Sometimes we use words so often and in such far-ranging contexts that we actually forget what they really mean. Of interest to me today is the word hope. We hear quite a bit about hope these days, and it has even made its way into the mainstream of political dialogue and campaigning. Everyone wants to have hope, and every politician and societal leader wants to offer a strategy for creating and maintaining it for us. Presidents do it, legislatures do it, corporate leaders do it, coaches do it, and of course, we clergy are all about doing it. But what is hope, really?
Hope comes in two flavors: First, there is the wish of hope contained in statements like, “I sure hope the Dodgers win the World Series this year.” Regardless of your opinion of the Blue Crew, or of baseball and sports in general, we all recognize this as the kind of “hope” that is nothing more than a wishful dream. This isn’t the kind of hope that sustains the individual or a society through tough times.
But, of course, there is a second understanding of hope. This hope is a radical commitment to a certain set of convictions that provide a compelling reason for traveling on through adverse circumstances in pursuit of a future that simply must be attained.
This hope, packaged in a season’s goals, is what sustains a sports team through injury and loss to finally win the championship. It is what sustains an army through impossible conditions and the valley of death to at last vanquish the enemy and bring in peace. It is what also brings purpose, balance and a persevering courage to the individual who has come to recognize life is bigger than day-to-day circumstances, and success awaits those who finish the race with honor.
I am sad about two things in our country today. First, I am sad that so many seem to have no real hope. They live in a world of wish dreams, expecting that life owes them success and happiness even though the only value they’ve developed is the conviction that they deserve happiness. Consequently, they are tossed around by every wind of theory and fad that whistles down the mountain from Hollywood, the best-seller shelves, or the checkout stand magazine racks. Without real hope, they have no permanence, no ambition, no purpose other than to feel good one more day.
And, as I sit here writing, I’m sure the confusion and frustration we have endured at the hands of Mr. COVID and his enforcers have left us feeling even more hopeless that we could even grab a hopeful seat on the bus of progress.
But I am equally sad about those who are committed to a set of values, and the hope springing from it, but who have never been intellectually honest enough to examine the foundations of that hope. Here I am talking to those who claim there is no place for God in the modern world.
In the academic area known as epistemology, the focus of study is simply “how do we know what we know?” Some, known as existentialists, insist knowledge must grow out of hard, cold, undeniable facts. Others, labeled pre-suppositionalists, argue not from evidence precisely, but from the coherence of their system. These last might say, “If you grant me my presuppositions, I’ll show you how my system can explain reality better than any other. In other words, my view works in real life.”
Those who deny God’s existence, either academically through argument or practically through a casual disregard for God in their daily life, largely do so without an honest appraisal of the foundation of their own views. They cannot offer cohesive answers as to why evil exists, where virtue comes from, or most importantly, why anyone should have any lasting hope. They don’t have the evidence, and neither does their system work in real life. If this life is all there is, and it doesn’t matter how we live (since there is no accountability to a higher power), and human existence is just a random set of circumstances, and more chaos and tragedy are closing in, then any real hope turns out to be a wish dream, and maybe those who live for the moment are on the right track after all. Any worldview flowing from a less than honest appraisal of its foundations isn’t hope, it’s delusion.
Today — Resurrection Day — millions of Christ-followers around the world rejoice in the celebration of a great historical fact. Jesus Christ, crucified, dead and buried, rolled away the stone and walked out of death. And in so doing, he brought hope. As an evidential, I know the facts that have continued to keep this truth central to millions despite the perennial opposition of atheists and others for the past 2,000 years. Apparently, God’s truth is impossible to kill.
But even more importantly, as a pre-suppositionalist, I know the worldview stemming from the empty grave is not only able to explain the hardest aspects of our reality, but also able to sustain the heart through the circumstances of this life. And that means there is hope, bringing purpose and understanding in this life, and the settled assurance of peace in the next.
Happy Easter to you and yours!
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.