“Hope finds its substance in realism, and the latter finds its possibility in hope.”
–Ellul, Hope in a Time of Abandonment (1977: 275)
To the sociologist and lay theologian, Jacques Ellul, ours’ is an era in which God has chosen to remain silent. If this sounds despondent, it’s because for Ellul it was.
According to his intellectual biographers, Van Vleet and Rollison (2020), he was going through a time of intense personal crisis because of changes happening in the late 1960s, leading him to question his faith. And yet, he made it through, faith intact, not simply because hope provided a solution to a problem, which in French has to do with espoir or an “it’s not so bad,” hope; but more importantly because of espérance hope.
Espérance is the kind of hope that doesn’t deny or avoid the realism of despondency and its condition but carries an existential fortitude to transform that condition. It’s made up of three components each of which both manifest and provide the foundation of hope— perseverance first. It’s in the Davidic prayer Jesus prays on the cross despite His feeling of abandonment: “My God, My God, why hath thou forsaken me?” In fact, prayer is the second component, hopeful in that it interrupts despondency with reminders of God’s promises.
In the past year, I’ve found hope in the Gospel Blues, as in the words Mavis Staples sings in, “We’ve Got Work to Do,” in response to recent racial injustices. The realism of her hope, acknowledging the unfairness of her condition with its real fears and frustrations, is third. Keeping perseverance, prayer, and realism together, with me, I hope you can take courage in the conditions of this pandemic to hope!
Aaron Klassen, PhD.
Booth University College