The following is a submission for our student publication at Concordia Seminary. I’d love to hear your feedback so that I can improve as a writer and theologian.
More Than Enough: Toward a Theology of Hope
By M. E. Borrasso
On the heels of the first presidential debate of this election season, pundits of professional and amateur persuasion are quick to offer up their collective opinions. Candidate A did this well while candidate B did this poorly and candidates C, D, E, and F, the ones we all forget even exist, are just that, forgettable. He promises this, she promises that, and each and every one of them offers up their own ideas or perspectives concerning the best way to move forward. Regardless of political affiliation, the tie that binds politics is one optimistically known as hope. While there are undoubtedly other factors that contribute to the political process, e.g., financial interests, the rhetoric of the day on both sides of the aisle is one of hope. For a better next four years than the last, for a vibrant economy and a stronger national identity, these are the hopes of politics.
Yet, despite the current hype of the coming days, hope has a way of manifesting itself in all arenas of life, not simply the political one. Take, for example, the planting of flowers in depressed areas around St. Louis. Both at the recent theological symposium and in subsequent classes I have been reminded of the peculiarity and profundity of planting flowers. A seemingly useless gesture amidst downtrodden and dilapidated domiciles proves to be a confession of hope, encouraging the change to come. The planting of these flowers reminds us of the need to have an answer that uplifts those who are downcast and heals those who are broken. If only that were possible. A hopeful answer to the why of suffering eludes even the most astute theologian. Sure we can point to helpful places, but, more often than not, when faced with suffering we find ourselves asking the Lightfootian question, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turns the minutes to hours?”
More than a fair question, Lightfoot’s question strikes at the depth of human suffering. I would venture to guess that suffering is something we have all experienced. It may take different forms, but for each of us there is something that shakes our confidence and tests us in ways we did not know we could be tested. For some, suffering is financial. Given the strains of seminary life this is most assuredly a real, and even frightening, concern. How will I pay for classes or books? How will I pay for gas, food, rent, and everything else that comes down the pipe? Will I be able to pay back the loans I take out to pay for all that stuff? For others, suffering is personal. The multifaceted nature of seminary life causes us to ask the uncomfortable questions. Am I smart enough? Am I good enough? Will I live up to the perceptions of my place in the church? All of these questions, and ones which we only ask in the seclusion of our heads shake the foundations that brought each of us here. For me, suffering is all encompassing, it involves myself, my family, and my friends. As I walk through my time at seminary, struggling with finances and personal security, it seems that my family and friends are presented with tougher and tougher situations that break, beat, and belie my confidence in the glory of creation and the sweetness of life.
What road is left to take when I find myself face to face with Lightfoot’s question? Where can I turn when the waves of my suffering turn my minutes to hours? What flowers can I plant? To what future can I look? The answer is almost painfully obvious, especially given our context at the seminary, to the cross of course. But this response can fly off my lips with a pithy quality that embitters my soul to that reality. I may not want to admit it, but the “right” answer is the one that causes me to question things all the more. If the answer is so simple, why don’t I feel better knowing it? My question betrays my problem, it is all about me. And in telling myself to look to the cross I make for myself another law which I cannot keep. Rather than mitigate my suffering it magnifies it because once again I failed to go first where I know I can find the answer.
Perhaps, though, where is the wrong question to be asking. Wrong because it attempts to locate hope in a place as an abstract place rather than in a concrete person who embodies that quality. Who is the hope? Well that is most assuredly Jesus Christ. But still, who is a question that only has effect after we establish what hope is. The what of hope causes us to stop and think, when we need hope to get through this life, what exactly do we need? Is it an idea? A feeling? Or is it something which forms and embraces us. Is it something we fix, or something that fixes us? Something we can reach out and grab, or something that reaches down and grabs us? Something that I look to, or something that looks to me? Only understanding hope in such a fashion appropriates the reality that Christ reached down and grabbed us at the cross. The who and where of hope are important because of the what. Or, put another way, in coming to us in the cross Christ taught us what hope does. Hope conforms our suffering to that of Christ’s. It reminds us that when the waves turn the minutes to hours, God is with us. It is hope that causes us to embrace the glory of creation and the sweetness of life alongside the bitter side dish of suffering. It may not feel like much some times, like flowers in a street or promises on the campaign trail, but it is more than enough. For in suffering, in the cross of Christ, God makes himself known.