Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hope, false piety and optimism

After she died, it was as if I had broken my arm. A part of me ached all the time, and something that had been functional was now useless, and everything about my daily routine needed to be navigated differently. It was difficult, for instance, to stand in line at the post office or buy groceries or make dinner. Nothing seemed to matter anymore.
Amy Julia Becker, writing about the death of her mother-in-law and the profound difference between optimism and hope.
When Penny first received her diagnosis—primary liver cancer—we were optimistic. Perhaps surgery would eradicate the disease. Perhaps she would live to know her grandchildren. Perhaps she would retire and travel to Italy again. We thought it might all work out. But then came the pathology report, the news that the cancer had gotten into her bloodstream. Those optimistic thoughts were no longer readily available. Optimism failed.

But hope is not optimism, and neither is it false piety. Once Penny died, it was tempting to ignore the sadness and focus upon the promise of eternal life. It was tempting to bypass grief. But I cringed when someone offered, “I guess God needed another angel in heaven.” In thinking only of the future, of heaven, that statement skips over the real loss in the present. It implies that God is needy, snatching people away to fill some cosmic void. It implies that it is acceptable for a fifty-five-year old woman to die a grueling death. Statements about God’s purpose in death can be used as a cudgel, a way to berate believers into pretending that the loss is not profound, devastating. “Pie in the sky by and by” is no consolation. False piety skips past grief altogether, and, like optimism, it ultimately fails. ....

Jesus did not ignore the reality of pain. Rather, he engaged it, even as he knew it would be overcome. He knew, for instance, that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet he mourned. He knew God would be faithful, and yet he shed tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus had hope in the midst of grief, without denying the reality of suffering and loss. His life permits us to forgo false piety and admit that suffering and separation are an offense to God.

And yet, that Easter morning also reminded me that God has triumphed over death. Christian hope hinges on the fact that God has the power to give life to the dead, starting with Jesus, and one day, extending to us all. Hope is a place of tension, tethered between the Cross and the Resurrection, engaging pain and suffering while simultaneously looking ahead to restoration. .... [read it all]
The Reality of Hope | First Things