Hope is Not Naive Optimism

Greetings in the Lord,

This last week brought us another devastating Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, with the Indonesian government announcing within the last 24 hours that they would now be suspending the active search for survivors. While the loss of life in this most recent incident pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands that lost their lives in this same country in 2004, the loss of life is still significant and the reality of that loss is no more real for those who are living with the fear of the sea rising up to swallow them. While reflecting on this most recent tragedy and imploring God to provide comfort to those who are even now in the depths of despair, I was reminded of a work that was written by David Bentley Hart following the 2004 tsunami, entitled The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami.

We all have something to learn from these types of events, for none of us are immune to tragedy, whether that be tragedy within our own families or regional tragedies such as these and other natural disasters. In some of his closing thoughts, Hart writes:

When, however, we learn in Christ the nature of our first estate, and the divine destiny to which we are called, we begin to see--more clearly the more we are able to look upon the world with the eye of charity--that there is in all things of earth a hidden glory waiting to be revealed, more radiant than a million suns, more beautiful than the most generous imagination or most ardent desire can now conceive. Or, rather, it is a glory not entirely hidden: veiled, rather, but shining in and through and upon all things. The imperishable goodness of all being does in fact show itself in all that is. It shows itself int eh vast waters of the Indian Ocean, and it is not hard to see when those waters are silver and azure under the midday sky, or gold and indigo in the light of the setting sun, or jet and pearl in the light of the moon, and when their smoothly surging tides break upon the shore and harmlessly recede. But it is still there even when--the doors of the sea having broken their seals--those waters become suddenly dull and opaque with gray or swallow silt and rise to destroy and kill without will or thought or purpose or mercy. At such times, to see the goodness indwelling all creation requires a labor of vision that only a faith in Easter can sustain; but it is there, effulgent, unfading, innocent, but languishing in bondage to corruption, groaning in anticipation of a glory yet to be revealed, both a promise of the Kingdom yet to come and a portent of its beauty.

Until that final glory, however, the world remains divided between two kingdoms, where light and darkness, life and death grow up together and await the harvest. In such a world, our portion is charity, and our sustenance is faith, and so it will be until the end of days. As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of his enemy. Such faith might never seem credible to [skeptics], or still the disquiet of [their] conscience, or give [them] peace in place of rebellion, but neither is it a faith that [their] arguments can defeat: for it is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead. Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history's many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes--and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”

May we cling to hope, not naive optimism, for God has declared that He will make all things new. We don't need to paint silver linings around the clouds of suffering in ours or others lives; rather, we can look to the resurrection as that promise that the suffering we experience is temporary because of the resurrection. May we be messengers of true hope and joy in the midst of the chaos of a world that groans in anticipation of the ultimate restoration that will come when Christ makes all things new.

Fr. Timothy

(as published in St. Luke’s weekly newsletter, 10/10/18)