What Rays of Hope can the Church offer to Society? (Benedikt Jetter)

What or who is ‘the church’? A church as one single ecclesiastical institution? Is it ‘the churches’ as institutions together – in some broader or narrower communion of churches? Or is it ‘The Church’, the body of Christ, which is concealed and hidden under the visible church but manifest itself within visible forms?
And where does hope come from? From us, from the world? Do we have it in us? Can we produce it? Can we create a hope which is greater than us and outside of us? Or is hope – and the reason and donator of hope – something which ultimately comes from outside? Is it something that can manifest itself within us and within our world so that we can ‘give’ hope to others in a second step within our human earthly existence?
Do we need to talk about hope? Isn’t hope so important for and pivotal to our Christian faith, that everything is clear? Shouldn´t especially theologians know everything about it and be fully aware of the implications of hope and the methods of sharing it? So, we could skip that question.
What hopes has the world? World is defined here as an extreme form of a space of thinking and acting which excludes – practically or methodically – God and any other transcendent relation to the earthly existence: a world that does not allow for a (reason of) hope coming from outside of itself and therefore is searching for hope within itself. If we observe, experience and analyse our world is there enough reason to be optimistic? Haven’t many attempts to do so failed dramatically?
Human beings are all struggling with problems which can lead to desperation, delusion and frustration. They seem to be (part of) the condition humana, of men seeking happiness and redemption and eternity throughout their whole life. This is partially linked to the theological concept of ‘sin’ and human existence before God – an important question to be followed up on another occasion. Is there any reason to overcome that and to feel at some point that one has reached the end of the journey?
Many affirmations of hope are made. The question is: does a single affirmation of hope make sense without being connected to a wider network of hope? Don´t our moments of life need to be linked to some broader meaning? At least: don’t we want them to be linked to a greater sense? Can there ultimately be full consolation and hope of fulfilment in single nice ideas about something that could possibly work out well? Aren’t we striving for the greatest universal meaning?
As there are many questions which are left open and nothing is clear at all, we need to go back to theology. That’s a task especially theologians should consider much more. The question of hope has ended up at the very margin of theological reflection – or even outside of its margins.
In my personal opinion, Christian hope makes sense only in a broader context. Then, the understanding is not limited anymore to a superficial, fragmented image. Surely, the image how we can imagine it, will always be limited to our human understanding, but can – in trust//faith alone – be orientated towards a broader hope.
Again: can we easily promise that everything will be fine? Fine in our human understanding, during our lifetime? We should be careful with utopian thinking. Christian hope is not equivalent with heaven on earth. There have been many misunderstandings throughout history. And misunderstandings are arising always anew. If thinking about Christian hope wants to be responsible it needs to link optimism in faith to realism in practice.
Christian hope also needs to connect two dimensions: abstract + concrete. It’s better to say: the transcended hope as fundament and orientation for us in a theological sense. And the effect of hope as ethical reflection includes the acting and speaking which, in turn, gives hope to others. The acting in hope is not to be separated from the feeling held by hope and feeling to have an orientation in hope. Ethics of hope are the space in which we live: between the hope below us (fundament: God’s hands) and above us (faith/trust in God as reason of hope and giver of meaning).
The theological hope needs to manifest itself in signs, sacraments and acting. Otherwise it would remain merely virtual, distant and unpersonal. The ethical dimension of hope needs to be rooted. Otherwise it would lack reason.
Churches can engage in promoting all of these aspects of life. They can do so standing on the fundament of hope and trust. They can, by that, give hope without having the guarantee that on will understand the single points of engagement as part of a bigger image. Here and now, meaning of life and reason for hope will never be understood fully. It is nothing that can be explained by ration. Necessarily, there remains the difficulty to argue logically. The reason to hope is not obvious! Additionally: hope can be seen only in Paul’s tension of ‘already’ and ‘not yet’. Hope is an orientation rather than a state of being.
The society – to which all of us belong entirely – can accept or refuse hope. Hope needs to be taken up personally and cannot be ‘given’ to someone through the attempts to convince logically.
Hope is ultimately linked to the transcendental. This, however, is nothing ‘bad’. Hope is valid.
The eight beatitudes for example can give hope. Not because their logical argumentation convinces entirely but because their promise can create trust and confidence in the orientation towards God and the good. Promise (or better with the German term ‘Verheißung’) is great, but accessible only in faith. We can’t produce hope. Hope is given to us. Hope can encourage, it is not something we can hold firmly in our hands or put in a box.
Hope often even is against reason. Deeper and higher than reason. Hope can contrast our experience. Hope can be counterintuitive. This is linked to the ‘foolishness’ of the cross. Like Paul says: Christians who have hope within all chaotic and frustrating human experience are ‘fools in Christ’. Is having hope necessarily foolish? Don’t we life this constructive foolishness in Christ too seldom in a positive way?