As I sit here pondering the possible outcome of my final grades and GPA, I hope against all odds that my scores will exceed what I probably deserve. The reality of the situation is that I could have tried a lot harder in my classes. Yet, even though my lack of effort might be reflected in my grades, that does not stop me from hoping that I remain on the Dean’s List. This trivial example of hoping for better grades than one has earned is but a simple instance of hope. It is common to find in our human experiences that in the face of unfavorable ends I still hope for more agreeable yet seemingly unattainable ends. The experience of hoping for goodness in the midst of evil, light in the midst of darkness, health in the midst of illness, and life in the midst of death, is something we’ve all experienced.
If unexpectedly my beloved was struck with a fatal illness I would hope against hope that he would be miraculously healed. I would throw reason out the window so to speak and hope for an unlikely turn of events. Dietrich von Hildebrand in the Art of Living would say that such truly desperate situations “force me to transcend the rational sphere and to trust in the blinding light of a suprarational reality in which my hope is grounded” (pg. 93). No one can deny that this reaction is common and natural to us. Moreover, when we hope we are implicitly presupposing that we are not hoping in vain. We hope that something or someone has the power to make a difference. But, who or what are we placing our hope in? It seems that we do not place our hope in nothing but in Someone. Hildebrand believed that this “suprarational reality” in which we ground our hope is God. Hildebrand goes on to attest that when we tremble for the life of a beloved person, we transcend not only ourselves but the whole earthly reality and turn to an infinitely powerful Being.
We do not and will not accept the reality of evil as final (pg. 96). We revolt against even unquestionable and undeniable odds.
When I was a child I clearly remember the moment I was first told that my brother’s best friend had died. He was only 18 when he was diagnosed with cancer. It had only been a month since he was diagnosed and I was sure, as sure as any 11 year old could be of anything, that he would live. It seemed to me that everyone in the whole universe was praying for his healing and recovery. When my family received word that he had died, I didn’t believe it. In that initial moment I could not even cry because I had hoped against the indisputable odds that he would live. Even in that moment of knowing that he was dead, I still hoped. I wasn’t sure anymore what I could possibly be hoping for but I continued hoping…
Hildebrand perfectly phrased my 11 year old experience in the following way, “In hope...while seeing that, humanly speaking, a situation is doomed, I refuse to ‘close’ time, to ‘petrify’ the situation, to ‘freeze’ it in its tragedy” (pg. 97). After hearing the tragic news of my friend’s passing, I paced back and forth in my room angrily speaking to non-existent listeners, “He can’t be dead. He can’t be dead. He’s not dead. He’s not...he can’t be.” My attitude was defiant, I refused to allow the reality of the situation to have the last say in the matter. I wished to revolt against the certitude of death. My experience of hope was much like the hope I often read about in fairy tales. The prince is told that the curse is unbreakable and his princess will sleep forever. He searches every spell book looking for an antidote or cure, something telling him that true love’s kiss will lift the curse. He will not accept that his true love is dead. He will not let the story end in tragedy. Like the desperate prince, I would not accept that my friend was gone.
In hope, we transcend earthly, finite limitations, we liberate ourselves of the attitude of “it’s all over” and trust that this darkness will be changed into light, that this death is a passage toward resurrection (pg. 97). Hildebrand believed that when we hope we are responding to God, we are seeking the intervention of the Infinitely Good and Infinitely Merciful.
Hildebrand states that even when a theoretical atheist hopes, he has become a practical believer. “For in such moments he believes implicitly in the goodness of an infinitely powerful Being who can avert an evil or cancel a threat” (pg. 94).
A military leader once said that he never met an atheist on the battlefield. In desperate circumstances mankind hopes. Mankind hopes that, over and above the complex set of natural causes, there is a factor, a something, a Someone, that can avert the danger and overcome the evil.
We all have recourse to hope in times of trial and despair. Yet the question remains in our hearts: in Whom do we hope?
Image 1: source
Quotes and Paraphrases: Pages 94-97. Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Art of Living (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1965) 48-49.