Humanity is Desperate for Hope

Fraudulent hope is one of the greatest malefactors of the human experience while genuine hope is its most dedicated benefactor.   Addressing fear and anxiety is a question of learning hope. Hope is superior to fear but it isn’t passive. Hope is an emotion that goes outside itself and broadens people, emancipates people and provides a direction in which to move. Hopeful people throw themselves into the pursuit of what can help this world.

John 10: 7-10 Romans 4:13 ff

Humanity is desperate for hope.

It is no new thing. George Fox, in an epistle of 1666 wrote:

“O Friends, let Righteousness flow amongst you all, Truth and equity, uprightness and holiness, which becomes the house of God. Live in the holy order of the Life, Spirit and Power of the everlasting God.   Keep in the Faith that works by Love, that purifies your hearts, the mystery of which is held in a pure conscience…. O live in the pure Hope, which purifies you as he his pure, which Hope is Christ, who was before the hypocrites hope…(that is) impure. So, feel Christ your hope, which anchors your immortal souls … in all waves, storms and tempests … and sure and safe in all weathers…. “

I was loaned the August National Geographic magazine because it included a revealing article on hunger in America. It addressed issues of the availability of grocery stores to urban households. It highlighted hunger among rural families who live surrounded by corn and bean fields. It examined how Federal dollars are distributed to producers and how they impact diet. It contrasted $10.00 spent on fast food versus healthy food and illuminated how hunger and obesity are two sides of a coin with people buy cheap food that is filling, obesity being the unintended collateral damage of a poor diet. According to the article America has 48 million people categorized as ‘food insecure’ – more than half are white and more than half live outside cities. I guess that the fact that someone cared to research hunger in America and report on it says that we may be able to point to some hope.

In the same magazine the lead article was about what was called “The First Stonehenge,” a village built five thousand years ago off what is today the northern tip of Scotland. The temple complex on the Ness of Brodgar stood for longer than Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral have existed. Some suggest that one particular large tomb, being aligned to capture the rays of the setting sun on the eve of the winter solstice, is a key to understanding stone age religion. It is about hope.

I guess the point is that human beings throughout time have known anxiety, and that anxiety, when fixed and more definite becomes fear. Earliest humans would feel the earth shake, or the sun disappear or days grow extraordinarily short and not know why. And they would become anxious. Hopelessness is a most insupportable thing, its intolerable to human needs. Even deception, if it is to be effective, must work with flatteringly and corruptly aroused hope, offering either mere emptiness or empty other world promises. The Latin is: ”Corruptio optimi pessima” it is roughly translated “the corruption of what is best is the worst tragedy.”   Fraudulent hope is one of the greatest malefactors of the human experience while genuine hope is its most dedicated benefactor.   Addressing fear and anxiety is a question of learning hope. Hope is superior to fear but it isn’t passive. Hope is an emotion that goes outside itself and broadens people, emancipates people and provides a direction in which to move. Hopeful people throw themselves into the pursuit of what can help this world.

Everyone’s life is pervaded by daydreams: one part of this is just simple minded escapism – it’s what the lottery depends on. But the other part is provocative, is never content to simply accept the bad. It has hoping at its core and is trainable. It can be lifted from unregulated, empty, daydreaming. It is a question of learning hope.

Paul Tillich preached his The Right To Hope sermon at Harvard’s Memorial Church in March l965. He began by pointing to how Ernst Bloch acknowledged hope as a permanent, driving force in every person. He points to how little we speak of hope’s roots, its justifications, what creates it and maintains it, sometimes against enormous odds. Instead, he says we tend to devalue hope, calling it wishful thinking or utopian fantasy.

But nobody can live without hope, even if it were only for the smallest things which give some satisfaction even under the worst of conditions, even in failure, poverty or illness. Tillich wrote that “Without hope, the tension of our life toward the future would vanish, and with it, life itself. We would end in despair, a word that originally meant “without hope,” or in deadly indifference.” The Apostle Paul referred to Abraham’s faith in the divine promise that he would become the father of a large nation although he had no son in his and his wife’s old age “In hope he believed against hope”. Old Testament authors struggled to maintain the hope for Israel within the many catastrophes of its history. And later on, they struggled as individuals for their personal hope, and finally there grew a hope in them for the rebirth of the present world and a new state of all things. This double hope, for the universe and for the single person, became the faith of the early Christians. It is the hope of the church for “the new heaven and the new earth” and of the individual to enter this new earth and new heaven.

Interpreting first century Judaism through reactionary sixteenth century Protestant binoculars is fruitless and misleading. First century Judaism was not a religion of meritorious works; rather it was a religion of grace and mercy from which good works flow. But these hopes, in both Testaments, have to struggle with continuous attacks of hopelessness. There are outcries of despair about life. There is the despair of Job when he says, “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease” — but as “the waters wear away the stones [and] the torrents wash away the soil of the earth, so thou [God] destroyest the hope of man” (Job 14:7, 19).

There is a tremendous struggle about hope in the New Testament that went on during the whole lifetime of Jesus. It reached its height when, after his arrest, the disciples fled to Galilee. Hopelessly they said to themselves, like the two in the beautiful story of the walk to Emmaus, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They had hoped, but he was crucified. In order to regain hope; they had, as is said in I Peter, “to be born anew to a living hope,” namely, by the spiritual appearances of Jesus which many of them experienced.

Later on, the church had to fight with hopelessness, because the expectations of the Christians for the early return of the Christ remained unfulfilled. Paul writes to his congregations, (Rom. 8:24_25), “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” We wait. That means it is not yet in our possession; but in some way we have it, and this having gives us the power to wait. The Christians learned to wait for the end. But slowly they ceased to wait. The expectation for a new state of things on earth became weak though it was one prayed for it in every Lord’s Prayer — Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven! The result was to concretize systems of beliefs to bolster a waning hope.  

So also was the hope of the individual for participation in eternal life undercut by science and philosophy. Imaginations of a heavenly place above and a hell below became symbols for the state of our inner life. The expectation of a simple continuation of life after death vanished in view of a sober acceptance of the seriousness of death and a deeper understanding by theology of the difference between eternity and endless time. In view of all this, most people today, including many Christians, have experienced the attacks of hopelessness and struggle for hope against hope. We have learned how hard it is to preserve genuine hope. We know that we must either go ever again through the narrows of a painful and courageous “in-spite-of” or we formalize doctrine in which we hide our doubt. For hope cannot be verified by sense experience or rational proof.

            Everybody can lose themselves in foolish hopes, but genuine hope is something rare and great. How then can we distinguish genuine from foolish hope?

Where there is genuine hope, there that for which we hope already has some presence. In some way, the hoped for is at the same time here and not here. It is not yet fulfilled, and it may remain unfulfilled. But it is here, in the situation and in ourselves, as a power which drives those who hope into the future.

 

 

 

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