Can’t Live Without It

It was midnight when she called.  I heard the crashing of Lake Michigan waves mixed with Chelsea’s emotions smashing against the shoreline.  My daughter recounted a conversation she had had with a young atheist, for whom her heart ached.  She cried explaining the fellow classmate’s desire for something or someone to meet his expectation.  For all her college years Chelsea has referred to herself as a “female Apollos” using the “apologetic of hope” with her peers.  My daughter knows hope, lives hope, and gives hope to others.

In her Mystery and Manners, a writer’s self-description, Flannery O’Connor explains the core of any good story, storyteller, and story-reader:

“…people without hope do not write novels…I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality.  It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.  If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.  People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them.”[1]

Simply said, reality demands hope in a supernatural world.  “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” for example, causes one to gasp aloud in response to the depth of human sin and the necessity of divine grace.  Hope to overcome the first is impossible without the second.

Hope is at the core of reflection.  The Old Testament words for “hope” mean to look forward to with eager expectation.[2] Often translated “wait,” Christians base their anticipation of the future in whom they wait.  “Hope in God”[3] is the command based on the fact that Yahweh is “the hope of Israel.”[4] Even Job in his agony declared, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”[5] “Wait for The Lord” the Psalmist says twice in Psalm 27:14, overloading the sentence in Psalm 130:5, “I wait for Yahweh, my whole person waits, I wait in His Word.”

Why would we reflect if we have no hope, no expectation of Someone or something beyond ourselves?  Glenn Tinder masterfully exposes the bankrupt nature of human hope as so-called “progress” in his essay The Fabric of Hope. Likening our experience to an actor in a play, he says we know that there is a world outside ourselves on stage.  That life transcends the drama.  There is a world outside the theatre, so our hope is “an orientation toward eternity, presupposes a degree of detachment—the detachment inherent in the consciousness of belonging not only to an earthly city but to a heavenly city as well. . . .”[6] Our troubles in this world cannot be overcome by empty political promises of “hope” which have no certainty, separated from history and transcendence.  Micah 7:7 says what we mean, “I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”

Hope can come in many forms, but always outside ourselves.  Luke Wilson stars in a movie to ponder just such an idea: Henry Poole Lives Here. Sometimes the inexplicable occurs to give hope to the hopeless.  Full of Christian imagery and truly caring believers, Henry is altered when he is forced to confront that which he cannot explain.  After suffering his own devastating loss, Mark Pellington created a film to reflect upon the realities of life lived after loss.[7] Henry Poole Lives Here is an example of reflection leading to hope.

My preaching days began when I was 13.  The first sermon I ever wrote began this way: “A person can live 40 days without food, 3 days without water, 5 minutes without air, but not one second without hope.”  Here is to Flannery O’Connor, my daughter, and all those other “apologists of hope.”  May their stories, their poems, their films cause many to reflect and so, to hope.

Mark Eckel believes that hope puts one foot in front of the other, normally while he’s teaching at Crossroads Bible College.

[1] Flannery O’Connor. 1957, 1997. Mystery and Manners. (Noonday, reprint):77-78.

[2] John E. Hartley. 1980. qawa. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 2:791-92 and Paul R. Gilcrist. 1980. yachal. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 1: 373-74.

[3] Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5; 130:7

[4] Jeremiah 14:8; 17:13; 50:7.

[5] Job 13:15.

[6] Glenn Tinder. 1999. The Fabric of Hope: An Essay. (Emory University): 123.  Tinder’s philosophical commentary should be read by all interested Christians intending to invest their life in political life.

[7] John Anderson.  “After a Devastating Loss, A New Subtext.” New York Times 10 August 08: AR9. retrieved 27 January 09.

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