Culture At Large

Hope Against Hope

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

I recently finished John D. Caputo’s What Would Jesus Deconstruct? which was a beautiful and challenging read.  I learned a lot about what it means to really follow Jesus from reading the book, but I’d like to draw attention to the way Caputo made me think about what it means to have faith.  Look at this quotation from the book:
When is faith really faith? Not when it is looking more and more like we are right, but when the situation is beginning to look impossible, in the darkest night of the soul.  The more credible things are, the less faith is needed, but the more incredible things seem, the more faith is required. (page 45)

At first, this sounds crazy and impossible, but the more I think about the bible in light of thinking of faith this way, the more sense it makes.  God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, God asked the Israelites to walk across the Red Sea, God became a person and died a horrible death to make up for our sins.  All of these things sound, well, incredible.

Later in the book, Caputo quotes Augustine saying something like, if you understand it, that isn’t God.  This is tricky but also comforting. I like understanding things, I’m getting a PhD.  I really like being right.  But I think if we take God seriously, we have to believe that if we think we understand God, we certainly don’t.  And one thing that means for me is putting love for others and trust in God ahead of our wanting to be right about if other people are doing the right thing or not.

This way of thinking about faith also helps me to read the psalms in a way that makes sense.  Many of the psalms (42 for example) show us a person who is in a dark night of the soul, and who puts hope in God anyway, even though he is in trouble, physically and socially.

Let me continue that quotation from Caputo:
So, too, hope is hope not when we have every reason to expect a favorable outcome, which is nothing more than a reasonable expectation, but when it is beginning to look hopeless, when we are called on to ‘hope against hope’ as St. Paul says. (page 45 still)
Of course, we can know God in good times too, but our God is not a God of being smugly right because we’ve been following the rules—that’s what the Pharisees did.  Instead, our God asks us to hope against hope, to love the unloveable and forgive each other.  That’s a taller order than knowing and following a list of commands.  But it is also a kind of radical faith, that is truly different from what we can find apart from Jesus.

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