This week, I have been writing a paper on the Archaic Greek conception of hope. What has surprised me about the texts I am reading is that almost all of them portray hope negatively, as a dangerous, disappointing emotion. Hesiod, for instance, warns his brother that hope is empty, vain, and can even rob a person of his livelihood. One Homeric Hymn speaks likewise of “deceptive, cheating” hope that too often fools us into thinking we are safe from the calamities of life.
The Greeks recognized that life is unpredictable, that storm clouds often intrude on the sunniest of days, that “bad” things happen regularly to “good” people. How thankful I am that my hope does not rest upon the proverbial whims of fortune, but rather on a person—one who countless generations have attested to be 100% trustworthy.
In the often-quoted verse from Hebrews 11, Paul writes that “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” This may tell us something about Christian faith, but it also tells us something about the kind of hope that is distinctive to Christians. In order for hope to be an emotion worth choosing, it needs some sort of substance behind it, some sort of evidence that it is not “empty, vain, and deceptive,” as it was for the Greeks. Our trust in the life, teaching, and spirit of Christ provides us with that assurance. As Paul says elsewhere, “I know whom I have believed.”
As is often the case, the old hymn really does say it well:
I don’t know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to grey….
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand,
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.
This Monday, I am thankful for the Master of creation who deigns to reach down and offer me a glorious hope—one that will not disappoint.