Emily Dickinson once wrote “Hope is a Thing With Feathers,” a 12-line poem that compares hope to a bird that she says “perches in the soul,” and sings wordless tunes non stop. In Dickinson’s metaphor, the bird sings “sweetest in the gale,” “has kept so many warm,” and “never asks a crumb” despite the severity of the trial. Dickinson tries to capture the feeling of hope as an abstract noun. Besides poets, others grapple with the meaning of hope. The Oxford English Dictionary includes among its definitions, “a feeling of expectation and a desire for a certain thing to happen” to “aspiration, ambition, daydream, plan, assurance, assumption.” The dictionary explains the phrase “hope against hope” as “cling to a mere possibility.” When individuals suffer, they seek something less nebulous to support them in the midst of their ordeal. While feelings matter, they do not give the full picture; we need to engage the brain too, or we will view hope merely like the butterfly that rested momentarily on my hanging basket of flowers yesterday… lovely but not sustaining.
Yesterday I read an Albert Mohler article that commented on an essay by Adam Gopnik in the latest issue of The New Yorker. (May 19, 2010) Gopnik asserts that “the people who read and study the Gospels for a living are nearly certain that the Gospels cannot be trusted as history.” Whether “The Jesus Seminar” or a host of seminaries, virtually any notion about the inspiration of Scripture has been thrown out by those in power and print. Postmodern scholarship views the Gospels as nothing more than “Near Eastern literature,” stories where what flatters Jesus must have been propaganda from his fans, while the more negative statements are probably authentic.
As I begin a six-month study of hope in the midst of suffering, I cannot presuppose with the likes of Philip Pullman, Paul Verhoeven (director of RoboCop), or Philip Jenkins. I smile when I read Albert Schweiter’s description of such scholars as “those who look into the well of history and see their own faces.” No, my starting point jumps off from the Bible that I presuppose to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Mankind has tried to create God in its own image since the Garden of Eden. Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic for more than four decades offers a good insight into suffering: “Affliction does not teach you about yourself from a textbook; it teaches you from experience. It will always show you what you love — either the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1) or the comfort that can become your god.”
So I invite you to come along with me as I search for hope in the midst of suffering.