sweetie“But hope is not optimism or pessimism: You will look like the spoilsport among optimists and the polyanna among pessimists. Hope is the embrace of the possible. In the face of what looks impossible.” –Catherine Keller

I recently had a wonderful and thoughtful dialogue in the Process and Faith Facebook group about the subject of hope. Don, a member of the group, had recently listened to an interview featuring process theologian Catherine Keller. Toward the end of the interview Catherine talks about hope; this is where our dialogue picks up.

I question some of the discussion toward the end concerning hope. I was raised in a fundamentalist environment and taught early on the difference between Christian ‘hope’ and wishful thinking. Hope, I was taught, is synonymous with faith, it is a certain expectation.

Of course, Process Theology has changed my thinking about certainty. Nothing is certain if God is not all-powerful, if God’s power does not determine the future so that the future is open. However, it seems to me that the future is open only within certain limitations – limitations that are established by the past. The future must be relevant to the past.

So, toward the end of the podcast, Catherine talks about having hope even though we are aware of the direction global warming is taking us. But, are there conditions where hope becomes nothing more than ‘hopium’? Where hope prevents us from facing an ALMOST certain future – that of our impending death and/or the death of our species?

Years ago I was involved with Hospice and I know how difficult it is to let go of hope – and yet, until hope was let go, those who were in the process of dying couldn’t really say goodby to those they loved, and those they loved couldn’t really say goodby to those who were dying. Only until hope was gone could loved ones hold one another.

And then I think of how my cousin went through the process of death with family. Even though his condition was terminal, the family continued to pray and hope for a miracle. Their emotions, it seemed were always on a roller-coaster, their requests for others to pray always seemed desperate, and hope, it seemed to me, was the cause of separation – separation from God because God didn’t seem to be holding up God’s end of the deal, and guilt-caused separation between family members (someone must be blamed for this, perhaps because they aren’t praying hard enough or trusting enough?).

What theology helps us deal with the end of hope, or is there such a thing?

Great reflections here, Don.

I agree that blind, idealistic hope/faith can turn into “hopium” as you put it (great term,btw! Ha!), or naive/wishful or delusional thinking. I also take your point that the future is open only within certain limitations imposed upon it from the past. BUT, as I’ve written about before, with imagination anything is possible! 🙂 .

I personally share Catherine’s optimism that we can have hope in the face a radically indeterminate, “impossible” future, which could ultimately turn out to be perilous. I’m reminded here of how John Caputo (referencing Paul) talks about hoping against hope. For example, if someone loves me, it’s easy to love them back; this is barely love. Love is really love when I love my enemy, when I love someone who is undeserving of love. Likewise, we don’t need hope when things are going well; e.g. rich people don’t need hope because they know perfectly well where their next meal is coming from. No. Hope begins to look like hope when things are at their worst, when things seem impossible. This hope is not naive wishful thinking, it’s a very pragmatic hope against hope in what shatters the present order, a hope that one day the impossible might indeed become possible.

Your personal stories are touching, man, and I can really relate to them. It was very hard for me to give up the idea of a God that could step in and “make things right.” Thinking like this can very well lead to unnecessary pain, depression and emotional and family trauma etc… It wasn’t until I accepted the idea that I am indeed a co-creator WITH God that I began to understand how much my understandings of things could (and should) change, AND how much I was NOT using my imagination. I mean, how could a way be made where there is no way when half of the work crew can’t (or refuses to) picture or imagine the impossible scenario of a tunnel being drilled through the impassive mountain which stands before them?

Thanks again for the conversation 🙂 .

Thanks, Jesse. I agree with your views, but then I still have reservations. Were the dinosaurs and the many other species that have gone extinct and are going instinct in this Sixth Great Extinction event also not co-creators with God? Are humans special? And yes, few of the predicted cataclysms have occurred, and some have caught us by surprise. But there seems to be an awful lot of evidence that we have started irreversible feedback loops that will make the earth uninhabitable for us. It looks like, from where I stand, that our situation is terminal and it’s time to accept that we are in the hospice stage of our lives. Rather than hoping for a miracle, perhaps the better course would be to accept that only love remains.

Don , great thoughts here. Just two more quick things on my end.

Other creatures that have gone extinct were definitely co-creators, yes, you’re right. And I also agree that Humans are only unique in degree, perhaps, not kind. But I am a religious naturalist, and I view death not as the opposite of life, but think of birth and death as simply part of life. If it is so that we’re in our hospice stage, that’s ok. I suspect there may be hope that we might be re-membered when we are gone, but if not, if love is all that remains, like you say, that’s still beautiful. I’ll continue to imagine a better world and live into that as long as I can, hoping against hope, and recognizing that life is, and always was a gift (or a curse?), undeserved.

Painting above by Martha Ossowska Persson

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