Everyone Needs Hope
“HOPE springs eternal in the human breast.” So said the English bard Alexander Pope in his “Essay on Man.” Two thousand years earlier Greek poet Theocritus put it this way: “There is hope as long as one is alive.” Much earlier still the Jewish wise man Solomon wrote: “For a man who is counted among the living there is still hope.”—Eccl. 9:4, The New English Bible.
Yes, men of all sorts have at all times needed hope. Today, there are millions who say that the only hope is a better world through Communism. They believe that revolutionary changes will bring in better times for the masses. They quote French Communist martyr Gabriel Péri in saying that, thanks to Communism, future generations will experience “happy tomorrows.” True, many people have seen the disappointing results achieved by governments that follow Marxist principles and have become disillusioned. Nevertheless, Communism is still the “hope” of millions among mankind who are seeking a world of social justice.
The Koran offers some half billion Muslims the hope of everlasting bliss in a paradise called “the Garden,” where the blessed will enjoy luxuries in their resurrected bodies. Many Muslims even hope for a millennium or 1,000-year reign of peace on earth before Judgment Day. Those rejected by Allah will be cast into “the Hot Place” for everlasting torment.
The hope of the hundreds of millions of Hindus and Buddhists is to attain the goal of Nirvana. For the Hindus, this represents literally a “blowing out” or extinction of the flame of life through absorption into Brahman or the impersonal universal soul. For the Buddhists, Nirvana is “the state of perfect blessedness achieved by the extinction of individual existence and by the absorption of the soul into the supreme spirit.”
Then for the hundreds of millions of people who claim to be Christians, hope is said to be one of the three “theological virtues,” together with faith and love. Of these three virtues, M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia states: “Faith is the root, love the fruit-bearing stem, and hope the heaven-reaching crown of the tree of Christian life.”
Agreeing with this Protestant work that hope for members of Christendom’s churches means going to heaven, The Catholic Encyclopedia says, under “Hope”: “[Hope] is defined to be a Divine virtue by which we confidently expect, with God’s help, to reach eternal felicity . . . All of this is intelligible only on the basis, which we take for granted, that there is such a thing as the supernatural order, and that the only realizable ultimate destiny of man in the present providence of God lies in that order. . . . hope has as its main object union with God in heaven.” (Italics ours)
So for Catholics and most Protestants the only hope set before them is “eternal felicity . . . in heaven.” If that fails, there is no hope whatsoever. Says A Catholic Dictionary: “The damned in hell cannot hope, for they can have no expectation of salvation.” The notice Dante imagined posted above the gates of hell read: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”
But is the alternative for all those who believe in God and Christ either “eternal felicity” in heaven or a hopeless state of eternal punishment in “hell”? Since Christianity’s roots sink deep into the Bible, how do the Scriptures define the Christian hope and any alternative punishment?
Furthermore, since the millions of people fascinated by Communism are obviously not lured by the “heavenly bliss” held out as the only hope by the churches of Christendom, could it be that the Bible offers such people—not for the brief span of a lifetime, but for eternity—the very hope they think they have found in Communism, namely, a world of “social and economic equality for all” in a “classless society”?
Could it even be that the Bible holds out to the millions of Muslims a hope that is similar to the paradise “Garden” offered them by the Koran, but without the danger of ending up in “the Hot Place”?
And what of the hundreds of millions of practicers of certain Oriental religions who have been taught that all material existence means suffering and for whom, therefore, life on earth is evil? Would these people seek to cancel out their individual existence in Nirvana if they could convince themselves that life on earth was never meant to be a time of suffering such as they have known? Might the Bible not be able to change their outlook on life and give them a hope that corresponds more to the natural yearnings of intelligent humans?
With these questions in mind, let us examine the Bible and religious history to see if the only hope offered to mankind is that of “going to heaven.” And since, according to the Bible, mankind was given a hope even before the founding of Christianity, let us first go back and see what hope the ancient Jews had.