I Corinthians 15:17
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
If only for this life? Wait a minute, isn’t the hope we have in Jesus only about the afterlife? Isn’t that the Hope that the writer of Hebrews keeps talking about?
Maybe a little cultural context will help. The Greek word for hope is Elpis. Elpis is also the name of a spirit in Greek mythology. This is handy because hope is an abstract concept and if you personify it and then tell a story about the person it makes the concept easier to understand. The Elpis story that is most widely known in Christiandom is the Aesop fable of Pandora’s Box. In that story Pandora ’s Box contained heinous evils to inflict mankind but at the bottom of the box was Elpis/Hope. Presumably Hope was there to make the world bearable or better in some way. But Elpis was a mythical creature so her story could be changed to fit the attitudes of the writer and the Greeks were pagans and had a very pessimistic world view. In other Pandora stories a jar of evils was released into the world but Elpis stayed under the lip of the jar and Zeus resealed the jar with Elpis still inside. In another version Elpis was one of the evils released onto the world because false hope is a bad thing. The interpreter of that Elpis story thought it was better to not have hope and to just muddle through. I would say that most Greeks would have agreed with the bumper sticker that says “Life sucks and then you die” except since they were pagans not atheists they would have said “Life sucks and then you die and the afterlife sucks even worse”.
In the greeting in first timothy Paul writes
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,”
Paul is specifically calling Jesus ‘our Hope’ and by so doing he is inviting us to compare and contrast the concept of Hope held by the Greco-Roman world with the Hope that we have in Jesus.
Elpis is a myth like Oedipus and Narcissus. She is a story used to explain an abstract concept and the story can change depending on what the story-teller is trying to prove. In none of the stories does she seem to work against the other evils in Pandora’s Box. At best she only makes the world’s burdens easier to bear at worst she may actually be aggravating them by encouraging men to only hope instead of work.
Jesus by contrast existed in a time and place that can be traced in history. The story is what it is, do with it what you will. Jesus is also is the Balm that sooths the worlds wounds but Jesus is more than that.
Paul writes In 1 Corinthians 13:13
”And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Paul is equating Faith, Hope and Love though is saying that the greatest is Love.
James writes in James 2:17
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Are we reading too much into scripture if we say that Love and Hope are also dead if not accompanied by action?
John writes in 1 John 3:18
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” Is it too much of an exegetical stretch to say
“let us not Hope or have faith with words or speech only but with actions”?
Peter in 1 Peter 1:3 says
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,”
We have a living hope. Just like the word of God as described by the writer of Hebrews our Hope is “alive and active.” And unlike Elpis our Hope is working to make the world a better place. As Christians we never sit back and wait. Our Hope is not like that.
Now I’m going to tell you about my mother because I love her but all of us know people like this.
My Mother has always been a person who has shown her love for our Lord by caring for people and she cared for people by cooking for them and cleaning for them and listening to them because that is what she can do. As she has gotten older she still does those things she just does them less. When she lived in an apartment building she would bake for people and listen to them and go out and clean the buildings parking lot – because she could – and it made the world a better place.
Now she lives with my brother and she does the same. She putters around his house and cleans and pulls weeds she tells my brother that she loves him.
My Mother is 85. On Saturday my brother took her to hospital because she had a pain in her chest. My brother told the people at the hospital “my mom never complains so when she does I figure I had better do something’. This time she was sent home with just pain killers but someday it will happen and she will be with the Lord. Until that day the living Hope that is in her and in us will not let her sit and wait. Until that day Jesus will be actively using her, and us, to do his good will in the world. Praise the Lord.