Photo by Lydia Torrey
Beyond A Frozen Life
Human life is a reality of time. It is a reality of now. We always live in the present time but constantly placed in between the pressing awareness of the past and future. Past is the awareness of what occurred – memory. Future is the awareness of the not yet – goals. Present is the awareness of what is taking place here and now – “the presence of the real.”
Ours is such a time of chaos. The present reality of life consists in the pandemic attack. It freezes the world of humanity. It is one of the most powerful threats to human life that the world has ever seen. Life here and now is lived with fear, anxiety, uncertainties and worries. Every serious human being will think about a way forward. In such a situation, the unique quality that orients life towards the future is hope.
What is hope? Hope is a fundamental quality of human life. It makes human beings greatly ambitious and be oriented towards the future. It energises them to feel, long and expect for something good to happen. Probably, the Australian way of expressing it is “I will get there.” Hope is a natural virtue of yes, which stands against the quality of saying no to life. Thus hope is the soul of life. Hope gives rise to a passion, a reason and courage to live. I will explore this through Paul Ricoeur and Thomas Aquinas.
Ricoeur is a philosopher of hope. He holds hope as fundamental to human makeup. For him, hope is a passion to exist that aims for the fresh possibilities of life. The passion energises a human to rise out of the actual life to the possible life through an act of will. Thus, passion makes life affirmative rather than negative. We can say “yes” to life rather than “no.” One says yes to life when one understands that there is hope in life. Or one says no to life when there is no room for any hope but only nothingness and vanity. In other words, hope is a virtue that enables human beings to shake off their past and present ruins of life and look beyond for a way forward. Hope provides reason to live and courage to face life challenges. This is why Apostle Paul said, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13).
In Ricoeur’s approach, life is an object of hope. Hope speaks into the absurd and forces one to look for a possibility. It is by hope humans overcome the nothingness of life to discover the possible in the midst of the ruins of life. Hope speaks from the depths of the descent into the absurd. This happens when the subject exercises their act of will to say: Here I stand, I will face it. No matter whatsoever comes on my way.
Ricoeur’s philosophy of hope can be compared with Thomas Aquinas’ theology of hope. Aquinas believes that the “object of hope is a future good, arduous but possible to obtain.” Here, hope involves a strong passion. It is distinct from ordinary desire that looks for receiving any good offered, likes any pleasure, and shrinks from pain. Whereas genuine hope is a strong passion that seeks to attain a difficult good. It is ready to face opposition and pay a price.
The element of “future good” makes the person of the pursuit to rise out of the present condition towards the future good. This, for Aquinas, is the absolute and lasting Good – God. This implies that in a hope project, a subject moves from the here and now to the not yet possible as their own good. Like Ricoeur, Aquinas’ theology of hope moves beyond the trajectories of fear and anxiety to the future good. It rises out of the present structures of life and moves beyond despair. As Apostle John says, “It does not yet appear what we shall become” (1John 3:2).
Nevertheless, the Christian vision of hope is intensified for it is tied up with the person of the living God. “Christ is our Hope” (1Tim 1:1). “We shall be like Him” (1John 3:2). Christianity provides the most powerful expression of hope. Thanks to the Bible for lifting the destiny of hope from this worldly to the other where hope is more hopeful. Aquinas’ theology makes the Christian vision of hope more meaningful by orienting it towards God as the ultimate good of humanity. Whereas Ricoeur’s thought moved to an existential direction, lifting the limit of existence from death to eternity. His philosophy is a pursuit for the eternal possibility of life. He structured human existence on hope in which the form of life is always a pursuit, life is limitless, hope is more hopeful, and good of life is absolutely lasting.
Thus, hope is the critical key to fight the pandemic, which is the reality today. It is true that the task is daunting. But it is only humans who are endowed with such a gift of life that enables us to face the challenge, to rise out of the ruins to desire the future good – healing and wellbeing. We must believe that life is worth living and it is a choice. We can choose a philosophy of yes – a decisive yes to Christ, who is the hope of the world and a way forward.
Dr Xavier Lakshmanan is a theology lecturer at ACCS. If you are interested in learning and studying theology, enquire today for an information pack.