It may seem tough to have hope in today’s world with all its problems, but there is a place to turn: God’s holy word. OSV News photo/Israel Defense Forces handout via Reuters

Hope that passes happy-faced optimism

  • January 12, 2024

This new year has rolled in with a sense of helplessness in the face of major crises facing humanity. How do we have any realistic expectation of overcoming:

  • Wars in Ukraine, the Middle East, Myanmar, Sudan, Yemen and other hot spots?
  • The climate crisis, which world leaders are reluctant to confront and where the renewable solutions pose as much threat to the environment as does the escalating amount of greenhouse gases?
  • Threats to democracy ranging from growing support for authoritarian wannabes to a lack of respect for the rule of law by those duly elected?
  • Rising costs for the necessities of life, an inflation which poses a long-term threat to the poor and middle class?

You could say we need hope more than ever. But what good will hope do us?

We might see hope as did Jeremiah in addressing the officials and people of Judah: “Amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will change His mind about the disaster He has pronounced against you” (26:13).

But do we believe that it is God who threatens us with disaster? Are we not the makers of our own situation? Perhaps our hope is that God will bail us out of the awful positions to which our actions have led. But if we believe God is an angry God, ready to punish us for our idolatry, do we trust Him to make everything all right while we continue to turn our backs on Him?

Nevertheless, reliance on God is the foundation for hope. It is the confession of the addict that he or she is powerless over addiction that offers hope.

Hope is not happy-faced optimism, the facile belief that no matter how bad things are, they are certain to get better. It is a supernatural virtue which can only come from the loving God. However, that virtue does not itself heal our worldly woes. It contains no promise that prosperity will replace a bleak present. Rather, it is the firm belief that no matter how bad things get, God will be with us, and He will be our joy. This hope promises no end, for example, to the climate crisis.

What type of hope do we want? Do we look for salvation in God or in the restoration of happier times? We should desire both, for God does not want us to live in misery. He does not condemn us to disaster.

The Jesuit philosopher William Lynch wrote, “Hope is, in its most general terms, a sense of the possible, that what we really need is possible, though difficult.” Hope is not “an emergency virtue” which we trot out whenever a crisis arises. Hope is lived in each moment as we wait in anticipation for the next. It also calls us to action.

Hope involves a realistic imagination which envisions that which cannot yet be seen. It involves “an interior sense that there is help on the outside of us.” As such, it challenges the assumption that we can climb every mountain, ford every stream on our own volition. It is the reverse of a rigid can-do mentality. Overactivity and violence signify not hope but despair.

Lynch offers an understanding of hope which is both supernatural and this-worldly. Through it, we accept that although we do not know the solution to our current malaise, with God’s help we can find our way through. Such hope is a sign of both one’s faith and one’s mental health.

Hope is a virtue which calls us beyond ourselves, to work with God and in community. One might say that synodality is a consequence of hope. We forsake a fundamentalist belief in our own skills and knowledge and learn to lean on others.

Amid our current crises, we must ask whether we are mature enough to hope. Are we hopeful enough to allow our own ideas and proposals to be relative to the wisdom of others?

We will not survive this alone. We must move toward a world of interdependence and solidarity. This has not been the way of the Western world, especially in urban life, for far too long. Technology can help, but if we make it the centre of our hope, we will not prevail through our current troubles.

We need to listen far more than we speak. Listen to each other but also to God’s holy word. In humility, we can prevail, and the clouds of darkness will part.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at

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