This is probably my favorite topic of the series. We’re nearing the end, but there’s still ground to cover!
Wish you would step back from that ledge my friend
I tend to be an irritable person; I get annoyed. For all the time I spend writing about positivity and Love and being nice and being open… I am still a pretty cynical person despite my best efforts. This week I had a major lesson in overcoming that.
So this Black Friday all the mini voice assistants — Google Home mini and Amazon Echo dot — were priced really well so I stocked up; I’m a crazy person, and now have one of each in every room of my house. This meant my number of WiFi devices jumped up a lot, and I started having connectivity issues. So I researched what equipment I wanted to solve this problem and settled on one. Walmart had it on sale for like $100 off, and their app said it was available and in stock at our local store and you got an extra $30 off for in-store pick-up. Let’s go to Wally World.
When I finally found the kid who was working electronics he was helping his friend, who later said he used to work there, load up on sale items so his friend could use his employee discount. So he didn’t really want to be helping me to begin with. But I am a zealot about customer service, so I wasn’t letting him get away. I argued with this kid for 10 minutes about whether or not they had this item — during which he told me they have no ability to look up an item — until a coworker of his, a kid who looked beaten down to the extreme — think Marvin the depressed robot from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — quietly asked me if I wanted him to go check in the back. I said yes and despite the first guy assuring him he was wasting his time, because “we don’t keep anything in the back”, he went back to look.
A few minutes later he emerged from the back with my item in hand. Praise Jesus! In that moment I learned a few things about faith. I had faith they had the item; I’ve been convinced by years of experience that their app rarely gets stock counts wrong. The first employee had faith that if he played dumb I’d go away because he’s seen it work a hundred times. The second guy had faith that if he just played along it would make his life easier because he’d learned that, hey, you’ve got to be there anyway so just do what’s asked of you and things go smoothly.
But there is a second layer of lessons there that cured me of my anger about this situation, and it is the subject of today’s post.
Love always hopes
The third refrain of 1 Corinthians 13:7 is πάντα έλπίζει, panta elpizei, and it has a beautiful depth of simplicity. The verb elpizei is the act of exercising έλπίς, elpis, a word we know as “hope”. That’s true, but we don’t really feel the hit of hope, the punch of the concept, because we overuse and misuse it. Hope, elpis, isn’t standalone; it is the result of an action, and that action is έλπω, elpo, which is typically said to mean “to make to hope”, but that’s circular. What is hope?
One of the first usages we know of the word elpo comes in Homer’s Odyssey when Antinous is defending the Achaean suitors — the men who had come to court Penelope — to Telemachus, her son. If you don’t remember the story from grade school: Penelope was the wife of Odysseus, king of the remote island of Ithaca and hero of the story. When Odysseus goes off to war the island believes him dead so many mighty men, eager to become king, declare him dead and come to court Penelope. She devises a plan to buy herself time, so she tells the men she will choose a new husband as soon as she is done weaving Odysseus a funeral shroud to present to his father.
The men soon discover that every evening she has been unraveling the day’s work and leading them on — elpo, giving them hope — and Antinous speaks to accuse her. Imagine this: you’re one of these men and you’ve been courting this woman. She’s telling you that soon you are to be king and have all the validation and power you think you deserve. You’re so close you can taste it, and you just know that tomorrow is the day.
That’s what elpis is: excited, faithing, anticipatory, happy expectation of what is about to happen. When you motivate that, when you exercise that, when you elpizei you are exerting that confidence on the world around you; you are displaying an infectious excitement that is a visual display of your pistis, your faith. I was absolutely elpizei that I’d have my item soon when I went to Walmart, and I was not going to be put off easily. The first employee elpizei that I’d go away. The second employee had no hope in it either way: he was just focused on passing time.
Not all belief is faith and not all expectation is hope. When Paul writes that “Love always hopes” he is saying that we should never carry passive anticipation or ambivalence, but that we should always seek the best outcome and expect it to be fulfilled, both for ourselves and for others.
God is always hopeful
So what does hope mean for God? That may be evident from previous posts in this series, but His hopes are for us, for our joy and our connection to Him and our ability to be our most “us”; Jesus said He came that not one person should perish, but that each person should have everlasting life. That is a hope, and it is one He has worked for since before the foundation of the world. He has faith in you and He hopes for your happiness and He hopes that you will just accept His Love.
What do you get the God who made and owns everything? The one thing He wants: your heart. Can you even fathom that? How shockingly precious must you be that the Creator and Lord of all that is, ever was, or ever will be wants nothing more than your willingly-given Love? That’s all: He wants your heart. But to give that we must understand a few things: our value, His value, and the value of others. To understand our value we must know His, and to know His we must know Him, know His heart. This means we must understand how He relates to us, and that leads us to learning how to value others. That first guy shouldn’t have blown me off, and I should have backed off — or at least not gotten upset and argumentative. But we’re a stumbling people; we don’t get it right much. And yet He is patient with us, helpful to us, He believes for us, hopes for us.
As we part today ask yourself: what is your hope? What is the thing you most excitedly seek? I’m not terribly comfortable sharing mine, but if I’m being honest I must: if you look at my behavior my hopes are carnal. That I enjoy our upcoming vacation, that my job is crippled without me while we’re gone, that I will be left alone at work, that my friends at church like me as much as I like them… The list goes on. I seek small, vain, foolish things. But I have big hopes also, capital-H hopes, too. I hope for a new breath of God every day. I hope for a new me and a Kingdom mindset every day. I hope for an empty hell and a thwarted Revelation prophecy. I hope that we, like Ninevah, will render the prophecy null and void. I hope that every heart will know God the way I know Him, will feel Him the way I do and see Him how I see Him. Maybe, like the Achaean suitors, I will find my hope dashed, but I have faith that screams this is not so.
What about you? What’s your hope?