It's hard to be hopeful these days. Between that which is simply stupid and that which is evil, hope is a scarce commodity.
There's enough stupidity out there to cause me to relinquish any hope for mankind. The Darwin Awards are given each year to recognize "those who improve our gene pool. . . by removing themselves from it." Ya gotta know that any story that begins with, "Well, uh, I was building a pipe bomb," can never end well. Sam liked to build things. One Sunday he got bored watching the football game and decided to go down to his basement workshop and create a pipe bomb. You understand. He welded a pipe closed on one end, and taking precautions he let the metal cool before he put the gunpowder in the pipe. When he was done packing the powder, he realized that he had run out of welding rod. And so he set the half-finished pipe bomb on the scrap metal pile for later. A lot later. He forgot about it. Fast forward 6 months. A few days before hunting season, Sam is loading his hunting gear into his pride-and-joy Ford Bronco, when he notices that a shaft is cracked. Being an expert welder, Sam knows he can fix the cracked pipe himself. He reaches into his scrap metal pile, pulls out a pipe, pulls down his welding hood, and strikes an arc. He remembers a loud bang and not much else. Shrapnel embedded itself up to the rafters of the third floor of his house. Another piece of shrapnel blew through Sam's welding hood, missing his empty skull by half an inch.
As if the stupidity of mankind isn't enough to threaten hope, add to that the evil choices and acts perpetrated daily and any ray of hope becomes dim. You don't need me to cite you examples; all you have do is watch the 10:00 p.m. news, or go for a walk around the block.
Nonetheless, I possess hope. Not because I am some head-in-the-sand idealist. Not because I am an eternal optimist (if you have read a sampling of my blogs you will know I'm not.) Not because I believe in the inherent goodness of man; I think we've had quite enough time to evolve morally if we were truly and steadily becoming "bigger and better" people.
I am a man of hope because I believe in God who is both immanent and transcendent. God is immanent, i.e. within the material, created world, but he is not merely contained within nor confined by it. God is also transcendent, i.e. outside and beyond our material world and ultimately not restricted by it. If God is only immanent then there is no hope for significant change; we will tragically remain on our cultural and cosmic collision course. If God is only transcendent then he is Aristotle's prime mover, a non-material being outside our world, completely aloof and disengaged. A biblical view of God asserts that God is both immanent and transcendent.
If God is transcendent then there is always --always--hope. That means that God is always greater than my individual circumstances or our collective sitz im leben. Regardless of how bleak or impossible this season of life might feel, God is not confined by the circumstance; he transcends it and his hands are not tied by it. I came across this quote that gets at this: "Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn't permanent." That's because the feeling you have does not and will not have the final word--God does and will.
I do not have hope in our finite technology. I do not have confidence in our governmental systems and infrastructures to resolve the difficulties which assail us. I do place hope in the infinite God who transcends all this and can break in from the outside and intervene. Martin Luther King, Jr. seemed to have found perspective: "We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope." Therein is the tension and balance we navigate throughout our life.
That does not mean that everything is gong to turn out just the way I hope because I pray to God and he is now obligated to answer my prayer accordingly. As our pastor commented recently, "God is not a vending machine." I put in this request, push the lever, and Bingo! out shoots the answer or solution I was hoping for. It does mean that God will somehow intervene and usher in and bestow upon you meaning and purpose in the midst of your undesired predicament. Vaclav Havel, a Czech playwright, essayist, and first President of the Czech Republic (1993-2003) put it this way, "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something will make sense regardless of how it turns out." It may turn out well; it will have meaning and "presence" for you because God is both in it and beyond its entangling tentacles.
It does mean that God is within the absolute darkness of your despair; God walks with you in the chaos which blinds you to any perceivable way out. God is with you when those haunting fears threaten to immobilize you. God is immanent.
But God is also not on an equal footing with the darkness, the bleakness, the fear. It's not an equal playing field. God will have the final say. God will make the ultimate move on your behalf. God is not contained by the present circumstance you face. There is hope because God transcends the circumstance.