Hope (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
The word hope refers to a concept, emotion, attitude of mind, and object of expectation that is expressed in different ways in different cultures. Its meaning develops in association with other notions, as in the cluster of faith, hope, and love. It may be focused on one central objectope in God, or much less definiteometimes people may half-hope for things. Such reflection is a human activity; rabbits do not reflect much on what they will do when they retire.
In order to survey the shape of hope an element of systematization is necessary. This will be invariably selective. Surveys of the Christian doctrine of hope have to try to avoid finding harmony in a tradition where there are significant elements of dissonance. There is a risk of assimilating too easily notions of hope in non-Christian sources with Christian paradigms. Linguistic usage, even in distinctive discourses, is rarely monolithic. Generalizations about the Greek view of hope, or whatever, are liable to be limited in their usefulness, and may easily obscure the balance of overlap and diversity in particular usage.
Reflections on hope
With these reservations, the tradition of theological reflection on hope may be instructive. Reflection upon possible futures, in optimistic anticipation, in trepidation, in trust, in resignation, does not always occur in a religious context. But it is an activity described and assessed as centrally important in major world religions. God is the source and the object of hope, of a positive future for the created order. Prophets are seen as sources of hope. Their return in various forms is anticipated as the expected fulfilment of hope. Transformation of the present world order, of the religious community, and of the self, as a physical or spiritual entity or both, as part of this process, is the content of hope. How this transformation is to be achieved is differently envisaged, from the cave paintings of Neolithic times to modern images of virtual reality. Hope is the antidote to despair, a widespread and damaging aspect of human life. The transformation may be encouraged by appropriately empathic human activity, from human sacrifice to psychotherapy.
The ancient Mediterranean world produced a huge variety of reflection on hope, sacred and secular, from the Greek poet Pindar (c. 52038 B.C.E.) to Roman statesman and orator Cicero (1063 B.C.E.) and beyond through the Church Fathers. These variations were accessibly documented by Rudolf Bultmann (1884976) in his standard article on hope in Gerhard Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which emphasized the different usages, and in Geoffrey Lampe's A Patristic Greek Lexicon (1961). Drawing on an early monograph by Hans Georg Gadamer (1900002), Bultmann illustrated from Plato the twin aspects of objective hope and subjective expectation in human reflection on existence, reflection that is essential to give people something to live for. Hope is associated with love, for it is drawn towards the good and the beautiful. In a religious context, as in the Mysteries, hope may be sustained by the promise of eternal life. Plato was aware that hope may be dangerous and deceptive. Hence perhaps the turn by the Stoic philosophers to an avoidance of hopef one does not hope for too much, one will not suffer disappointment.
Hope in the Hebrew Bible and, following this tradition, in the New Testament is centered upon God and the promise of God for the future of the people of God. In the Psalms a secure hope is based on God; any other basis is a false security. In the New Testament, especially in the Pauline writings, there is patient trust in God, in the expectation of the unfolding of God's future. In 1 Corinthians 13 hope is bound up with faith and love. The resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes the cornerstone of hope. The New Testament is everywhere colored by the overarching hope in eschatological expectation of the coming of the Kingdom. This foundation of hope on the presence of Godast, present, and to comes taken up in the Fathers and in the theologies of the medieval, Reformation, and modern periods, reshaped according to the cultural imagination of the period (classically in the tradition of the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love). Augustine of Hippo (35430 C.E.) reflects the dialectic between hope and memory. For Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225274), hope is not simply the fruit of experience but hope in God is a learned habit of will. Not to hope is sinful. Martin Luther (1483546) and John Calvin (1509564) both interpret the gospel as promise, though this promise is of course firmly based on past and present action by God.
Notions of eschatological hope tended to be replaced in modern Western thought by ideas of progress and evolution. There is a unique amalgam of eschatological hope, apocalyptic imagery, and Enlightenment progress in Karl Marx (1818883) whose work was classically taken up by the mid-twentieth century philosopher Ernst Bloch in his massive The Principle of Hope (1952959). Bloch in turn famously inspired Jürgen Moltmann to write his Theology of Hope (1964), which sparked off a rediscovery of the importance of hope and a reorientation towards the future in theology. The turn to eschatology, and the thought of the determination of the present by the future, continues to be developed by Wolfhart Pannenberg and others.
For Luther hope was basically individual hope. Moltmann stressed the social and political dimensions, providing an important stimulus for a theology of liberation or emancipation, and for a new turn to the future as a focus for theology. This continues to be developed as a liberation of the oppressed through the freedom of the gospel, and through black, gay, feminist, and other theologies. A theology of the Holy Spirit understands the future as a future of Christlikeness.
Science and the theology of hope
What does theology of hope have to do with the dialogue between science and religion? Hope has objective as well as subjective dimensions. The future of the physical universe is certainly relevant to one strand of the complex thread of Christian hope. Exploration of divine action in relation to human life, through the natural sciences from cosmology to neuroscience, is seminal to grounds for hope. Hope is more than wishful thinking or blind optimism despite unpleasant facts. It is the hope of love, of corporate participation in the life of God.
A great deal of Christian theology has been devoted to engagement with the past and with the sense of tradition. Doctrines of creation have been especially past-oriented. Faith believes that the future of tradition may be much longer, and much more exciting, than its past. Creation points forward to new creation, to the unfolding of the divine purpose for the cosmos. Here the concept of hope is central. The future is not to be feared, for it is God's future. This is in turn a challenge to be open to new ideas and ready to revise existing paradigms. Hope suggests humility in the face of an unfolding mystery, an openness to surprise, and willingness to accept risk. Hope rests on the past fulfilment of God's promise for humanity and is resolved to look forward with confidence.
See also ESCHATOLOGY; HOLY SPIRIT; LIBERATION; LIBERATION THEOLOGY; PLATO; PROGRESS; THOMAS AQUINAS
Bloch, Ernest. The Principle of Hope (1952-1959), trans.Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995.
Bultmann, Rudolf. "Hope." In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1967.
Kittel, Gerhard, ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffret W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964976 .
Moltmann, Jürgen. Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology. London: SCM Press, 1964.
Newlands, George. Generosity and the Christian Future. London: SPCK, 1997.
Watts, Fraser. "Subjective and Objective Hope." In The End of the World and the Ends of God: Science and Theology on Eschatology, eds. John Polkinghorne and Michael Welker. Philadelphia, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2000.