I was once on a college campus for a conference that featured a prominent biologist as a keynote speaker. During his talk, he defended Darwinian evolutionary theory from attacks by other academics. Whether his defense was successful or not was a matter of opinion, but what struck me was the vibrancy of his faith. It was not faith in God, but it was faith nonetheless.
When he spoke of Darwinian Evolution, it was as if he were intoning the name of a god, like an ancient Jew invoking El Shaddai or a Sikh exalting Akal Purakh. And his faith gave him hope. He freely admitted that there are current mysteries in biology which our best scientists (the priests of the new order) have not been able to penetrate, but he was certain that everything will be uncovered and laid bare before the advance of Darwinian Evolution. The apocalypse, the unveiling, is coming. Until it arrives, he would live in hope.
This inspiring vision strikes me as thoroughly religious. It offers something usually found in religion but missing in the secular order, the current one, at any rate: Hope. Humans can only thrive when they have hope, and the great movements throughout history, whether religious, political, or scientific, have been full of hope.
Former President Obama recognized the deep human need for hope. In his 2008 campaign, he intentionally used the words “hope” and “hopeful” again and again. Across the bottom of his campaign posters, from one side to the other, was a single word, all in caps: “Hope.” Ten years later, the terminology of hope has been virtually expunged from our national lexicon.
In the last general election, both major party candidates could have placed the word “Fear” from one side of their campaign posters to the other. Or perhaps “Anger.” Many current candidates for national, state, and local offices are following their example. Fear and anger are, like hope, highly motivational, but fear and anger burn people out. Only hope builds them up. We are in serious need of some hope.
I think a genuinely hopeful mid-term candidate, as opposed to one who uses the language of hope to manipulate others, could be successful. Such a candidate would have an answer to the question, “What kind of country do we want to be?” and it would be an answer infused with hope. And voters, suffocating from a lack of hope, would respond.
But where does genuine hope come from? The lecturer in biology was, I believe, genuinely hopeful that a glorious Revelation of Darwinian Evolution would vindicate him in the end. Deprived of such hope, he could not have gone on. And isn’t that just what has happened to the Communist movement worldwide? In the 1980s, Communists around the world, deprived of hope by the continued failure of nation states to achieve Marx’s vision, gave up hope.
Hope needs faith to survive. The biologist was brimming with faith, a true believer in Darwinian Theory’s ability to explain the presence of life in its diverse forms on the earth. And that faith inspired his hope for the future.
Similarly, Christian hope thrives in an atmosphere of faith. The Christian trusts God’s desire and ability to bring salvation to herself and to the world, and her faith inspires in her a genuine hopefulness for the future. She has already seen that future — incompletely, of course — but truly. It has begun to manifest itself in her life. Because she already sees the promised future of world-wide wholeness and harmony, of joy and justice taking shape in her own life, she is filled with hope that it will happen in the world.
Genuine hope is a distinguishing characteristic of the Christian faith and has been from the beginning. Christianity does more than paint a rosy picture of the future. Christians believe the future reaches back and changes the present. The peace and joy and love which will characterize the age to come are already occurring in their own lives as they trust in God.
Hope is not absent from present-day America, though one needs to know where to look. It thrives among people whose lives are being transformed by faith. That’s where hope lives.
Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.