding; stay hustling; never say never. Put on the face of the gold medal winner even before it happens. You are good enough, strong enough, etc.

Positive thinking does have some perks.  It does get you up and moving.  Gold medal winners practice and prepare like gold medal winners. Positive-thinking salespeople have a strange way of working hard and being persistent.  Oddly, sales are made.  It’s easy to see how hope can be confused for positive thinking.  “I really, really want this,” may sound equivalent to “I really hope I get it.”


What if the job isn’t given in the spirit of meritocracy?  What if he doesn’t call and then goes on to marry someone a tad cuter? What if LA actually keeps Westbrook and his $47million millstone? What if paralysis? What if tragedy? What if disease? What if recession? What if cutbacks? What if the hundreds of non-scripted eventualities become news, then history?

Well, I hope that doesn’t happen, you might say.

Is that really hope, then? I might say.  No wonder people think hope is a pipe dream of bubble-gum fairies and unicorns that shoot love lasers out of their eyes. Hopium, just another drug of choice.

Recently a young woman asked me if it was healthy and proper to hope for something that had a realistic chance of not coming true.  Sure, I said, without applying much thought.  Sure, I do it all the time.

She persisted in the best of ways: “Yeah, but what’s the biblical definition of hope? Like, what is real hope according to the bible?” she asked with authentic curiosity.  

“According to the scriptures,” I pontificated, “hope is only real hope if it is placed in something that has guaranteed longevity, is never exhausted, will never disappear, won’t evaporate, can’t be destroyed or stolen, can’t be revoked, and will never disappoint.”  

What a great sounding answer. I should be a pastor.

But then the words began to teach me; they dawned over me. Oh.  I think I get the point. Hope is only real hope if it is placed upon the right thing. Anything that has a potential to disappear or be destroyed can only be called desire compared to real hope.

I need to change my definitions and my vocabulary selection.  I need to start saying, “I desire to __________, but I hope in God.”

Not surprisingly, the idea of real, substantive hope is so strongly connected to God himself, that the writer of Hebrews uses it to define what our faith is all about:

                                                   “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Which made me ask, “What am truly I hoping for? What must happen for my joy to be made full?”  

That helps. Because although my son did just fine in French, a Laker future with Westbrook still threatens us all.

                                                                                    “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
                                                                                                      My hope is in you.”

                                                                                                            Psalm 39:7

See you Sunday, Tim

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