“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu
The overall cynicism and pessimism of our times are so pervasive that they seek to infect even the most hopeful among us. Cynicism and pessimism are generally accepted as a state of being realistic about circumstances or ideals. But these diabolical twins are actually unrealistic and cowardly because they remove the responsibility to try.
The metaphor of darkness in scripture often refers to ignorance. Ignorance covers the world like a blanket, and there seems to be scarcely a hole in it anywhere. It’s true that people who are intoxicated with ignorance can easily find a problem in any solution. The plague of darkness that fell upon Egypt was described as being so benighted it could be “felt.” That sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? – when you are trying to remain hopeful in the midst of so much hopelessness.
“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).
Hope enables us to see in the dark. Owls have been a symbol of wisdom for centuries and known for their ability to see in the darkest night. Darkness blinds humans, but it is the owl’s element. These nocturnal sages also have the aura of knowing something we don’t. With binocular vision, they see 5 times better than humans, giving them the ability to detect the faintest amount of light in total darkness. Early Christian texts used the owl as a metaphor for Jesus, who appeared in the darkness of sin and showed humans the way to salvation.
Hope is an alternative consciousness that can awaken a culture asleep in the darkness.
“Hope, on one hand, is an absurdity too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts. Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion…On the other hand, hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question.” –Walter Brueggemann
Thoreau captures the essence of living in hope when he said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Hope is not some dreamy biblical optimism that insulates us from the real world. Rather, it is an imagination that has been harnessed by faith. It has been said, “you will always see what you’re looking for.” I would add that what you focus on determines what you miss.
We’ve all received the well-intentioned advice to “stay positive.” The greater the challenge, the more this glass-half-full wisdom can come across as Pollyanna-ish (an excessively or blindly optimistic person). It’s tough to stay focused on the positive when positivity seems like nothing more than wishful thinking.
To maintain our equilibrium, what we hope FOR should always be second to WHO we hope in. The psalmist David shared a helpful journal entry on the difference.
“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.
But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you (Psalm 39:4-7).
Image by Ryan Pouncy.