On the Necessity of Hope

In my last article I wrote about the sin of suicide.  Self-murder is an act of ultimate despair.  If you end your own life you believe, for whatever reason, that you will have no more good days ahead.  Or if you do have any, they will be marred by the overall pain of living.

But despair isn’t just a sinful disposition. It is also a disposition of ignorance.  None of us knows what tomorrow will bring.  To say that my future will be devoid of happiness is to say more than it is possible to know.  Life may very well get worse and worse each day until death.  Or it may get better and better.

It becomes easy to feel this way when we are overwhelmed by something.  Last year I began to experience chronic pain.  It was inescapable and unrelenting.  The greatest intensity of it lasted about three months.  I still have flair-ups every now and again, but it is mostly under control. 

But I will tell you that those three months were difficult to bear.  The worst part wasn’t the pain itself, but this dreadful feeling that it was never going to end.  “So this is my life now,” is a thought that crossed my mind quite often.  When in the midst of my suffering, I couldn’t see or imagine a time when I would be without it.

For some of us, that suffering is physical.  For others it may be emotional.  The pain of a broken heart often feels like it is beyond repair.  When we lose someone we love, it feels like the color has drained from our lives and all our gray days stretch wretchedly before us.

But whatever the turmoil is, it can cast a veil over our eyes so that we cannot see any further than our next successive moment of pain.

And that is why we need hope.

Faith is the virtue that gives us light.  It helps us to apprehend the truth of God’s revelation.  It speaks to our mind and helps us understand God’s plan. 

But hope is a virtue that strengthens the will.  Hope is that virtue that gives us courage and stirs our souls to believe that there is a great good ahead of me.  The two virtues are linked, but hope touches the heart differently.  

In this way hope is very much like trust.  I have faith that God can bear me through the dark parts of my life, but hope encourages my heart that He will do it.  

We need hope.

If my days can get no better and there is only the worse waiting for me, then all my effort will evaporate.  Why try for anything when it is ultimately pointless?   

Filmmaker Woody Allen recently revealed his nihilistic outlook on life.  He said that ultimately all human endeavors are pointless and end in nothingness.  He simply pushes on to distract himself from this horror. 

But he has no hope for the future.  For him it is a gaping maw of entropy waiting to devour the universe.  If at some point he can no longer distract himself from his angst, I do not know what he shall do.

Hope tells us that there is a great and higher happiness waiting for us.  And it is there for our taking, should we accept it.

But hope is not a guarantee.  We should also not commit the opposite sin of despair, which is presumption.  The vice of presumption assumes that I am guaranteed good in the future no matter what.  The Pharisees did not hope for salvation.  They presumed it.  They took it for granted that it was theirs.

Hope understands that the good waiting for us can be lost.  It may not come in the next second or the next hour or the next day or the next year.  And if we give up, it may not come at all.  

But hope tells us that happiness is there, around the corner beyond the veil.  And if we have hope that things will get better, that happiness will again be ours, then we can bear our suffering better.

In my chronic pain, my patient wife would constantly tell me that things would get better.  It was so difficult to believe, but her constant reassurance gave me hope.  And that hope help me carry on.  

In this world, there are so many people who are beaten down by the pain of this world.  They need our encouragement.  They need to know that there is a high and perfect happiness that this world cannot touch or take away.   Without this, their hearts will lose courage and they will not strive to be the best, most faithful, most loving people they can be.

And that is why we need hope.

Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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