This was an interesting article that I read in The New York Times this morning–not at all coincidentally published the day after Easter–that takes issue with hope in general, and Christian hope in particular.
The author advocates for “a very Greek standpoint” that replaces hope with realism, which he sees as much more constructive and productive–his example comes from The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides, and the case of the island of Melos. I won’t rehash the whole story, but suffice it to say that the point is that the inhabitants of Melos clung to the irrational hope that Sparta would come and save them from the Athenians–and were summarily destroyed. Moral? Courage is better than hope.
My problem with the article is its description of Christian hope, which the author characterizes entirely with these brief words from Paul: “hope for what we do not see” and “wait for it with patience.” Certainly, when thinking about the promise of salvation after death–and even the future work of God that we cannot yet conceive of today–there is an element of trust in things that lie beyond our current field of vision. However, to take from that the conclusion that Christian hope is nothing more than passive acquiescence and “blind” trust is an inaccurate and false generalization.
The Christian hope that was proclaimed Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is not the sort of hope that leads me to close my eyes in bed at night, hoping that when I open them in the morning, the world will be a better place: global warming will have stopped, my health will have improved, the unemployment rate will have dropped, etc., etc. To the contrary: Christian hope aims not to engender passivity and naive optimism [a word the author doesn’t like], but rather to see the deep suffering in the world with eyes wide open, and yet still be inspired to creative, passionate engagement with the world. Christian hope doesn’t avoid the truth–it looks truth full in the face and doesn’t flinch; and has the audacity [another word the author doesn’t like] to not only believe things can be different, but work to make it so.
Christian hope doesn’t stand alone–it stands with love; and we who confess it know love’s power. Christian love and Christian hope don’t just seek to make people feel better with platitudes and empty promises. Christian love and hope seek to make the world better–and they call people to work hard to do just that, in thanksgiving and response to the hope, love and, yes, salvation, we have received.
There is a reason Dante included the phrase “All hope abandon ye who enter here” in his inscription above the gates of hell. Hell is hopelessness; but while Christ is alive, so is hope, and so I’m not about ready to abandon it–for myself or for the world, either.