Expectation or Hope?

I was recently reading a work of fiction from one of my favorite authors. In the book, the main character is experiencing some life changes and isn’t very happy about his present situation. Being an analytical type, he realized that he has unmet expectations which resulted in frustration followed by anger that things are not as he would like. As I was reading this, I was hit with the realization that all of us have been there. My next thought was “What would be a Christian response to this situation?”

Expectation is defined as a strong belief or feeling that something will happen in the future. It is not a common word in the Bible as it only appears six times, and “expect” is found 20 times. We go to our favorite restaurant expecting to have a pleasant experience and a good meal. Expectation is frequently paired with hope. The words are sometimes used interchangeably. But hope occurs in the Bible 164 times, most frequently in Psalms and in the book of Job. 

What then is the difference in the words? Obviously, the Bible seems to elevate hope to a higher standard than expectation. Thane Marcus has written on this topic and lists differences in the two words:

  1. Having hope means you are trusting the process. Having an expectation means you are trusting the results.
  2. Having  hope means that the future is uncertain. Having an expectation means that you are predetermining the future.
  1. Having  hope is an action of humility. Having an expectation can be an act of pride.
  1. Having  hope does not disappoint. Having an expectation often falls short.
  1. Having  hope helps us acknowledge that God knows best. Having an expectation often indicates that you know best.
  1. Having  hope produces a life of faith. Having an expectation produces a life of entitlement.

As you can see, the two words differ in their focus. When we have expectations, we are looking to self for fulfillment of our desires. Hope places its focus on God to give us what is best for us. In the story of Job, his friends tell him to “Curse God and die.” Their viewpoint is that Job’s suffering is a cause-and-effect result of Job’s actions – he was getting what he deserved. Job is probably perplexed as anyone but his faith remains intact. In Job 13:15 he says “though he slay me, I will hope in Him.” He continues in that verse, saying “I will surely defend my ways to His face.” Job is a man, confident of his faith and in the goodness of his God.  

I would contrast Job with Judas. We can’t know for certain what his motives were in betraying Jesus. Maybe he was forcing Jesus’ hand, expecting Him to rise up and usher in the defeat of Rome through power. But his expectations, whatever they were, did not come to fruition and he became frustrated when things didn’t work out, culminating in anger with himself. Taking some literary license perhaps he wondered what he did wrong. What could he have done to achieve a different result?

When we focus on ourselves and our entitlements, the result is frustration at how events unfold.  Our frustration simmers, we seethe at the injustice of what has been done to us. “How dare they treat me that way!”

As we go further down the path of expectations and frustration we become angry. When I go to my favorite restaurant and my expectations are not met, how do I react? I am frustrated that the wonderful time I planned did not meet my expectations. Perhaps I vent my disappointment to someone at the restaurant. Maybe I will post a negative review on the internet. Maybe I just stew in my frustrations and anger and vow never to return to that establishment.

Anger is not good for us. Among the effects of anger are an increase in your risk of heart attack and stroke. It weakens your immune system and increases your anxiety. Anger can cause depression. Being angry or hostile can damage your lungs. And it can shorten your life. Often when we vent such anger we may later feel embarrassed at our behavior. We should make amends to those we may have wronged.

Obviously extreme  anger is not intended by God. The Bible does indicate a place for the  anger, properly expressed. Jesus expressed anger six times in the Bible, including driving the money changers out of the Temple. His was a righteous anger. In Ephesians Paul writes “Be angry and do not sin.”  In James 1:19-20 we read “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Strive for holy anger, shun human anger.

We can take one of two paths – we can choose expectations or hope. Expectations are within us, they are our doing. Hope is a focus on God who will give us what is best for us. Do you have expectations or do you have hope?

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