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And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.*
Hope. I’ve been thinking a lot about hope recently. Mostly, I’ve regarded hope as a purely positive thing. However, as I’ve reflected more, I have begun to recognise that hope is somewhat of a paradox; perhaps, on occasion, even dangerous. You have probably heard this quote: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature,
the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soul-less conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Marx is not attacking religion here, per se. Instead, he is expressing sympathy for those who experience oppression and exploitation and look for something to numb it. The opium offered is the hope of a pain-free heaven. Brian McLaren (in his book, Life After Doom: Wisdom and courage for a world falling apart) calls this‘ hope-ium’. Dangerous
because it can condone the oppressors by pacifying the labour force. Whereas if the oppressed find the courage to feel the pain of their current situation, they might be desperate enough to take collective action towards their own freedom.

One problem with hope is that it can be a false promise, making the present less difficult to bear and demanding little of us. However, the danger is that when hope is primarily in the future, it can prevent us from focusing our energies and capabilities on the present and/or taking wise action to change the future


Another is a hope built on outcomes. Here, if we see a way to our desired outcome, we have hope; if we can see no possible way to our desired outcome, we have despair. If we are unsure whether there is a possible way or not, we keep hope alive, but it remains vulnerable to defeat if that way is closed.

McLaren suggests that what we need to find is the space beyond conventional hope, which Saint Paul refers to as, ‘hope against hope’ (Romans 4:18). The choice isn’t between hope that thinks we can win and despair that gives up before the end but rather between cruelty/indifference/apathy/ selfishness and wisdom/ courage/ kindness/love. If we detach ourselves from outcomes, our response to doom is less of an individual intellectual risk assessment and more like a free moral choice. This hope against hope inspires the energy to act when all hope for a good outcome is gone. A climate change activist was asked why he does what he does, he replied, ‘...because I’m in love. With salmon, with trees outside my window, with baby lampreys
living in sand stream bottoms, with slender salamanders crawling through the duff.’ 

When our main motive is love, a different logic comes into play. We find courage and confidence, not because there’s likely to be a good outcome, but in our commitment to love. Love may or may not provide a way through to a solution, but it provides a way forward in our predicament, one step into the unknown at a time. Richard Rohr describes this kind of hope as: ‘The fruit of a learned capacity to suffer wisely and generously. You come out much larger and that largeness becomes your hope.’

Revd Diane

* (Title from 1 Corinthians 13:13)

The Parish Church of St. Peter & St. Paul

Shoreham, Kent, 

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