In Though the Fig Tree Does Not Blossom, Ellen Ott Marshall focuses on hope with the primary argument that even though hope is a theological virtue infused by God, we must also actively practice and cultivate hope in our daily lives. This is "responsible hope" that holds all the elements of life in a proper tension and combines "spiritual discipline" and "ethical endeavor" with a firm trust in God's presence and love. This kind of hope also involves a realistic attitude toward the world and a persistence that never gives up, even if the face of tragedy.
In her first chapter, Marshall looks at the problem of hope, namely, how to hold onto hope even in the harsh realities that face us, including our true limits and our painful losses. Hope, she argues, cannot be divorced from reality. It is not some vague good feeling or a holding to some nebulous promise of help. Hope is work. It is responsible. It involves looking at the world with a clear vision and recognizing the struggles life brings. It means becoming a moral agent who lives in the tension of the world and holds fast to the virtue that hope is. It requires us to embrace challenges with God.
In the fourth chapter, Marshall explains her conception of "the object and source of hope." She starts with the recognition that hope often has many objects, some of which are grand and other trivial, some of which are misdirected and others that lead to a "suitable end." Marshall explores what this "suitable end" may be, which leads to a discussion of the purpose and meaning of human life.
She speaks of our flourishing in God and in His "sustaining presence" as well as of the goal of carrying "a special message of good news" to the most vulnerable. Marshall uses the lens of the basileia vision of God's kingdom throughout her discussion. She then turns her attention to the source of hope, which is God, but also our relationships with other people (as God works through them).
In the fifth chapter, the author describes the practice of hope. Through the lens of her personal experience, especially two miscarriages and then the birth of her daughter, Marshall explores the reality of holding onto hope even in one's darkest moments. She learned what it was like to despair but also how to embrace the comfort of other people. She learned that one must nurture hope if it is to grow, and she discovered that sometimes, the seeds of hope are found where we least expect them.
Marshall also speaks of the elasticity of hope, how it dynamically bounces back and endures even when it seems to be gone. To practice hope, one must be open to its various possibilities and ends, sometimes letting go of some objects of hope and embracing new ones. Marshall also emphasizes the need for the constant awareness of God's presence and the discovery of "moments of beauty" even in the worst of times.