Greg's Weekly Word: "hope"
Christianity is mainly wishful thinking...
That's how theologian Frederick Buechner begins his definition of "wishful thinking" in his book by the same name - a collection of his meaning of words and phrases that are so familiar or formidable that nobody pays attention to them.
It's a common charge against Christianity, and a question I often wrestle with. Does my faith truly give me hope, or is it just a false hope? Is my faith just "wishful thinking"?
On the first Sunday of Advent, we looked at Luke's "little apocalypse" (Lk 21:25-36) in worship, reminding us that the world is not as it should be or could be, and calling us to look for the signs that God is at work. Essentially, calling us to hope. But given the state of our world and our lives, I find myself wondering if this hope of God's transforming presence and activity is nothing more than an empty wish never to be fulfilled.
To offer a crude example, in the movie Grumpy Old Men, when an old man's son says he wishes his dad would try the low fat bacon, the old man replies, "Well you can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one gets filled first."
A professor and mentor of mine in divinity school told us about the slog of getting through a Ph.D. dissertation process. She spoke of "necessary delusions" - the ideas she had to hold onto in order to get through the long, exhausting process - like telling herself, "If I can just get past this part, I'll be ok," or, "Once I get to this point, it'll be fine."
I've thought of her and her "necessary delusions" often as we've entered this Advent week of hope. And especially since her only child, who is in college, was just diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and is beginning his treatments. The prognosis is not good. Rarely do people survive beyond a few years.
How does she - even as a person of deep faith - hold onto hope this Advent?
I can't answer for her. I can, however, share what Buechner also says about hope:
For Christians, hope is ultimately hope in Christ. The hope that he really is what for centuries we have been claiming he is. The hope that despite the fact that sin and death still rule the world, he somehow conquered them. The hope that in him and through him all of us stand a chance of somehow conquering them too. The hope that at some unforeseeable time and in some unimaginable way he will return with healing in his wings.
Is this kind of hope just a "necessary delusion," allowing us to endure the struggle and suffering of life? Nothing more than wishful thinking? Perhaps...
But at the end of his definition of wishful thinking, Buechner writes,
Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on.
If our hope in Christ, and our faith in the ultimate goodness and love of God does nothing more than to function as a "necessary delusion" - allowing us to continue on, and along the way drawing closer and closer to God - that is enough. Because in the end, our hope - and our faithful living in that hope - may very well be "the wings the truth comes true on."
At least, I hope so.