The philosopher Immanuel Kant is known for highlighting three questions humans ask: What can I know? What ought I to do? What can I hope for? This third question has received much less attention than the first two. Knowledge and morality capture our interest while hope is often overlooked. The changing circumstances of our world have drawn fresh attention to human longing and our need for the presence of hope.
Sadly our confidence is often placed in technology or in human resourcefulness and ingenuity. It has been said that the opposite of hope is not despair but “self-determination”. If we are authors of ourselves (as many believe today) there is no need for hope.
Hope is readily paired with humility, we confess our limits and we acknowledge our inability to fully grasp either the present or the future Theologian Jurgen Moltmann notes that hope keeps us radically unreconciled to the present. It resists the temptation to idolize current circumstances. And hope is not optimism.
Optimism is grounded in a temperamental cheerfulness while hope, though fallible, must rest on reasons that make it credible. The biblical narrative provides a vision for the future when “all things will be made new.”
However hope is not simply a matter of expectation but involves living in such a way that we draw the future into the present. Art has a hopeful quality about it as it provides glimpses of what might be, cultivating in us not just a feeling but a disposition that acknowledges there is more than meets the eye.