Hope IS the Cake
I used to think that hope was the icing on the cake. But I’ve lived long enough to know that hope IS the cake – that “Gift of Tomorrow,” as [Robert] Raines put it. I’m concerned about hope – and I think the French poet Paul Valéry was right when he said, “The great fact of our time is that for many people, the future isn’t what it used to be.” I think that’s true. I’m troubled about hope because I listen to the stories of my younger brothers and sisters and their suicides. I have trouble because I think the most awful thing that can be said about a society is that they got so damnably affluent that they killed hope. Two years ago in one of the affluent suburbs of Houston, Texas, they had to deal with six high school students who committed suicide together. Last June they pulled six seniors off of a high school list in a Texas town because they had abused a woman teacher, wrecked a classroom, and gored to death a living cat. If you are not concerned about this you are not concerned about the simple fact that when hope isn’t present, despair sets in – in Houston kids and in every other city of the world. I’m troubled about hope because I don’t think people are alcoholic down into the third grade just because they like the taste of booze.
Conrad Hilton said the most important thing he had learned keeping hotels for forty years is, that as a general principal, “It is better to keep the curtain inside the tub.” I hope that does not reflect the management or the intelligence of the capitalist class of this country, though I’m inclined more and more to think it does.
The most important thing I’ve learned in forty years is that hope is a theological virtue. I can understand why Annie ran for years on Broadway: “Tomorrow! Tomorrow!” What an awful thing not to have tomorrow. I read that a culture can be forgiven almost anything. But I do not think it can be forgiven killing hope in its youth. And I’d like to stand in front of you with all the power I have and say, “Hope is a theological virtue!”
Hope doesn’t come because you got a new car or new padding for the carpet. Hope comes to people who forever-and-a-day have come to believe that they that wait upon the Lord will find energy enough for the task! That even when you walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, you don’t have to be afraid. That out of the depths we can cry out to God and God will hear our voice. That all things work together for good to those who really love God. That’s a theological virtue. I want that to be taught, believed, and preached across the whole life of the church. I mean to tell you: where there is no hope, there is no real Christian faith.
From “Images of Hope, The Nails” & “A Severe Mercy”
March 8, 1985 & May 12, 1986 (and other occasions)