When Hope Isn’t: Reflections on the Chicago Olympics

The phrase “the Chicago Olympics” (at least for the foreseeable future) refers only to a fantasy. Yet, thousands of people in Chicago poured their heart and soul into bringing the Olympics to Chicago and then stood broken-hearted and stunned (gobsmacked) as they listened to the International Olympic committee disqualify them from hosting the summer Olympics in 2016. This is a classic case of hope disappointed or hope that is not hope at all, at least not in the biblical sense. When Scripture speaks of “hope” it does not refer to an uncertainty, something that might occur but that might not occur, at least not when speaking of God, Christ, or the divine promises. When Scripture speak of “hope” in God, in Christ, or in the divine promises, that hope is as certain as the object.

This is the problem, of course, with placing one’s hope in things such as the Olympics. When the announcement was made that Chicago had received the least number of votes and was out of the running, people in Chicago were shocked. It was contrary to expectation. People had visualized the future and that future included the 2016 Olympics and all the tourism dollars that it is to bring. They could see the new buildings and the athletes streaming into the stadium for the opening procession but it is not to be. How can that be? It seemed like such a “sure thing” to so many. The answer is in the nature of the thing. The Olympics don’t have to be in Chicago to be the Olympics. Just because we want something (even if we want it really intensely) doesn’t mean that it will come to pass. The Olympics will still be what they are in Rio in 2016. In medieval terms, Chicago was “accidental” to the Olympics, not essential.

In contrast, God cannot be other than he is. In his nature and in his purpose and will he is faithful to his promises. With God we always know that whatever he promises will be. We don’t necessarily know when it will be, but we always know that it will be because it is contrary to the nature of God to break his promises. God promised a flood and it came. He promised to save his people through and from the water and he did. God promised a seed to Abraham and 2,000 years later (!) he fulfilled that promise in Christ. He promised a prophet to Moses and 1500 years later he fulfilled it in Christ. He promised a son to David, who would sit on his throne forever, and 1,000 years later, he fulfilled it in Christ.

Earthly things will ultimately disappoint. Your new iPhone will get a scratch or suddenly stop working. That piece of equipment that you thought would help you do your work may or may not meet expectations. I can guarantee that it will wear out. It might not even arrive in the mail. It might go to Poughkeepsie. In the ordinary (ordained and as we experience it) providence of God, things in this life, in this world, are contingent. They are not contingent to God. He is sovereign over all things and orders all things according to his perfect good pleasure (beneplacitum) but, as we experience them, they are contingent. They change, they fade, they fail.

The Triune God never fails. He never fades. He never changes. He is what he is: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is utterly trustworthy. He has demonstrated that trustworthiness in Christ.

At the last day the only ones who will be disappointed are those who did not put their trust in Christ. Those who have trust in Jesus will receive him and be lifted to him as he descends in royal glory, with joy and thanksgiving and they will be received by him as his children for whom he came, obeyed, died, rose, and interceded.

When hope is placed in a false object, that’s a recipe for disappointment. That is no hope. When hope is placed in a true object it is real hope because it is as solid as its object is solid.

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  1. The only Chicagoans who had their hopes dashed were non-Cubs fans. Those of us who have endured 101 years of heartache were expecting the worst, and thus, we received it.

  2. What/where is “Poughkeepsie?” And how is it pronounced…”poo-keep-sie”… “poh-keep-sie?”

    Or is this a word from another epoch of history…like forever ago or something? lol.


  3. This (and many other examples to Obama’s “foreign policy”) should be a wake up call to Mr. O that he can’t simply charm his way in the foreign arena, the world doesn’t work that way. Yet somehow he still thinks all he needed to do in foreign policy is to have a nice chat with the dictators and they will see the light.

  4. As a practical matter, Chicagoans should be relieved at the bullet they’ve just dodged. London has the 2012 Summer Olympics, and construction costs are already at least 3 times higher than the original estimate was. Once the Olympics are over, British taxpayers will get stuck for all the bills (as well as trying to figure out what to do with all those expensive newly-abandoned buildings). Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Games, and it took the taxpayers of that city 30 years to pay off the bills.

    If I were a Chicagoan, I’d be relieved…

  5. Richard wrote:

    If I were a Chicagoan, I’d be relieved…

    As a native Chicagoan living in voluntary exile in Florida, I can tell you that all my family members with whom I have discussed this (and most still live there) are breathing a lot easier since Chicago was turned down.

    They say we have two seasons in the Chicago area: winter and road construction. They would have been replaced by gridlock and road rage.

  6. Richard also commented on the burdensome long-term debt that has plagued previous Olympics. That observation makes me wonder: what do you think the average credit card balance is among the people who had shocked looks on their faces upon hearing the news that Chicago had been eliminated? The disconnect between the pursuit of prestige and economic reality is infuriatingly common these days.

  7. this is a really nice post – don’t usually comment but it is a great dissertation on the difference between temporal and eternal hope. I’m tempted to go find a text to fit it and preach it (I would never do that but I might use the imagery next time I’m preaching a sermon on hope – probably during Advent).

  8. The thing is we can all bash those who put their hopes in this when it’s not something that we care about. Living nowhere near the US means it doesn’t matter to me where the Olympics are. But there are things that are equally ‘light’ that we care all too much about – I think that’s where Dr.Clark hits the nail on the head – we may do not the same thing, but as Paul puts it we do the same kinds of things.

  9. In the sentence “They change, they fade, the fail.” the “the” should be “they.”

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