Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: Faith, Hope, and “If Wishes Were Fishes”

We are all accustomed to seeing “bugs” in our Pokémon titles… but typically they are cute and fun character such as Caterpie, Butterfree, or Cutiefly. The bugs that are currently plaguing the release of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are the farthest thing from cute… and catching them all is definitely not fun. The newest entries in the long-running Pokémon franchise were released with a massive amount of anticipation and fanfare, touting a new open-world game design as well as cooperative multiplayer functionality that would truly bring the gameplay of Pokémon into the future… but this future looks almost as broken as the failed release of CyberPunk, a game that also struggled under the weight of pushing the limits of the current hardware and failed to stick the landing. Years ago, Nintendo’s very own Shigeru Miyamoto wisely stated that, “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” If only the talented team developing this potentially incredible adventure would have heeded his warning, we would have avoided a lot of this…

And these glitches are just the tip of the iceberg… while critics universally agree that many of the new game mechanics are fun additions to the franchise and the open-world concept will be a lot of fun once it is perfected, there are still so many incomplete and broken features that it is honestly hard to believe that the game shipped with all of these glaring bugs intact. But I suppose deadlines are deadlines, and in the rush to hit the holiday release window and deliver the anticipated sales it is expected to generate, the game was shipped in what seems to be an incomplete state. Now, is it selling? Oh, it’s likely to go down in history as the top grossing title in the series’ history based on the current selling trends (over 10 MILLION copies sold in the first three days). But in the rush to meet an artificial deadline that they created for themselves, what could have been an amazing extension of the Pokémon series will likely go down in history as one of the weakest reviewed and buggiest releases in the franchise as well.

The rush to meet arbitrary deadlines and deliver on nearly unkeepable guarantees in video games is nothing new… as long as there have been games, there have been release dates set, features promised, and fans left disappointed due to the publisher rushing the launch or the developer failing to deliver on their lofty goals. While there is certainly nothing wrong with having big dreams, the reality is that people do more than put their hopes in them… developers put their jobs and their reputations on the line, and gamers make financial decisions to purchase the games and at times even a gaming console based on these commitments. But when these big dreams transform into nearly unplayable nightmares, it hurts EVERYONE involved and casts a dark shadow over more than just the game… it brings doubt and disillusionment to the loyal fans, discredits the publisher, and on some occasions can lead to the premature end of a promising franchise. While I am quite confident that the Pokémon brand is strong enough to endure this mark on their record, the sad truth is there may be a number of gamers who are picking up a game in this series for the very first time… and if the buggy mess that is Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is their very first taste of Pokémon, it may also be their last.

The sad truth is many of us do this to ourselves without realizing it… I know I certainly do. Similar to the developers of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, we place unrealistic expectations in our own lives as well… we set goals, deadlines, and commitments for ourselves with the best of intentions. We read empowering Bible verses that remind us that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and quote “He will give us the desires of our hearts”, and then we copy and paste that portion of Scripture on top of these ambitious goals and set our hearts to pursue them. And if we are not careful, we can place expectations on the Lord and His plans for our lives that are not aligned with His ACTUAL destiny for us… and when He doesn’t deliver on these “promises” that He never actually made, we crash and burn in our faith while those on the outside of our beliefs struggle to understand what just happened. From my personal experience, I have made the mistake of mixing up the concepts of “hope” and “faith”, believing these to be interchangeable words that mean the same thing. But there is a MASSIVE difference between hope and faith, and when we confuse the two, we not only damage our own trust in the Lord, but those who are currently on the outside looking in. The most well-known verse that implies that difference between these two concepts is found in the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians…

1 Corinthians 13:13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

And the author of Hebrews goes one step further, using one of these words to define the other:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

So… to truly understand what is happening here we are going to have to dig a LITTLE bit deeper into the actual root words used in the original text. Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz and you don’t have to take notes. The word used for “faith” as well as the word used for “hope” in BOTH of these verses are:

Pistis (faith) – from peithô, “persuade, be persuaded”, properly, persuasion (be persuaded, come to trust); faith.

Elpis (hope) – from elpō, “to anticipate, welcome”, properly, expectation of what is sure (certain); hope

Okay, I admit it… that made it about as clear as the mud that Diglett pops out of. So, let’s try to provide a little bit of context. Let’s start with “faith”… the concept at the core of faith is to be “persuaded” of something. It is the same root word the Apostle Paul uses when he uses it to explain in Romans 8:38-39 when he says, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That word “persuaded” that Paul used in that incredibly popular verse? That is peithô. It can be interchangeably used with “being convinced” that something is true. I hope you are still with me because we are going somewhere with this… so if “faith” is a demonstration of being convinced of the truth of something, what is “hope” and why are these separate from each other?

The difference between faith and hope is probably at its’ most evident in the conversation between the newly resurrected Jesus and two of his completely disillusioned former followers, who demonstrated the difference between what they had “hoped” would happen and their actual “faith” in the Lord Who had never let them down… they just THOUGHT He did. Let’s take a quick pit stop on Emmaus Road to check in on these disappointed disciples who are LITERALLY walking next to the answer to their prayers.

Luke 24:13-21 Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him. And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.

Yep, you guessed it… that word “hoped” that they used in the past tense when referring to what they “believed” Jesus would do is the EXACT same word for “hope” we were looking at in the other verses. The problem wasn’t in the Lord’s failure to hear or answer their prayers, nor was it in His lack of presence in their situation. He was LITERALLY standing right there with them, answering their prayers in a manner far beyond their limited ability to comprehend it. But because He didn’t respond in the way they had “hoped”, their eyes were unable to see the answer that they received. And here we see the difference between hope and faith and the importance of having BOTH simultaneously… faith is being convinced of what is true even when we can’t see it, and hope is having an expectation for what will happen based on that faith. These disciples still had faith in God… but because He didn’t do what they expected Him to, they had lost their hope. In the life of a follower of Christ, our faith in the midst of the storm can be a powerful demonstration of how we lean on our belief in Christ regardless of what our circumstances are currently showing us… but when misapplied it can result in having our faith shaken when what we “hoped” for doesn’t come to pass.

The challenging truth is that the Lord is always present in our struggle… but as the disciples on Emmaus Road found, His presence can be impossible for us to detect if we are looking for Him in a different manner than He has chosen to reveal Himself. And when the way He chooses to show up in our circumstances occurs outside of the preconceived ideas we had for how He should answer our prayers, we can also become disillusioned in our faith and feel abandoned by the Savior that is literally standing next to us the entire time. We can all make the mistake that the developers of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet made, setting lofty expectations and goals that were beyond their ability to achieve in the timeframe that they set for themselves… it wasn’t done with malice or bad intentions, it just wasn’t realistic. They set their hopes (and ours) on dreams that were not grounded in what they were actually capable of delivering… and because they over-promised and under-delivered, an incredibly positive potential experience will now sadly be measured by these unfulfilled commitments rather than by the outstanding technical achievements that they managed to accomplish to propel this franchise forward.

The Lord has promised to hear ALL of our prayers (1 John 5:14) and be present with us at ALL times (Hebrews 13:5)… but He will never answer our prayers in a manner that is inconsistent with His character, His established Word, or His perfect will for each of our lives. We can ABSOLUTELY have confidence when we pray to Him (Hebrews 4:16)… He actually commanded us to pray with the EXPECTATION of being answered if we want to receive what we are asking for (James 1:6). But these expectations must be grounded in understanding the nature of who He is and what is truly best for His children… for the Emmaus Road disciples, His death was an unwanted but necessary answer to their prayers. And in our lives, His method of answering our prayers may be with a “no”, a “not yet’, or a “yes, but not in the way we were hoping”. His answer to our prayer for financial support may come from a different direction than winning the lottery… it may come in the form of a job interview or the assistance of a financial counselor to better understand how to manage our existing finances. Our desire to experience the authentic embrace of our biological family may reveal itself by finding love and acceptance in the arms of our non-biological family in the body of Christ. His answer may not come when, how, or in the way we asked… in my experience I am frequently on the receiving side of answers to prayers that don’t make sense until many years after I prayed them. Some of them still don’t make sense to my limited comprehension and restricted vision. But because I have faith that He will always be true to His nature to only give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11), I can align my future hopes with who He truly is instead of trying to make Him fit into the box that contains my dreams and desires.

When we pray for the Lord’s will to be done rather than our own (Matthew 6:10, Luke 22:42), it means we are giving up OUR solution to our prayers and accepting HIS resolution to our problems. Hope is not merely blindly “wishing” for something to happen while adding our faith in the Lord into the mix as some kind of secret ingredient. That is a mistake I have made many, MANY times… if my wishes were fishes there would be piles of Magikarp EVERYWHERE. And this is why faith and hope are both separate but intertwined… our faith is based in believing in who the Lord is, and our hope is grounded in Him doing what He said He would do in a manner consistent with who He is. When we put words in His mouth that He never said or misapply His promises to dreams and goals that aren’t aligned with His will, we only set ourselves up for crushing disappointment. But when we pray with anticipation of His answer while expecting that response to be in accordance with His will, we can have faith that we will receive what we are hoping for… His perfect will for our lives and the lives of all the other souls who will be impacted by His response.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet could have been GREAT, but they tried to do too much, too soon, promising more than they were able to deliver on the timeline they committed to. And while the Lord is never limited in His ability to answer our prayers in ways that are far beyond our comprehension, setting an expectation on Him that is outside of His will never ends well. Faith is knowing that gravity is real, even if I can only observe it indirectly through the impact it has. And hope is believing that when I swing my legs on the other side of the bed and get up to start my day, I will safely land on the ground instead of flying off into space because gravity is the same today as it was yesterday. Gravity isn’t waiting for me to trust in it… it is going to do what it is going to do. But if I misunderstand it or place the wrong expectations on it, I either never get out of bed for fear that it can’t be trusted, or I attempt to jump off the roof thinking it exists based on my demands on it instead of the other way around. While our lack of faith in Him will absolutely limit what He can do in our lives (Mark 6:5), our hope in Christ is really about modifying OUR behavior and actions… not His. Let’s pray in faith today and make our requests known to the Lord while setting our hopes on Him being exactly who He says He is… the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If He tells us to jump, we can trust Him to catch us… and if He DIDN’T tell us to take that leap, it may be because He has a reason for us being where we are right now. And when we pray for His peace in our situations, He will give us the wisdom to know the difference.

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