Hope Springs Eternal

Article by   August 2007

Hope Springs Eternal
Understanding the Times
Derek Thomas

'Hope springs eternal in the human breast' wrote the eighteenth century poet, Alexander Pope. Platitude? Yes, but true for all that. I have to confess the lines (from An Essay on Man) come to mind frequently at dinner when Jake (my dog!) lies at my feet with fixed gaze on every morsel entering my mouth. Try telling him that this is but a platitude!

These words are at the heart of human experience. They form the nerve center of the book known as Ecclesiastes (take a look at Ecc. 9:4 about a 'living dog' as opposed to a 'dead lion' and you'll get the point). My sixteen year-old neighbor has been trying to learn how to ride a skateboard all summer. He's persisted through embarrassing falls and hostile temperatures. And why? Because, I fancy, it's a cool thing to do and the girls will love him for it. Why do musicians spend endless hours playing scales, or athletes sweat it out in gymnasiums, or seminary students stay up half the night studying (well, perhaps I'm dreaming here)? Because they hope to succeed one day. They want to be someone or do something and this is the way to achieve it. They have hope!

Without hope - the bitter experience of hopelessness - is a killer. Talk to medical therapists about the importance of sustaining hope in the fight against disease and again you'll get the point. Tell someone they have cancer and hope temporarily evaporates. It is crucial to urge the promotion of hope at such times. It is time to gird up the loins and do battle against a viscous monster. Whatever must be faced, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy ... these must be buoyed by the hope that they will do some good.

But, for Christians it is more than a hope for now and the present; it is that there is a purpose behind it all, an overruling providence that sustains the darkness and points toward the light. We have a basic (God-given) instinct to know who we are and why we are here. Without it, as in radical existentialism, human worth diminishes.

The secular humanists, men like Richard Dawkins (author of the current best seller, The God Delusion), must face the terrible dilemma that life really has no meaning except the self-absorbed obsession to make it as tolerable as possible. It is a philosophy of hopelessness - we exist, but there is nothing that gives our existence any meaning. There is no way to authenticate myself.

Viktor Frankl (who later founded a school of psychiatry known as logotherapy) spent three years as a young man in the Auschwitz concentration camp where he noticed that those most likely to survive their ordeal were those "who knew that there was a task waiting for them to fulfill." Without meaning - hope - there is only a road that leads to boredom, alcoholism, and suicide.

The gospel responds to this Edenic malaise by assuring that in Jesus Christ lies real hope and true meaning. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). It restores in us an image of God that has been broken by sin. Like once ruined castles we are re-built to form a something beautiful and Christ-like. In Christ we are a new creation anticipating a newer existence yet in the world that is to come - an existence that has, in part, already broken through into our own space-time continuum (2 Cor. 5:17). As such, we have value. Yes, value. We much valuable than a sheep or many sparrows, Jesus said (Matt.10:31; 12:12). As Archbishop Temple put it, "My worth is what I am worth to God, and that is a marvelous great deal, for Christ died for me."


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