Is it possible to hope today? Can true happiness be found – in this life or the next? How can we live with genuine hope in a disenchanted world? Dr. Paul M. Gould answers these questions pertaining to the virtue of hope in Season 2 Episode 10 of the Eudo Podcast.
What is the Virtue of Hope?
Natural hope, as a human emotion, is commonly felt and ubiquitous. We are naturally hopeful. On and on—we are creatures wired to hope. But what is this natural passion we call hope? And importantly, how is it connected to the theological virtue of hope? Let’s begin by understanding the natural passion of hope.
When we hope for something, we are saying several things:
- First, we are identifying something as good, since no one hopes for what is bad; however, notice we might hope for things that are not necessarily good though. What is important to understand is that we hope for things we perceive to be a good, even if they ultimately are not good.
- Second, we hope for something that is inthe future.
- Thirdly, that the hoped for future good is not assured.
- Finally, we think that the attainment of our perceived good is possible—otherwise we wouldn’t hope for it.
So, we hope for something that is a perceived good, in the future, difficult to obtain, yet possible.
How should we think of Theological Hope?
Natural hope can be directed, as we noted already, toward objectively bad things. However, the theological virtue of hope can never, in so far as it is a virtue, be directed toward evil. The virtue of hope springs from the natural well of hope embedded within the human heart as we turn our souls toward the good that is God. We hope well, when we hope for our highest good. What is man’s highest good? The answer is union with God. Man was created for communion with God through union with God.
So, the virtue of hope helps us to long for union with God as our complete happiness, and for God’s help in attaining this destiny. Somewhat surprisingly, theological hope is a virtue for this life only. Once we enter the afterlife and achieve full and complete union with God, all of our desires will be satisfied: our longings for love, justice, goodness, truth, beauty, for God—all will find their fulfillment. Thus, the virtue of hope is the one virtue that we won’t take with us once we are in heaven!
In sum, theological hope, as the virtue most closely associated with our status as pilgrims on the way both sustains uson the journey to God and enables us to depend on divine help along the way.
In a disenchanted age, man places his hope in the myth of progress – the idea is that man can perfect his nature, this life, and the future of the world through science. Man will create a heaven on earth where pain, suffering, inequality, and death will all be eradicated through science and technology.How does this widespread idea about progress help us see how we can fail to hope well?
We see in this modern hope of progress one of the chief ways we can go wrong when it comes to the virtue of hope and its vices. When we place our hope in a man instead of God, we fall into the vice of presumption, a kind of pride. Death cannot be avoided, our bodies will eventually succumb to the ravages of age and disease, and suffering cannot be eliminated this side of eternity. There is no utopian future for man on man’s own terms. Rather, man’s future in a disenchanted world ends in destruction.
Theological hope doesn’t seek to eliminate suffering. Rather, it looks to God, the one who will one day defeat all sin, suffering, death, and evil, as he ushers in the new heaven and the new earth. On that day, as John describes it in the book of Revelation, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4b)
The beauty of the gospel story is this: one day, all will be known by their true name. All who have walked the path of faith, sustained by hope, will enter into the everlasting love of shared union with God and others for eternity and then continue in work and worship in praise of the one who can and does and will make us whole. Our hope, as Christians, is a “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) as we look forward to an “inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” and which, as Peter 1:4 and 5 reminds us, is “kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last times.”
- Istvan, Zoltan. The Transhumanist Wager. San Francisco, CA: Futurity Imagine Media LLC, 2013.
- Lewis, C.S.Mere Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001.
- McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2006.
- Pinches, Charles. “On Hope,” in Virtues and Their Vices, eds. Kevin Timpe and Craig A. Boyd. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
- Prior, Karen Swallow. On Reading Well. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2018.