The Nature of Hope! Relentless, Dynamic and Human.

Posted: November 22, 2021 in Uncategorized

The Nature of Hope! Relentless, Dynamic and Human.

Each of our readings for today speak of the theme for today. That of hope, Jeremiah gives us a picture of what assurance looks like in the midst of chaos. There is a sense of relentlessness about Hope that is comforting, encouraging and real. Our Contemporary reading gives us a philosophical entry point to the place of suffering in human life and thus a hope beyond the present. There is a timelessness about this hope and it is a living dynamic hope, always ready to respond to need. And our Luke reading calls us to see the world from a different perspective. In the mundane and the ordinary we can find a sense of hope that is sure and steadfast. The significance of the nature of Christian hope is thus a certain hope and not just a wishful one. The evidence is in what it means to be human

Israel was in a unique position during the time of Jeremiah. Assyria was probably at its hight of military and political power and they were situated directly to the North of the Hebrew Nation. To their west and south, they had their ancient enemies of Egypt as their neighbors. As you can imagine, tensions were mounting with every passing day. They could be overrun by Assyrian hoards as they sought to advance their empire or torn apart by an Egyptian skirmish in their efforts to establish a military blockade against the Assyrian threat. This present reality caused the Hebrew kings to lose long-term vision and give way to frantic tunnel vision. 

In this midst of this mounting national panic, Jeremiah prophesied to King Josiah, warning him not to side with Egypt. He rebuked false prophets during Johoiakin’s reign, warning that a failure to obey God would bring the nation of Israel to ruin. He urged King Zedekiah not to go to war against the Babylonians. In the end, no one heeded Jeremiah’s warnings. By the time Jeremiah was around 35 years old and a mature prophet, Assyria was finally defeated by a coalition of peoples including the Babylonians. Things did not go according to the franticly made plan. The coalition of war did not usher in a peaceful time for Judah. Everyone in the northern kingdom was exiled to Egypt, including Jeremiah. 

In the midst of this painful reality, Jeremiah speaks of The Lord’s declaration of fulfilling the gracious promises made towards Judah and Israel. Given Israel’s present turmoil, this would have been as utterly unbelievable as it was utterly needed to be heard. Good prophets always hold out a vision for people to cling to, even when its meaning is not yet able to be grasped. In the midst of leaders allowing present threats to the way things currently are to cause them to lose sight of God’s faithful promises, Jeremiah proclaims both warnings and assurance, in order that God’s people might be alert, maintain clear vision and allow God’s sure and ultimate promise of redemption to keep all things in holy perspective. 

This is a perfect stage for Advent to begin its production among us. We currently live in a society that is tossed about between barbaric acts of violence, hate filled rhetoric, and fear mongering. We are deep in a response to Covid 19 with restrictive practices as a result of a belief that regulation and mass control with manage the situation. The team of 5 million has become the disparate groups that need controlling if we are all to benefit. Once again in our history those that protest suffer the label of disrupter and noisy ones. The cause is swallowed up by judgement based on their noise. Unfortunately, this is not new for our society. We can think back in our recent history when the western world at least responded to the events of September 11th, 2001 with similar fear and panic. It was assumed that war could be declared against murders rather than justice being pursued by different, more diplomatic means. What resulted was war against a nation of people who were suffering just as much under the tyranny of the murders on whom the response sought vengeance. What was the outcome? To be cynical and yet pretty accurate it only lead to more death, more violence, a worse problem then there was to begin with, and continuing war for many. 

The question we might ask in the face of Covid as with any war. What if we kept the big picture in mind rather than give way to panic and fear? What if we responded with extreme forgiveness, making gifts for those affected by the heinous acts of violence? What if we responded in the spirit of forgiveness by sending aid to the destitute? What if we clothed their naked, worked to feed their hungry, and donated towards their education programs? What would hope look like?

Jeremiah it seems, beckons us in the midst of our chaos to stay alert, to not let panic and fear define our journey and our response to our present circumstances. He reminds us that hope is not a wish but a reality in our world. We are called to fix our eyes on the Jesus Way, a Way against all odds yet a way alongside the outcast, the struggling, the poor and disenfranchised. This seems to me to be the incarnational reality revealed to us. It is this realm that is our big picture upon which we remain secularly focused and moving towards. Advent calls us to this.

Our contemporary reading may sound gobbled gook to some because it attempts to talk about things in a dynamic non concrete way. It is perhaps a poor attempt to encourage hope in metaphorical form which is for our western world not easy to do in a world driven by an obsession with the left hemisphere approach to reality. Ian McGilchrist says that “Only the right hemisphere has the capacity to understand metaphor. He also says that at first glance that might not sound too important – like it could be a nice thing if one were going to do a bit of literary critique. But that response he suggests is just a sign of the degree to which our world of discourse is dominated by left-hemisphere habits of mind. Metaphoric thinking is fundamental to our understanding of the world, because it is the only way in which understanding can reach outside the system of signs to life itself. It is what links language to life.” In our challenge to find hope in the reality of human living we need metaphor if we are to find it making sense. Hope is not found in a sensate, reasoned explanation alone.

To understand a certain hope in the midst of human struggle there needs to be a process whereby we return to the experiential world. The parts, once seen, are subsumed again in the whole, as the musician’s painful, conscious, fragmentation of the piece in practice is lost once again in the (now improved) performance. The part that has been under the spotlight is seen as part of a broader picture; what had to be conscious for a while becomes unconscious again; what needs to be implicit once again retires; the represented entity becomes once more present, and ‘lives’; and even language is given its final meaning by the right hemisphere’s holistic pragmatics. So what begins in the right hemisphere’s world is ‘sent’ to the left hemisphere’s world for processing, but must be ‘returned’ to the world of the right hemisphere where a new synthesis can be made.”
Hope that is based in goodness that is distorted and belittled by violence and separation and made hopeless needs to be reunited with reality for human treatment in acts of goodness. This is not to glorify or make sacred suffering but rather to acknowledge its humanness and to enable a certain hope to realize.

One of the markers of hopelessness is the too great an emphasis on the sound and feel of words as ‘things’ separate from their meaning, or alternatively on the meaning as something separate from the sound and feel of the words. This is why poetry and music are so important for human life. Too great a reliance on things destroys poetry and belittles metaphor. The stories and songs and poems of certain hope are part of what it means to be human.

One final note on this attempt to find the nature of hope is to say that in the twentieth century, despite the nature of the philosophic process, themes have emerged from philosophical debate which, unknowingly, corroborate the right hemisphere’s understanding of the world. These include: empathy and intersubjectivity as the ground of consciousness; the importance of an open, patient attention to the world, as opposed to a wilful, grasping attention; the implicit or hidden nature of truth; the emphasis on process rather than stasis, the journey being more important than the arrival; the primacy of perception; the importance of the body in constituting reality; an emphasis on uniqueness; the objectifying nature of vision; the irreducibility of all value to utility; and creativity as an unveiling (no-saying) process rather than a wilfully constructive process.”
A certain hope is found in living it in confidence of its reality.

This brings us to the Lukan readings. All three stories seem to suggest that this hope within hopeless human struggle is to be found in the very human life itself. It is about knowing oneself, knowing human potential and knowing human frailty and having a bigger perspective of its value and importance in the cosmic world. Neuroscience seems to suggest that human perception is at the heart of reality and this both placed huge responsibility on the human species but also places within human hands the very existence of everything and this for our purposes a certain hope. A hope that is more than wishful thinking, more than just an outcome, and more than a mystery.   is a certainty that is vital for human living and this the future of the planet.

If a certain hope is possible then it has to be an experiential metaphor and thus about life and how to imagine it. I would suggest It has to be incarnational, God in us, the post easter Jesus and not just a confessional truth. It is not just about a supernatural belief and how to hold them if at all supernatural. If as tradition claims the covenant is a social bond that seeks to answer questions about our destiny as humanity and define the purposes of our community, then a certain hope is essential and must always engage in working against the idea that we cannot love our enemies nor bring hope to the hopeless with a certain hope, despite the experience of hopelessness and despair. When human beings love things change. When human beings bring certain hope, a hope is made real. The ‘son of man’ has come. It’s Christmas. Amen.

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