Jackson Brown, Jr. said: “Never deprive someone of hope; it might be all they have.” I hope you will enjoy these quotes on hope (and don’t you dare deprive me of that hope!).
- “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” ~Nietzsche
- “Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel.” ~Leonardo da Vinci
- “Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” ~Joseph Addison
- “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” ~Albert Einstein
- “Hope always begins in the dark.” ~Anne Lamott
- “Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.” ~Martin Luther King, jr.
- “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” ~Tertullian
We are in the last chapter of Mark Tietjen’s book, “Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians” (IVP Academic, 2016); and this chapter talks about the relationship between love, faith and hope and, like the previous chapters, it’s great stuff. Here’s the bottom line: love is tough work and is impossible without a lot of faith and, even more so, a lot of hope. Let me float a few ideas past you why that is the case.
First, faith and hope make love a presupposition. When I approach someone, I am given a choice. I can love them, or I can play it safe and stay at arm’s length (I can give them the time, but I won’t give them anything close to my heart). Usually, I play it safe and ask that the other people to prove themselves worthy before I give them my time, energy and heart. But a love armed with faith and hope immediately encourages us to love that same person, long before they have the chance to “prove themselves worthy.” Why? Because our hope and faith are not in the person’s worthiness or in the likelihood that they will respond in kind, but rather our hope and faith are in God. When our love for the other is ensconced in faith and hope, they become a prayer that God will show up in our loving actions and bless that effort and us and the other person, even if that doesn’t happen right away. We have faith and hope in God that he will meet us in our loving others and so faith and hope propel us to love others immediately by giving ourselves to them. Is that dangerous? Could we be hurt? Absolutely. But God’s command is not to protect ourselves from hurt, but to love our neighbor as ourselves. There’s an anonymous quote that says:
“Love comes to those who still hope even though they’ve been disappointed; to those who still believe even though they’ve been betrayed, to those who still love even though they’ve been hurt before.”
That’s our promise: that when we make love a presupposition and love others without first establishing a proper safety net, it is then that love grows in us.
Second, faith and hope believe the best about the person in front of us. The question why we don’t automatically love the people in front of us seems unnecessary to ask. After all, the list is almost endless. But perhaps the main reason is because we don’t trust each other, at least not enough to give each other our hearts. Instead of starting off with a presupposition of love, my first instinct is to have a presupposition of mistrust, a clear feeling that if I ventured forth in love, I would soon meet with disappointment, hurt or abuse. And as a result, I always find myself choosing to keep distance from the people around me. It is simply too dangerous. In fact, it is worse than that. I have built a solid castle wall of mistrust around me that protects me from my every interaction.
“The psychologist William James describes this tendency as ‘a preference for error-avoidance over truth-acquisition’” (Tietjen).
But such a wall, according to Jesus, is not only a sin, but a lie we tell ourselves. Kierkegaard writes:
“We can be deceived by believing what is untrue, but we certainly are also deceived by not believing what is true.”
But what if, instead of mistrusting everyone everywhere, we move forward in faith and hope and “believe all things” about the other person (that’s how the old KJV translates 1 Cor. 13:7; today we usually read “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes. . . .”)? Now, you may ask with a sense of righteous indignation: “But why should we trust them?” Kierkegaard’s response is telling: We shouldn’t; but we should trust God. We “believe the best” about the other person because, as we move towards them, we trust and hope that we will encounter God. We “believe the best” about the other person because we believe the benefits of engaging with people, even the bad ones, far outweigh the benefits of staying in our protective cocoon (what was is that Saint-Exupéry said: “There is no hope of joy except in human relations”?). We “believe the best” about the other person because we believe that love expands so that when we love the other, we are also encouraging them to love back and because we believe that our refusing to love them diminishes love so that our failure to love actually breeds indifference and dislike. In short, our failure to love has implications on everyone around us. But here is the good news: Our love for others also has implications on everyone around us because loving those around us spurs them on to love and good deeds.
Third, but closely related, faith and hope refuses to see the person in front of us as the sum total of what he or she does. Kierkegaard is determined to distinguish between the knowledge we have of this person and what that knowledge implies about how we should treat them. If we catch a person in a lie, then we know they are a liar and should be treated for all of time as a liar. If we catch a person cheating, then we know they are a cheater and should forever be treated as such. If we catch a person when they are angry, then we know they have an anger problem and we must always see them through that lens. In short, if they fail in one area, we are wise to forever brand them with this sin. But Kierkegaard does not believe this branding is right or true. Just because a person lied in this one situation does not mean they will lie in every situation. And yet we often label people (in spite of Kierkegaard’s famous dictum:
“Once you label me, you negate me.”
And in spite of “Ted Lasso’s” (Apple TV) great dictum: “I hope that none of us are judged by the actions of our weakest moments, but rather the strength we show when and if we’re ever given a second chance.”), we quickly brand someone with their sin. Why? Because the pull of fear and mistrust is too strong and we are too lazy. But faith and hope refuse to give in to fear. And they reject the notion that we can reduce people down to their worst deeds. Instead, faith and hope enable us to see this person through the lenses of God’s creation, God’s love and God’s redemption. We believe and we have a firm hope that by putting this person in our path, God wants to use us to show them that they have dignity and purpose and hope because they are made in God’s image. We believe and we have a firm hope that, by putting this person in our path, God wants us to show them his unconditional love. We believe and we have a firm hope that by putting this person in our path, God is seeking to draw this person to himself. And if that happens, the only real label that would count is that this person is now a dearly-loved child of God. Faith and hope refuse to see the people God has put in our path as the sum total of what they have done, but they call us to see them as people who could one day be our brother and sister in Christ.
Fourth, faith and hope, therefore, never give up on anyone. Fear and mistrust quickly dismiss the person in an attempt to cut our losses so that our hurt is minimized, but faith and hope refuse to let go. God is never done with someone. In one of Kierkegaard’s most moving quotes (at least to me), we read:
“Therefore never unlovingly give up on any human being. . . . Since it is possible that even the most prodigal son could still be saved, that even the embittered enemy—alas, he who was your friend—it is still possible that he could again become your friend. It is possible that the one who sank the deepest—alas, because he stood so high—it is still possible that he could again be raised up. . . . Therefore, never give up on any human being, do not despair, not even at the last moment—no, hope all things.”
Is it rational to love like this, to never give up on anyone? Perhaps, not. But it is a choice we can make, not based on the person’s potential or on wishful thinking, but because our faith and our hope are in a God of unending grace, a grace that never gives up on any of us until we force his hand. Tietjen writes:
“In other words, the basis of hope is love and love’s presupposition about others, their relation to God and God’s power to do all things. Hope does not originate in some positive-thinking-mantra-repeating concentration of heart and mind. Instead, hope comes from love, and love’s hope has the confidence of love’s faith since it is rooted in the actions and power of a loving God.”
Tietjen concludes this chapter with a poignant retelling of the story of the prodigal son; a story Kierkegaard sees as a picture of God’s hope for his children and subsequently, a model for our hope for the people God puts in our path. Kierkegaard writes:
“The prodigal son’s father was perhaps the only one who did not know that he had a prodigal son, because the father’s love hoped all things. . . . But love builds up, and the father won back the prodigal son simply because he, who hoped all things, [moved, without reservation, towards his son in love, believing in the unrelenting love of God.]”
En Garde with Kierkegaard
At the end of every post in this series, I want to drive home a few points by asking a few questions and giving you at least one great Kierkegaard quote to ponder.
- Why do you keep people at arm’s length?
- How do we grow in love? How are you seeking to grow in love?
- How do the twin sins of fear and mistrust pull you to view the people around you?
- When is it right to judge someone for their sin?
- How can we love like God wants us to love and still protect ourselves from being used and abused?
- Who are the people in your life on whom God is calling you to not give up?
- Where do you see a lack of faith and hope in your love towards others? How can you grow in these two areas?
This week, I leave you with, not one, but three quick quotes to ponder:
“Christ’s love for Peter [after his denial] was so boundless that, in loving Peter, he accomplished loving the one he sees. He did not say, ‘Peter must change first and become another man before I can love him again.’”
“Alas, but we men talk about finding the perfect person in order to love him. Christianity speaks about being the perfect person who limitlessly loves the person he sees.”
“Blessed is the man of faith; he believes what he cannot see. Blessed is the lover; he believes away what he nevertheless can see.”
Next week, we will conclude our series on Kierkegaard. Yes, I fear it will be a sickness unto death, but I hope we have all gained from this series. I certainly have. Even today, I learned that I love hope and I hope love. Thanks again for reading!