“The nuns taught us there are two ways through life … the way of Nature… and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy… when all the world is shining around it… when love is smiling through all things. They taught us that no one who loves the way of grace… ever comes to a bad end. I will be true to you. Whatever comes.” — Mrs. Obrien in The Tree of Life
Does the world have hope? And how do we see it? To paraphrase the above quotation, which is itself a paraphrase of a quotation from Leibniz, there are two ways through life: the way of entropy and the way of hope. I use the word entropy because it captures the cosmic scale of how the way of nature plays out. Everything moves to dissipation, heat-death and ultimate darkness. But that is merely one way. There is another.
The way of hope, the way of grace, is a hard path to follow. The way of hope demands all of ourselves. Despite all troubles or upsets, the way of hope forges ahead. It believes and trusts and works towards a better world. The way of hope is putting your hand to the plow and not looking back. The way of hope tries to bring true light to the darkest of places. The way of hope is not a way we forge on our own, but it is a way of life we participate in and join with: the very life of God.
In this way, we can understand that hope is a gift. Sometimes, despite all our attempts, we still have hope. When defeated, when broken, there is a spark, an ember that remains. This does not remain out of our own strength, but out of the love of God, because God hopes. God wants a better world, wants all people to live full, radiant lives. This is the spark that remains in us.
Hope gives strength for along the way. This is a continual gift. For if we did not have any amount of hope, if all hope were truly lost, life would be over. We live into the future because we for it, in it. In a sense, every future imaginable is a kind of a hope. Hope that this is not the end, this moment is not the final moment of existence. The way of hope, the gift of hope, embraces this, and that can cause great pain, because to hope is to affirm something, to long for and into something. This longing, this desire, calls us to ourselves and demands that we are present, that we are active, that we are striving. It can self-perpetuate and provide strength, but it also costs.
On the other side of hope is despair. Entropy is the universal symptom of despair. The personal symptom is cynicism. Cynicism does not believe things cannot get better. Cynicism diagnoses a problem, often quite correctly, but does nothing to amend it, because of “the system,” or “the man,” or some other excuse. Cynicism is not hard. Cynicism lends no strength. Cynicism is its own kind of entropy, moving towards self-dissipation and destruction. In the face of all this, I commend to you, dear reader, a radical joy, a radical hope, and a radical belief that you and I, along with the help of all God’s people, can make this world a better place. This is our gift. We have received it, and we can give it to others. Let us not grow weary in doing good. But let us hope.