Training in Hope

· Advent,Theology,Hope

At the threshold of Advent, I am preoccupied with all the suffering that is going on in creation. People in my family who are in the hospital. People in my city who can’t rely on public transit to get them to work on time. People around the world who are born into poverty. It’s discouraging to have a strong desire to ease someone’s suffering while knowing there is only so much I can do.

I am also aware that the first week of the Advent Season directs us to hope—the hope that comes with a new year just begun. Or, as Anne of Green Gables said,

“Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet.

In L. M. Montgomery’s novel, Anne is the one to note the “yet”—the mark of not being able to rely on the idea that we will make no mistakes tomorrow. In the film, it is Anne’s teacher, Miss Stacey, who adds the “yet.” I think this is an interesting adaptation.

Anne seems very optimistic—fully delivered from the mistakes she has made today through the hope of a fresh tomorrow with no mistakes. It’s an optimistic look at the future. And sometimes hope is linked with optimism. Now, I’m not a very optimistic person; I tend to see the glass half empty. And perhaps Miss Stacey is too. She is, at least, more realistic than Anne. But she doesnt lack hope; she is the one to introduce a “fresh start” to Anne. So, hope can’t be dependent on optimism.

Hope, I think, is a virtue, not just a wish for tomorrow. This is where training comes in. Virtues are made up of both our attitudes and our actions. What we do or how we act helps shape who we are. And who we are helps us choose how to act. So, if we want to be hopeful people, we need to discipline our attitude to be hopeful, and we need to live in ways that reflect that disciplined hopefulness. And it’s a cycle. The more we act hopefully, the more hopeful we become. The more hopeful we become, the more we act in hopeful ways. Anne can only hope that there will be no mistakes tomorrow if she is willfully committed to act as her teacher has instructed.

Hope, then, is a good thing. But it’s not a simple thing. My own pessimistic personality shows me is that, no matter how hard we work to rid the world of suffering, or, with Anne, to avoid making mistakes, we can’t transform all suffering into joy. We are finite, limited in what we can do with our lives. And we’re not perfect; creation is afflicted with evil that we can’t overcome on our own. When it comes down to it, we can’t rely on the
virtue of hope to deliver us from evil.

So, there must be another reason we train ourselves in the virtue of hope. And I find this reason in Paul’s letter to the Roman churches. In chapter 8, Paul writes that, because we are weak, we wait for God’s full deliverance from evil. Paul goes on to say,

“Who hopes for what they already have?”

Let’s put it this way:

“Who hopes for what they know they can accomplish?”

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews supports this:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

Hope is hoping for what we can’t make happen on our own. It can only be sure hope if we have faith in the God who has the power to transform suffering into joy.

Prior to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, there will always be suffering. There will always be mistakes. This doesn’t mean we must resign ourselves to this reality or just grin and bear it. We are responsible to train ourselves in the virtue of hope because our final hope is not grounded our own power but in God’s. We have faith in something we can’t fully understand, can’t prove to others, and certainly can’t control. It’s part of who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.

In form with Anne, we are called to hope in a God who is “sympathetic to the human plight.”