Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” —Genesis 12:1-3
Previously I talked about the two types of hope: ordinary hopes, those many day-to-day hopes, and a fundamental hope, that which is left when all other hopes are gone. Philosophers, theologians, and psychologists all generally recognize that we each seem to have an intrinsic, foundational hope for something better, for us as individuals to become something better and for our world in general to be better. Sometimes this hope is referred to as not-yet-being, implied in this hope is the idea of becoming, that we are each on a journey of becoming better, moving toward some ultimate good?
How does this happen? You can imagine that the answers are manifold. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, people believed that we were progressing toward this good through the sciences, both in our understanding of nature and human nature. However, the atrocities of World Wars I and II stopped this thinking. Yet, as our memory of those wars dim we seem to be moving back to that thinking, that science and now government can bring about utopia (see philosopher Thomas Hobbes 15th century writing on the Leviathan, or benevolent dictator). Even if true, this does not really address foundational hope for the individual. From where does foundational hope come?
For many, foundational hope lies beyond death, that there is something beyond this life that will be ultimately good, however we define “good.” Every religion that comes to my mind offers this foundational hope for a ultimately good existence after death. Many who have attempted suicide have reported that it was not fundamental despair that drove them to try and take their own lives. Rather, it was fundamental hope! The ordinary day-to-day despairs overwhelmed them and they felt all that was left was fundamental hope, something better awaiting a them after death.
However, there are some who believe this world is all there is (nihilists). For these, there can be no individual, foundational hope; only foundational despair can exist if they were to be honest about it. With no greater good toward which to hope one is left only with what this world offers: temporary, ordinary hopes and the distraction of busyness to keep one from the falling into the abyss of fundamental despair. Blaise Pascal put it this way:
I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am terribly ignorant of everything. I know not what my body is, or my senses, or my soul, or even that part of me which thinks what I am saying, which reflects about everything and about itself, and does not know itself any better than it knows anything else.
Just as I do not know whence I come, so I do not know whither I am going. All I know is that when I leave this world I shall fall for ever into nothingness or into the hands of a wrathful God, but I do not know which of these two states is to be my eternal lot. Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty. And my conclusion from all this is that I must pass my days without a thought of seeking what is to happen to me. Perhaps I might find some enlightenment in my doubts, but I do not want to take the trouble, nor take a step to look for it; and afterwards, as I sneer at those who are striving to this end…I will go without fear or foresight to face so momentous an event, and allow myself to be carried off limply to my death, uncertain of my future state for all eternity.
I began this topic by noting that the writer of the biblical book of Hebrews says that the things on which we Christians most often focus our thoughts, repentance, faith toward God, resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment, were the elementary things (Hebrews 6:1-2); there is something much better (for mature audiences!). The writer goes on to claim that this better thing is hope (Hebrews 6:19-20):
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
This promised hope is “as an anchor of the soul.” Strong words. What is this foundational hope, this sure and steadfast anchor of the soul? It is what Christianity, Christ, has to offer us and the world. It is God’s promise first given to Abram (above) and repeated and unwrapped throughout the four millennia since. What is this profound promise and what does it offer to us and the world?