Confessing Christ Bloggers
May 15

Written by: gfackre
5/15/2008 8:35 AM

Why these waves of hope in our era? Putting it in the words of Charles Peguy commenting on the Christian virtues, “Hope, little hope, moves forward between her two big sisters…”A case could be made that the coming to the fore of “hope” is a response to massive pressures of suffering in our time. Desmund Tutu captures it in the title and substance of his book, Hope and Suffering.

Is “suffering” as our defining human problem (in contrast to other human quandaries, sin, ignorance, mortality) related to the technological developments that increase the damage we can do to one another? So the horrors of national conflict in the 20th century that go back to World War I with its untold casualties. It’s no accident that “theodicy”—how to reconcile the goodness and love of God with the omnipresence of evil—took on such importance in the 20th century, and continues to the present. So the last blog by the writer on this subject on this site.

Yet suffering is pervasive throughout history. What distinguishes our time’s conjunction of suffering and hope? Is it the sense that something can be done about it, rather than the fatalism that just accepts it as a given? In fatalistic periods and persons, “hope” is an enemy because it seen as so often dashed. Thus Euripides (echoing Solon, Pindar, Aeschylus, Simonides , Thucydides) declares it simply to be a “curse.” Later, Cowley says hope is “fortune’s cheating lottery, where for one prize a hundred blanks go by.” Shelley agrees, asserting that “Worse than despair, worse than the bitterness of death is hope.” And capping them all, Nietzsche: “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man.” Not quite in our time. We seem to have been ready to talk of hope again. Why?

Perhaps it is because we think we can do something about it. Charles Taylor in his profound work, A Secular Age , sees that something significant has changed in the “Latin West” since 1500 or so. One characteristic is a belief that we can do something to “reform” the way things are. And since the Enlightenment forward that includes making the world a better place to live in. (Of course there are negatives that go with this, he and Christians in general would contend: we are tempted to think we can shuck off the “transcendence” of former times, and believe we can go it alone.) Hope here means we can change, and that same technology which maximizes the harm can also make for healings unheard of before.

However, exuberant forecasts of how much we can fix things have their s shadowside. The naivete of utopian hope is, ultimately, shattered by the ambiguities of every advance. We need a Reinhold Niebuhr to remind us of impossibilities in ever human possibility. The Enlightenment’s escalator of progress puts us on a bad footing. The best historical hope is sober hope.

Was Martin Luther King, Jr. an exemplar of such? He knew his Niebuhr as well as his Gandhi . And he had a dream that made a difference, grounded in Christian hope. Yet the world took his life. But is that the end of him and his dream? To be continued.

Before we get to an attempt at the exposition of penultimate sober hope and ultimate Christian hope, a footnote from Karl Menninger. Like Niebuhr he could write a book on RN’s favorite subject, Whatever Became of Sin? At the same time, he was able to give to a memorable address to the American Psychiatric Society, “Hope.” The gist of his argument was that physicians and psychiatrists are, one the one hand, sometimes tempted to encourage false hopes in their patients, ones too soon overtaken by the facts. But he is more concerned, on the other hand, to help them see how hope (sobered yes) can actually make for healing in a patient. Menninger gathers reams of evidence that show how apparently hopeless cases have recovered because of their will to live by hope.
And how its absence can make for the opposite. His counsel: do not settle for presumably scientific closures. This sounds a lot like Bonhoeffer’s wise words: do not be servile before the factual.

The next segment of this blog will explore the different varieties of hope, and lead into the Christian species of this genus.


Re: Hope:Christian Eschatology

Dear Gabe,

I don't think "the best historical hope is sober hope." The best historical hope is hope in Jesus Christ present with us now in the power of the Holy Spirit, according to his promise: "Lo and behold! I am with you to the end of the age". Thus, with this promise, and in the revelation that "All responsiblity in heaven and upon earth has been granted to me" the church to hear his command, his command to hope in a very concrete way: "Disciplize!" Thus, hope in Jesus Christ, in his abiding presence and in his final visible coming, is not a species in a genus, it is the genus by which we can define all "hope" that is worthy of the word "hope" and it is a hope that takes the form of bold mission and service.

By Jim Link on   5/20/2008 2:51 PM

Re: Hope:Christian Eschatology


Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

An observation on "sober hope" from one you honor, as reflected in your comments here and elsewhere. Some of the things Karl Barth says in the vein of sober hope appear in a letter to British Christians during World War II: "The present age is the time of God's long-suffering until the day when the same Jesus Christ shall come again in His glory. It is on this world in which we live in all the transitoriness of its present existence, with the sins which we commit and the misery they bring, and with the shadow of death cast over it--it is in this world in its entirety...that God has set his mark in that He has exalted the name of Jesus above every name...It is no doubt that ...'principalities and powers' and indeed such mischevious spirits do exist. as the Scriptures say and as we are realizing once again today. But...although at present the glory of the Kingdom of God is held out to us only as a hope, yet the Kingly rule of Christ extends not merely over the also confronts and overules with sovereign dignity the principalities and powers and evil spirits of this world." (9,10)

Barth did not think that the struggle against the Nazis, or any comparable effort in justice, was bringing in the kingdom (unsober hope) as liberal Protestantism was tempted to believe, but such matters are necessary efforts in "coming to grips spiritedly and resolutely with these evil spirits" (11), confident that Christ rules over them and therefore there is some sober historical hope of modest achievements in justice, ones that point toward the fulfillment of Hope at the End.


By Gabriel Fackre on   5/21/2008 4:32 PM

Re: Hope:Christian Eschatology

Dear Gabe,

I agree with you in the sense that Christian hope may be characterized as "sober" (we need to unpack that word through the exegesis of Scripture); but in what I read of your three posts it seems that the object of hope in our present existence becomes, is in, a principle of hope, a dialectic of utopianism and realpolitik. In short, you make hope into a priniciple of synthesis rather than the acknowledgement of a person, Jesus Christ risen from the dead, ascended to heaven, sitting now at the right hand of the Father, ruling all things, pouring out the Holy Spirit, and promising to come again to judge the living and the dead. And, even in your response, you ignore hope as it extends beyond the political realm as it takes concrete form in the church as the obedient making of disciples--and this does indeed have a political dimension--which, as we can all attest in the church, is a progressing (Go!) miracle of conversion (Baptize!) and learned obedience (Teach!) to the command of Jesus Christ. The only hope that should be the object of hope is God's own hope, in Jesus Christ. This is why I object to your characterization as hope as a genus and Christian hope as a species. The words you quote from Barth point in exactly the opposite direction.

God bless!


By Jim Link on   5/22/2008 9:14 AM

Re: Hope:Christian Eschatology

Dear Jim,

Glad to have your additional comment, this time on all 3 sections so far of this blog. Here is a response.

1) Good to know that you now " a sense that Christian hope may be characterized as 'sober'...." Certainly such must be grounded in the "exegesis of Scripture"--common, critical, canonical and contextual--as I have argued elsewhere (THE CHRISTIAN STORY. Vol. 2)

2) However, your point that my understanding of "the object of hope" is a "principle of synthesis...a dialectic of utopianism and realpolitik... rather than an acknowledgment of a person, Jesus Christ risen from the dead...." is puzzling. I make quite the opposite point in the third blog here, following the second WCC assemby theme," Jesus Christ--the Hope of the World" that assumes the "Already" of the Incarnation and the Not Yet of the Consummation, tracing the same narrative to which you refer, one I will develop in subsequent blogs in more detail.

3) On you comment about my usage of species/genus. Perhaps I could have said it better, since the metaphor can be interpreted to mean that , normatively, Christ is just a species of some universal genus, such as a common core religion, as in some kinds of contemporary religious pluralism. Rather, I was attempting to point out, descriptively, that the term "hope" is used in different ways . There is, as in your own usage here, "Christian hope," but there are also other kinds of hope, non-Christian ones. What is different is that Christian hope from Easter to Eschaton ( including the birth of a baptizing and teaching Body of Christ) is a genus all of its own, as is presupposed in the quote I used from Barth that expresses my own view as well, and that of classic Christian teaching.


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