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Dealing in Hope

Nietzsche, Dante, Dickinson, Napoleon... and some of Us ordinary folks on the dangers and powers of Hope

To hope or not to to hope? "Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man," said Friedrich Nietzsche. Maybe so... if such hope leads only to frustration, misery, and bitterness. Is that the only option though? Cannot the very act of hoping for something good do something wonderful in our character, whether or not that good thing is ever realized? Has God created us, in fact, to hope...and, through hope, to be transformed?

Dante suggested there was a sign over the entrance of hell that read, "Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here." Maybe he's right... that the abandonment of hope is truly hell. Might it be also true, then, that the embrace of Hope... the confidence that not all is as it seems, that there is another Reality at work in the world, that there is Something More than the externals, that there is Something Beyond this mortal life... is the springboard for all sorts of wonder, adventure, and joy?

I posted the above two paragraphs to my Facebook page last week and invited comments. The responses were fascinating. A member of my congregation quoted Emily Dickinson:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul.
And sings the tune without the words.
And never stops at all.

Ah, yes, of course! And a friend who runs a DMin program at another seminary noted that "The Stoics defined hope as a type of impulse of the soul toward a future, perceived good. If the 'good' is in fact wishful thinking or fantasy, it does us little good as it will ultimately lead to greater despair. If it is oriented toward a future promise (reward in heaven, resurrection, etc), it contributed to a life well lived." And that got others thinking...

Another congregation member agreed: "Hope and hope are different. One being the Hope God gives, and the hope the world gives." Yes, indeed. So how does the Hope that God give make a difference in how we live our lives in the present, much less pursue the future?

A wise and obviously well-read Evangelical student noted that Walter Brueggemann, the Old Testament scholar, had prescribed imagination as "the necessary first step in creating a new reality. What is hope if it is not the capacity to imagine the possibility of a better place?" And, indeed, Brueggemann had much good to say about the power of divine or prophetic imagination to energize a person or people toward God's vision of shalom.

Which brings to Napoleon, believe it or not. He is said to have argued that "a leader is a dealer in hope." I've heard that phrase used a number of times of late; it must be catching on. The mood of Western society is still quite bleak... and continued economic troubles have made it challenging to be a leader of many, if not most organizations these days. Budgets are tight and choices are limited, and no matter which way one moves, there is likely to be pain.

How, then, does the deeper leader deal out hope? May I suggest that if it is merely naive optimism, unfounded fantasy, or manipulative prodding, it is likely to do nothing but contribute further to despair. But if it is Hope rooted in a deep God-planted desire for shalom, if it is fueled and formed by a biblical imagination, and if it is offered by those who are not merely hope-speakers but hope-bearers, then tremendous things can happen. But we should not be surprised, should we, if most of them internal, not external, to the one who hopes? For God is present in our longings and uses them to perfect the work of transformation He has already begun.


Brueggemann is definitely gnawing at the edge of a style of hope far away from the blessed categories of evangelical thinking - imagination. Evangelicals look at hope in their normal dualistic manner, there is spiritual hope and their is secular hope, yet hope (along with faith and love) are intrinsic in the nature of man (once labeled Good along with creation I assume). Imagination ala Friedman's A Failure of Nerve of course will be countered by saboteurs of, whether they are in your church, family, or neighborhood. Charles Smith's book which I'm currently reading (Resistance Revolution Liberation: A Model for Positive Change) views imagination as part of Low-intensity instability (LII) which is a requirement for any healthy human systems. Monopoly thought, universal conformity, inability to deal with fierce conversations are the signature of dieing systems created by institutions interested in herds (back to Friedman).

(As you would imagine), I would disagree with your position, failure is the great teacher, whether it causes despair is of no matter, because it will teach someone in the community, irregardless of whether it teaches the actor. I prefer the leadership of a murderer Moses or Paul over the risked nothing, done nothings.

Posted by: Marty | June 8, 2012, 5:54 pm

It has been said that,when necessary,humans can live a surprisingly long time without many of the bare essentials except for hope. After decades, I still remember a riveting lecture in Psychology class at Huntington University by a professor who as a missionary to China in the 1930's and 40, was captured and incarcerated in the Philippine Islands during WWII. Her observations of how people behaved in a concentration camp environment were interesting. One couple apparently lost all hope of being liberated and sat down in a corner and died. My professor, on the other hand, began teaching young Philipino girls, who were being held as prostitutes,to read, write and study the Bible. She taught them about a hopeful future they had in Christ. Upon liberation, the professor stayed in the Philippines for many years to establish a women's college that still bears her name. Isn't this what a hope-bearer looks like?

Posted by: Kirby Keller | June 11, 2012, 11:09 am

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