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Rediscovering Hope – Psalm 25

Hebrew_bible_4I want to make some additional introductory remarks about Psalm 25.

I said last time that Psalm 25 is a psalm for the Waiting Time. I haven’t always seen it that way. I first became aware of the prominence of this “waiting” theme  in this psalm through Peter Craigie’s commentary. But, even without Craigie’s conjectural reading, the theme is of “waiting” is still found in the repeated use of the Hebrew term קָוָה (qāwāh, v. to hope in; to hope for, wait for, look for) in verses 3 and 21. I’ve indicated the appearance of the word by text color below:

גַּם כָּל־קוֶֹיךָ לֹא יֵבֹשׁוּ יֵבֹשׁוּ הַבּוֹגְדִים רֵיקָם
“Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.”

תֹּם־וָיֹשֶׁר יִצְּרוּנִי כִּי קִוִּיתִיךָ
“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.”

I think it’s worthwhile to take a moment to notice the close relationship between the concepts of “waiting” and “hoping.” This relationship is (I think) not immediately apparent to the modern reader. We are more likely to think of “waiting” as a nuisance. It is like wasted time in the reception area at the doctor’s office — reading old magazines to pass the time until the doctor can see us. It is dead time. It is useless. We want fulfillment and meaning and gratification now. Waiting is delay.

So, the virtue of Waiting on the Lord is one we need to re-discover — against the common wisdom of our time. It is something that must be re-learned in our day. And, we cannot learn it until we appreciate its value.

candle-tipTo hope is to wait. It is part of the essential nature of hope to be unfulfilled. “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24, 25 NRSV).

It seems to me that we have lost the ability to understand and appreciate either “waiting” or “hoping.”

Consider for a moment the way we use the word hope. It doesn’t mean hope at all! “Do you think it will be a nice day tomorrow?” “Well, I hope so.” What are we saying? It would be great if tomorrow were a pleasant day, but there is reason to doubt it. It very likely won’t be.

The worst case of this, of course, is the word: hopefully. How we trash this word! “Well, hopefully I’ll get up tomorrow.” “Hopefully it’ll be a good day.” “Hopefully, I’ll get through all the things I need to do.” “Hopefully, I won’t get sick, like the other people around me.” And, so forth. What we saying? Maybe I won’t get up this morning. Maybe it’ll be a lousy day. Maybe I won’t finish my work. Maybe I’m going to get sick.

When we say “hopefully” we generally mean: “I doubt it; it’s not likely; sure, it’d be nice to think that — but probably not.” It doesn’t mean hopefully it means doubtfully! It means: probably not.

It’s just another illustration of the fact that our culture has no place for either waiting or hoping. Waiting is an annoyance and hopes are unlikely.

I have been convinced for all my adult life that there is nothing more foreign to our culture — including the culture of the contemporary church — than the (real) notion of a Theology of Hope. This is part of the reason the followers of John Wesley are often so out of step with the rest of the church. Wesley’s theology expresses an optimism of grace: a belief that people can get better and that society can be changed for the better.

I remember United Methodist Bishop Dwight Loder (long ago — it definitely shows my age) asking us ministerial candidates the historic Wesleyan questions: “Are you going on to perfection?” and “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” He paused, (I thought) in embarrassment after the second one and then added: “Well. Do you hope so?” My point exactly! We speak of hopes as something far less substantial than expectations. We speak of hopes as being insubstantial. They are not things expected at all. A hope is a nice dream, but nothing you’d bank on. Would it be nice to think that someone might “be made perfect in love in this life?” Well, yes, in a way. Was it anything the Bishop really expected? No!

Jürgen Moltmann

Jürgen Moltmann

Can we ever recover the idea of hope? I wonder. Our culture has fallen prey to the sin of despair and our language has become debased.

To be sure, it is usually said that sin in its original form is man’s wanting to be as God, but, that is only one side of sin. The other side of such pride is hopelessness, resignation, inertia and melancholy.

— Jürgen Moltmann, The Theology of Hope. Harper & Row 1967 p. 22.

Maybe things are changing. I feel like there is a new and younger generation in the church that is shaking off the despair and hopelessness that has characterized our culture for too long. There seems to be a generation rising that is rediscovering what it means to have hopw for our lives and for our world. This has been long over-due. And, the meaning of words like “hope” and “hopefully” can be recaptured anew.

The word hopefully should mean: “full of hope.” “I’ll get up tomorrow hopefully (full of hope for a meaningful day).” I will get through the things I need to do hopefully (filled with the expectation of good).” Hopefully, I won’t get sick (I don’t expect to).”

And, if we are “saved by hope” (as the apostle Paul says) then we need to learn to truly hope again.

If Hoping and Waiting on the Lord are essentially the same thing, then such waiting is not simply a nuisance.

It is the patient expectation that we “shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13 NRSV).

But, then, I guess the real question is not: Can our culture re-gain the ability to hope? The question for me is: Can I? I don’t want to live in the thrall of hopelessness any more.

Lord God,
Teach me to wait
Teach me to hope
Teach me to wait upon You
To hope only in you

I have learned to be impatient
I have learned to be cynical
I have learned hopelessness and despair

Teach me to hope again,
That I might find meaning in the Waiting Times of my life.
Amen.

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