Hope vs. Expectation: A Finer Line Than You Might Think

Originally Published: 11/23/17


Recently, I read a verse that caused me to stop in my tracks and ponder.

Here's the verse: 

"The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish."  - Proverbs 10:28

This is a seemingly straight-forward verse, but I would argue it's depths are quite profound. Within the verse, the two qualifiers for each statement are: "righteous" and "wicked". This is indicating those who are believers in Jesus Christ (the only way we are seen as righteous), and unbelievers. But, beyond this distinction, there is universal wisdom that can be drawn out of this concise portion of Scripture - regardless of your beliefs or worldview.

So let's ask some questions:

What is a hope? What is an expectation? What's the difference? (And what's the big deal?)

A hope can be described as: an anticipation of a future event, occurrence, or outcome. Comparatively, an expectation is the belief that something in the future is going to happen. (Thane's definitions)

"The proof is in the pudding" was always a phrase that didn't make much sense to me, but I think it is applicable here. While the origins of the phrase actually come from a longer phrase ("the proof of the pudding is in the eating" - which makes a whole heck-of-a-lot more sense), the point still remains: in order to know if the food is good or not, you've got to eat it to see. Simply put: you have to try something to know if it is good.

In order to know whether having "hope" or having "expectation" is good, we must eat it to see if it tastes good, right? That's a silly way of saying we need to examine the fruit that each trait produces, and that is the goal for this post.

So let's get to eating!

The Fruit: Comparing and Contrasting "Hope" vs. "Expectation"

Having hope means you are trusting the process. Having an expectation means you are trusting the results.

Having a hope means that the future is uncertain. Having an expectation means that you are predetermining the future.

Having a hope is an action of humility. Having an expectation can be an act of pride.

Having a hope does not disappoint. Having an expectation often falls short.

Having a hope helps us acknowledge that God knows best. Having an expectation often indicates that you know best.

Having a hope produces a life of faith. Having an expectation produces a life of entitlement.

This last point is the proof I would base my argument on saying that the "pudding" of hope is truly good, and the "pudding" of expectation is often bad.

There's a reason the common phrase states it this way: "hope for the best, expect the worst". We obviously wouldn't want to hope for the worst, but we should also not expect the best to happen, because we can't guarantee the future. Expectations will often put the onus on others, whereas hope puts the onus aside all-together.

I will concede that, thus far, I have been rather harsh on the concept of "expectations". In reality, expectations can be a very good thing, if used properly. The harmful expectations are any that produce entitlement. Entitlement is the single, biggest challenge facing our generation that's living in the midst of modern society. We expect everything to be given to us, partly because we are digitally consuming everything (everyday), and partly because we have grown up (largely) in an age of peace and prosperity. But success doesn't magically appear, and life is larger than your phone screen or your Instagram feed. We all must realize that we are entitled to nothing. Our hope should not be in "what's owed to us" (the core of entitlement), but rather in what we can give to others, and what we can offer / or rather, what we owe to this world - the duty to use our unique gifts to promote human flourishing, and ultimately bring God glory.

Entitlement aside, the good of expectation is seen when it is pointed inward instead of outward. Inward-facing expectation means: we expect things of our self. We should expect ourselves to be disciplined. We should expect ourselves to live courageously. We should hold ourselves to a high standard. We should expect success to come as a byproduct of hard work. We should expect us to be the best that we can be. These are good and worthy expectations.

But the reality is, we fall short. We fail. We miss the mark. We don't always live up to the expectations we ascribe to ourselves, even if they are good. And that shows, once again, the superiority of hope. And beyond mere, conceptual hope, I'm talking about real hope. Hope in the Creator of the Universe - the only lasting hope that does not disappoint.

On a human level, we would all benefit from living hopeful lives instead of expectant lives.

On a spiritual level, I believe the eternal fulfillment of our hope is only found in the Savior and Redeemer of our faith - Jesus Christ.

That is my hope, what's yours?