Confessing Christ Bloggers
May 22

Written by: gfackre
5/22/2008 8:58 AM

Hope: 3 kinds and where Christ comes in

There is hope, and then, again, there is hope. It comes in different forms. We examine three kinds.

“I hope I win the lottery this week!” says a friend. You remind him of the battle in the early centuries between the teaching of the providence of God and worship of the goddess Fortuna (Lady Luck) and wonder what the latter would look like today. Never mind, we’re exploring here a different subject, hope. This is one kind.

“I hope the Red Sox win the pennant again this year!” says a second friend. Yet another kind of hope. How different we’ll discern shortly.

“I have a hope that this house I’m helping to build for Habitat for Humanity in flood-wrecked Louisiana will make a big difference in some family’s life.” So remarks a third friend with hammer in hand. Yet another kind of hope.

Hope 1 is a verb. What is it based on? In this case , many years of slip purchases at the local Cumberland Farms. But no results so far. Here is a hope that is very iffy. Some would call it wishful thinking.

Hope 2 is also a verb. However, since the Red Sox won the pennant last year, and have fielded a great team again this year, there seems to be some basis for “I hope….” Yes, still iffy, especially so since another team gave then a run for their money last year and looks pretty good this time too. But in this case hope appears to be warranted; it’s based on some evidence. Although at the beginning of the season we might call it more latent than patent.

Hope 3 is a noun. Its use suggests more than the iffy quality that characterizes the first two. Since the house is already abuilding the prospects for fulfillment are increased. Hope here could be called patent rather than only latent. Further, hope functions as something of a dream of good prospects to come that impel the hoper to action toward that future goal. The hammer is in hand ready to go. Here hope mobilizes.

Some theological commentary.

Paul Tillich made an interesting distinction in speech given at the University of Chicago Divinity School many years ago. He said that the difference between wishful thinking and hope is evidence of some kind. That is, hope entails a warrant in the present, a trajectory toward the future.

Hope 1 has no such evidence. Hope 2 has the hint of it, Hope 3 has some solidity in its sign of things to come.

Jurgen Moltmann gives us some further help in discerning the dynamics of the best of hopes. He points in Christian history to movements of passionate social change that arose precisely from high “eschatological” hopes. Instead of the vision of a World to Come being “pie in the sky when you die” prompting the hopers to accept with docility their awful plight, it drove people to set up signs right now to the world of peace and freedom that Someday will come to be. Hope 3 is a this-worldly version of the same thing. Putting it a bit crassly in the language of a song from World War I: “You can’t keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree!” Hope 3 unsettles things as they are, making us restless with anything short of the vision and determined to act toward it.

Putting together both the Tillich and Moltmann insights about Hope 3, we might ask: just how much evidence do we need of Things to Come? Using the analogy of a meal (of the Kingdom?), is it a whiff, a smell of the dinner coming down the hall. How about an aperitif? Following closer the language of the New Testament we might speak of it as a “foretaste,” perhaps suggesting the first course of the Feast to Be.

Enter now the aforementioned 1954 Evanston Assembly of the World Council of Churches and its title, “Christ—the Hope of the World.” While much of its focus was on eschatology as the expectation of the Finale, it grounded that Not Yet in an Already. The final Future had already arrived in an anticipatory fashion in “Christ--the hope of the world.”

Of course, all this takes special eyes to see. That’s why we need as companion to hope, the second sister, “faith.” The eyes of faith perceive “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 KJV). And how can we have these two without the third, “love”?

In our next go-around on hope, we’ll pay attention to this trajectory toward the Future. And we’ll trace it from its beginnings to that center point of the historical Word, for even “In the beginning was the Word [Christ], and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 NRSV)

Copyright ©2008 Gabriel Fackre


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