Hoping Against Hope

What do we really mean when we say ‘I hope so?’  Do we use the word ‘hope’ so casually that we have diminished its fullest meaning, or is it another one of those enigmatic things like love, that defy definition and measure, even though we find it clearly described in dictionaries?  The American Heritage Dictionary defines the verb form of ‘hope’ as: “to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment; to have confidence; trust; to expect and desire.”  We hope we make it to the gas station before we run out of gas; we hope we win the lottery in tonight’s drawing; we hope our sick dog is soon restored to full health; we hope we can keep our same days-off at work in our annual shift re-bid; we hope our adult children can be happy in their new relationships; we hope our kids’ chicken-pox sores heal before they have their school pictures taken; we hope our wives or husbands get their businesses up and running and that all the years of work and sacrifice pay-off and that our collective dreams finally come true; we hope so many other things that would make our temporal lives or circumstances however much better…we hope….


And then…a new cancer treatment gives hope to those suffering from likely terminal conditions where nothing else works; we hope that we can rescue victims instead of recovering bodies from the mine collapse or plane crash; we hope our co-worker and friend gets back to Kansas City before her father passes-away; collective prayer among believers and a favorite passage or two or ten from their holy text gives them hope when facing the end of their biological lives that they will continue to exist in the hereafter…even when there is no scientific or empirical evidence to even suggest that such places exist, be they heaven or hell or something in between or beyond; and we hope so many other things that are coming to a final or terminal end.


When we hope against hope, we are hoping for something even though there is little or no chance of our wish being fulfilled; we are hoping with little reason or justification.  Yet, we hope…again, for that eternal resting place above and beyond the stars with our Savior and family members and other loved ones and pets (really, pets?)…we hope beyond hope that a lifetime of unhealthy living and destruction of our own bodies will be bettered by technology and medical ‘miracles’ and that our loved ones’ bodies will continue to persist against the abuses that they have wrought against themselves…and when they live or die – and ‘whether’ they live or die, it’s somehow seen as ‘God’s will’ regardless of our hopes.  Well then, in that overly broad context, isn’t every single possible thing boiled-down to His will?  That’s kind of lame when there’s no differentiation between what is/was His will and what is or wasn’t.  It sounds rather like a cop-out or an easy resignation because either way it happens, you say that it’s His will.  Why not just call it fate then…just give-up any connection with the Big Guy whatsoever…just bring it down to what it really is…shit happens…good happens…stuff happens…life just freaking happens, whether we surrounded ourselves with prayer or didn’t…stuff just happens, and depending on one’s mindset, I guess, we can give all the credit to a meddling God who isn’t too busy with all the shit that’s happening in the universe, actually in the millions of universes out there…really big stuff, like keeping all those planets and stars stuck up there in their orbits or stellar placements, preventing all the black-holes from vacuuming every damn thing into themselves,  keeping the planets, in our lifetimes anyway, from continuing in their expansions away from their stars at an even faster pace that would cause our little speck of dirt and water from freezing its inhabitants to death…we can give all the credit to that meddling God for the things that He does and doesn’t do in our little insignificant lives…or…we can accept that we are just another organism that managed to survive and reproduce and evolve/change into something that could withstand the environmental pressures and struggles long enough to get to where we are today…and whose continued existence is dependent upon what miseries and poisons and precautions or preventions that we manage to bring to and upon ourselves.  In the billions of years of the universe’s existence and in the lesser billions of years in which life has existed on our planet and in the millions to hundreds of thousands of years in which bi-pedal type homo species have existed, our lives as the general type and specific species that we have become isn’t squat compared to the numbers of species that have come and gone in the eons before us…we’re just another bug in a jar…but our arrogance causes us to devise such quantities of illogical hope for something so far beyond our biology…just face it…we’re bags of bones and dirt and minerals and star-dust…that’s probably the closest we’re going to get to heaven…it was in our celestial origins that our ‘stellar’ elements combined to ‘create’ life as it exists here on our floating, orbiting, chunk of rock and water…and still we hope; we hope against hope and ask God to hit the ‘pause’ button on the laws of the universe, that some believe He created/devised, so that He can answer our prayers and make the sun stand still (pre-Galilean understanding of the cosmos), make disease-ridden bodies suddenly free of pathogens and associated damage, and cure the addict’s arrested brain chemistry and change him/her into a mature contributing member of society, etc.   We somehow hope against all the laws of nature that God will hear our prayers…that’s rather arrogant of us, isn’t it?  Doesn’t that speak of a specialness or consideration that isn’t warranted by our measly human insignificance in the broader context of all of our universes’ lifetimes and existences, that we should hope for such things and that they be granted by our God above?  While “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things” (according to Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption) that might help us endure some shitty circumstances, ‘hopefully’ temporal ones, shouldn’t we be more reasonable in our hopes?  Shouldn’t we consider ourselves within the scope of our existence?  I would hope so….


6 responses

  1. During my path towards disbelief in the God that is defined and revealed by flawed human beings, I thought of this topic often. Specifically, prayer for intercession on our / my behalf. I began to feel the same sense of arrogance that you describe here. Then realized that I was supposed to believe that God had a plan for me, which meant that my prayers for things would not matter anyway. It would be like asking for a pony for Christmas when all along it had been decided that Santa was bringing me socks – which is what I REALLY need. So what was the point?

    Then I began to examine the possibility that God has no control in my life and that my freewill reigns. This led me to the same conclusion about prayers and His intercession. What’s the point? I can’t have it both ways. My life, my consequences.

    I know hope is a good thing to have though. Whether or not it is a realistic, I believe it is healthy to have hope. I believe that hope is the key to survival. If you watch any show or read any book on human suffering or survival, one of the common denominators in their survival (regardless of their religious beliefs) was their human capability to hope that they would get out of the situation. A hope that there was still a chance to live. Hope keeps people from giving-up. Giving-up leads to the end, and often death.

    I am thankful for the chemicals in our brain that create this feeling of hope.

    December 3, 2009 at 8:02 am

    • seekraz

      I, too, believe that hope is a good thing, as it does give us the strength sometimes to make it through hard or harrowing circumstances…and without it, the feeling of futility can become so overwhelming that it can lead to death. My point is that we keep it in context and not be absurd in our desires and expectations with regard to the ‘almighty’ and certain promises or understandings. Thank you for your thoughts, Sir Jason. 🙂

      December 3, 2009 at 9:11 am

  2. Mr. Dustin

    Very good piece you have written here. I completely agree on your main point of keeping hope in a realistic context. I often hope for rain, or I may hope to win the lottery. I may even hope for Christianity and Islam to fall off the face of the earth, but that kind of hope may border on daydreaming. The word hope, for me, is almost a cliche thing to say and if I hope for rain I am not being realistic to the natural order of the laws of nature; I’m just saying it to say something cliche. However, if one suffered from cruelty, pain, and dispair where prayers for god’s strength and hope were the only way to survive, I would say that this notion of hope is more than a cliche and the obsession in hope becomes a pychological survival mechanism. If the individual survives their terrible ordeal, the hope now becomes their ‘reality.’ It is fair for one, whose use of the word hope is no more than a cliche thing to say, to respect another’s pychological version of hope carried too far?

    December 5, 2009 at 10:03 am

    • seekraz

      Thank you for your comments, Mr. Dustin, and the cliche aspect of hope is what I was addressing briefly in the first part of the essay, wondering if we don’t use the word too casually, almost flippantly, when we say we’re hoping for so many things. And yes, while we might disagree with other people’s world-views about god and the supernatural, something in their psychies allows them to gather strength to endure and survive their horrific ordeals…so how can we argue against them? We can understand them to be taking things too far when they institute policies and force the teaching of their world-view in schools and overwhelm the media and the rest of our lives with the subject, but in the context of their survival, that’s fine. Thank you again, Mr. Dustin, for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughts. I do appreciate it. 🙂

      December 5, 2009 at 11:08 am

  3. Nathan

    I completely see what you’re saying about hoping for things like a never ending after-life and that type of nonsense. It surely is ridiculous to even say that you can ‘hope’ for that, when I think the most we can say is that ‘it would be nice.’ If your definition of hope is just that, well then keep on hoping.

    As for things like you or your loved ones making it through the battle with cancer or getting to your destination safely, or that my baby is born without issue, I can surely say that I hope beyond hope for all of that. But, to say that I ‘hope’ no one in my family ever dies…ever…well that’s just dumb. 🙂 Good blog topic 🙂

    December 17, 2009 at 10:41 am

    • seekraz

      Yes, I think we should keep it real…within the contexts of our human/animal existence. And yes, too, we want our babies to be born and live without difficulties…but again, that’s real…what isn’t real is that if they’re born like that client of Mom’s who had no brain and the parents hoped he could walk someday and have almost a normal life when he was actually dying. Anyway….

      December 17, 2009 at 12:35 pm

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