In defense of hope

A Christian Science perspective: Hope is the most intelligent response to any challenge.

Is hope for fools?

An April opinion piece in The New York Times argued that faith and optimism can be forms of denial that only prolong our suffering. Though my upbringing in Christian Science left me in disagreement with the premise of this op-ed piece, I have to admit that the author’s position impelled me to think more deeply about why we hope – and what it is, exactly, we’re hoping for.

From one perspective – judging by the life we experience with the five physical senses – hope may keep us going in the difficult times, but is flimsy at best. What about when our tightly-held hope turns to disappointment? What about when cheerful optimism isn’t enough to help us surmount the obstacles we encounter?

Thankfully, Christ Jesus’ enduring legacy turns us away from these dead-end questions to an entirely different question about hope: Why is it that hope is the most intelligent response to any conceivable challenge?

Jesus’ life and ministry pointed to a radically different view of creation – as spiritual instead of material, an actual kingdom of heaven that is present here and now. Through his healing and teaching, he opened his followers’ eyes to the unending good that is the very fabric of our lives, the very substance of our universe. Limitations, obstacles, lack – everything that would try to dissuade us from hope – were not solid and intimidating to Jesus. His clear spiritual vision lifted all in his presence to the realization that these bullies were simply misconceptions about God, Mind, and all this Mind conceived, including us.

The archaic definition of hope is to place trust in, to rely on. And Jesus did rely on God, because he knew so completely that God is a reliable God. He knew that God, being Love, knows only Love – its own infinite self – and the perfect fruits of Love. Divine Love leaves no one out, has no gaps, pours out love unconditionally and perpetually.

Centuries before Jesus’ appearance, the Psalmist must have caught a glimpse of divine Love when he wrote, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Psalms 42:11).

I was struck recently by what a firm foundation this understanding of God gives us for hope. When I got the news that I hadn’t won a fellowship I’d applied for, I felt disappointed, even a little hopeless. The fellowship seemed to fit me to a T. Even the application process had felt inspired and God-impelled. Yet the fellowship had gone to someone else.

As I prayed, I yearned to feel hopeful again. But not that limited sense of hope that merely seeks to make the best of a bad situation. I wanted to know why my hope was on solid ground – grounded in God, not some wishy-washy human optimism.

That’s when the line from Psalm 42 came back to me: “Hope thou in God.” Of course! Hope that rests on a particular outcome, on a humanly circumscribed sense of good, may leave us doubting the wisdom of our hopefulness. But hope that rests on God, the Principle of good that orders, governs, and maintains the universe in perfect harmony and continuity, never fails. This hope is steadfast: trusting in the reliability of God’s care. It’s humble: open to the infinite creativity of God’s plan. And it’s intelligent: Because it rests on the understanding of divine Mind, it’s able to see unlimited potential, right where disappointment and lack seem to be.

The hope I felt as a result of these prayers was different from the hope I’d felt in the past. It felt settled and expectant, not giddy and dreamy. A few days later, a job offer came my way that drew beautifully on my skills, talents, and passions. It also felt that it would be a blessing both to me and to the people who wanted to hire me. How could I not say yes?

Ultimately, real hope involves seeing differently – seeing spiritually. I like the way Mary Baker Eddy puts this in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “Spiritual sense, contradicting the material senses, involves intuition, hope, faith, understanding, fruition, reality” (p. 298).

There’s nothing foolish about this hope. On the contrary: It’s as wise and expansive as the God who impels it.

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