Thursday, January 22, 2015

Could you speak up, God?

Google Image
“Hello Lord, it's me your child.
I have a few things on my mind.
Right now I'm faced with big decisions
And I'm wondering if you have a minute, 'cause
Right now I don't hear so well.
And I was wondering if you could speak up.”

These lyrics by singer/songwriter Sara Groves touch on a frequent subject of this blog: God’s silence. I believe it’s one of the biggest obstacles to faith today, although the problem surely stretches back to the dawn of belief in an invisible God.

If there is a God, why doesn’t he/she show himself/herself? And, ask many who have given up on God and religion, if God is unknowable, why bother? Just get on with life and do the best you can without him/her.

Many who would like to believe in God, as well as many who on some level already do, are stuck on these questions.

In his book, “Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” physician and geneticist Francis Collins – head of the National Institutes of Health, best known for leading the Human Genome Project – writes about his journey from atheism to belief. As a young physician, he was struck by the deep spirituality of many of his patients, noting that “if faith was a psychological crutch…it must be a very powerful one.”

A later insight is, for me, crucial in this age of widespread indifference about God and belief. He came to the point of asking himself, “Could there be a more important question in all of human existence than ‘Is there a God?’” Later still, Collins was influenced by the famous author C.S. Lewis, author of the fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, and Lewis’ well-known book, “Mere Christianity.”

After reading that book, he realized that “all of my own constructs against the plausibility of faith were those of a schoolboy.

“When I learned subsequently that Lewis had himself been an atheist, who had set out to disprove faith on the basis of logical argument, I recognized how he could be so insightful about my path.” Collins decided to prove to himself that atheism was the right path for him.

Instead, among the aspects of belief that greatly impacted Collins was the universal presence of a “moral law,” what some call the “natural law” – basically that humans are “wired” for right and wrong, and that this characteristic is not merely a consequence of cultural traditions.

Francis Collins
Google Image
Thinking about the possibility of a God, Collins speculated whether or not this would be a “deist God, who invented physics and mathematics and started the universe in motion about 14 billion years ago, then wandered off to deal with other, more important matters, as Einstein thought.”

No, Collins wrote, “this God, if I was perceiving him at all, must be a ‘theist God,’ who desires some kind of relationship with those special creatures called human beings, and has therefore instilled this special glimpse of himself (the moral law?) into each one of us.”

In this process, which must have included the emotional along with the rational side of Collins, he eventually concluded that “faith in God now seemed more rational than disbelief. …It also became clear to me that science, despite its unquestioned powers in unraveling the mysteries of the natural world, would get me no further in resolving the question of God. If God exists, then he must be outside the natural world, and therefore the tools of science are not the right ones to learn about him.”

There’s much more to this story, of course, and in future blogs I’ll deal with subsequent insights in his book. Briefly, however, Collins embraced religion and now refers to himself as a “serious Christian.”

I heard a National Public Radio report recently about the acclaimed movie, “The Theory of Everything.” Stephen Hawking, a renowned scientist, perhaps the most famous atheist and the subject of the movie, was quoted in the report as saying something to the effect that science will eventually be able to answer any question about the natural world.

He may be right, depending on what he means by “natural world.” There will probably be a scientific “theory of everything” if you’re talking about things you can measure, that is, whatever is not spiritual.

But many people, like Collins, have discovered the spiritual, and that, it seems to me, is an essential step in the search for God, and an answer to the problem of God’s silence.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Faith and Fanaticism

Google Image
The terrorism events in Paris have generated debates about religion and fanaticism and provide ammunition to those who believe religion is irrational and violent. The debates are a good thing, but the view about religion, I believe, is misguided. 

A BBC reporter recently interviewed a woman in England who defended the brutal and lethal methods of radical Islamic groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, which appear to favor mass killings and beheadings in their attempts to conquer parts Iraq and Syria.

When the reporter asked the woman, who had been accused of promoting terrorism in Great Britain, how she could justify breaking British law, she replied that she must obey God’s law rather than civil law. She seemed to apply that principle to the Middle East killings as well.

It reminded me of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles in the Christian Bible in which Peter and some other apostles were hauled before the Jewish Supreme Council in Jerusalem. Council members berated the apostles for preaching about Jesus after the Council had forbidden them to do so.

“Didn’t we give you strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name?” the chief priest asked the apostles. Peter answered, “It’s necessary to obey God rather than men.”

Christians would likely classify the woman in Britain and the terrorists in Paris as fanatics, but not Peter and the apostles. There appears to be a fine line, however, between religious fervor and fanaticism, so what’s the difference?

The dictionary defines a fanatic as a person “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.”

The part about “excessive enthusiasm” is hard to deal with because “excessive” is subjective. I’ve noticed that in some Spanish-speaking countries, the name for "soccer fan" is “fanatico.” So fans are expected to be fanatics when it comes to their sport. Should religious people be any less enthusiastic about their faith?

It’s the second part of that definition that, I believe, is key here, especially the word “uncritical.”

The woman in Britain acknowledged to the reporter, who was evidently a Muslim herself and well-versed in the Quran, that she had not actually studied the Quran nor Islamic theology, but that “wise mullahs,” whom she respects, had and she had adopted their views.

Google Image
In other words, the woman had not done her homework, and that, in my view is what principally separates religious people from fanatics. Most religions, though steeped in mystery and subject to doubt, are rational. They require thoughtfulness and critical thinking. And although I haven’t read much of the Quran, no religion that I know promotes violence.

A few believers do, of course, and appear to be determined to impose their views on others.

If you’re thinking primarily of Islam, however, here’s what one Muslim leader recently had to say on the subject during a recent interview on Fox News. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA Spokesperson Qasim Rashid condemned the attack in Paris and refuted the notion that Islam is inherently violent.

"This is not an Islamic act of terror," he said; "this is just an act of terror done by people claiming to ascribe to Islam. When we study Islam, we see clearly that the Quran condemns this kind of violence categorically. That Prophet Muhammad said that a Muslim is one from whom all others are safe.”

Why, then, asked the interviewer, do “these Islamic extremists, these terrorists use the Quran as justification for committing these kinds of violent acts?”

Answered Rashid: “Well, it's the same reason why any extremist group uses scripture. There's no shortage of extremists in everything. Let's not forget the Lord's Resistance Army, a Ugandan terrorist group that claims to be Christian. And I would vehemently argue against anyone who would blame the Bible, or Jesus Christ, for their acts of terrorism.

This is not about religion,” he said. “This is about political power, this is about uneducated, ignorant youth who are being manipulated by clerics and extremists. And this is why it's all the more important for us, as the moderates, regardless of faith, to stay united and combat this.”

Besides Rashid, the French Muslim Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Arab League, and Al-Azhar, a 1,000-year-old seat of religious learning respected by Muslims around the world, issued statements condemning the Paris attacks.

People searching for God have sufficient struggles with faith, and have sufficient doubts about religion, without having to deal with the question of whether religion is inherently violent. Despite the few who want to impose their “faith” on others by force, the vast majority of religions are rational and teach love and peace, and the vast majority of religious people are rational, loving and peaceful.   


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Can Faith Be Coerced?

Google Image
For years I’ve been interested in Iran. Maybe it’s because I see it not just as the country whose citizens held 52 Americans hostages for 444 days four decades ago and with which the U.S. has a bitter relationship, but as a nation descended from a great Persian culture.

Anyway, I recently read in The Economist that “ordinary Iranians are losing interest in the mosque.

“Iran is the modern world’s first and only constitutional theocracy,” the story says. “It is also one of the least religious countries in the Middle East. …By forcing religion on people it poisoned worship for many. They are sick of being preached at and have stopped listening.

“The country is Islamic in much the same way that Italy is Catholic,” one Iranian economist is quoted as saying.

Isn’t this the pattern when it comes to “official” and entrenched religions? Look at the state of faith in any country that has an official religion or where religion has dominated society. We can start with Anglicanism in Great Britain, Lutheranism in the Scandinavian countries and other parts of Europe; and Catholicism in countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Then there’s Ireland, the land of my ancestors, where until recently the Church dominated society and to some extent, politics. Ninety percent of the Irish attended Mass at least weekly in the 1960s. By 2010, that had dropped to 52 percent. (A slight reversal has been reported in the last 3 years. Could it be that widespread secularization has lowered the church’s profile and more Irish, who have a long history of interest in spirituality and now feel less compelled, want to attend?)

No doubt about it, coercion and religion don’t mix. God invites. He/she doesn’t force himself/herself on us. We are free to reject him/her.

(It could be argued that the case for minor children’s church attendance is different. Some parents insist their minor children attend church even when the children object, just as they insist that their children brush their teeth and get their vaccinations despite children’s objections. At some point – and it’s not easy to know when - the children must be permitted to make up their own minds.)

Google Image
So why does the “invitation” to faith feel like coercion to many people? For many, the activities of religious groups may appear more like compulsion than independence, and joining a religion more like conformism than following one’s own path.

Could it be that Christians, especially, have been a little heavy handed in our approach? Churches, starting with my own, have sought advantage in connecting a culture with Christianity. So, in many people’s minds, to be Irish or Czech or Spanish was to be Catholic; to be British was to be Anglican; and to be Swedish was to be Lutheran. Isn’t mere conformism another form of coercion?

In my opinion, the same danger exists in the close connection many want to make between being American and Christian. Christian values aren’t the same as “patriotic” values, although there may be some commonalities. Contrary to the view of many "patriotic" Christians, Christianity is anti-racism, anti-war and anti-capital punishment, according to the Pope, U.S. bishops and mainstream Protestants.

The other evidence of heavy-handedness is how religion interacts with society. Why do religiously unaffiliated people always describe opinions motivated by faith as attempts at “imposing” their faith on society? Religious people have a right to express their faith in political opinions and in the voting booth, but many in society resent it. Could it be that Christians have often been less than respectful of non-believers, who see the clear risks in mixing religion and politics?

When I worked as a priest in Bolivia, I considered as part of my mission the reversal of the damage done by Spanish conquistadores of a few centuries ago when thousands, maybe millions, of Latin American natives were coerced into baptism. Even presuming that the Spanish were well intentioned, it was obvious among the native people with whom I worked that most were poorly informed about their faith. Many mixed it with the polytheistic practices of their ancestors.

Today we have the awful specter of ISIS, or ISIL, using brutality to convert people in Iraq and Syria. If they expect the result to be committed and devout adherents of Islam, good luck to them.

No, God invites; he/she doesn’t coerce. But his/her invitation includes an RSVP. Like many who ignore RSVPs on invitations to weddings and other events, many of us take our sweet time in getting back to God. We have too much else going on.

According to what we know from Scripture and tradition, God reaches out to us in love, much like a human lover reaches out to his/her beloved. How can we delay our response?



Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Sadness of the New Year

Google Image
Personally, I’m not big on dates and times. I have often forgotten my birthday, and a couple of years ago assumed I was a year older than I actually was – without really thinking about it.

So the New Year holds little meaning for me. I see such observances as human inventions, and though I know society would be hard pressed to function without keeping track of time, I sometimes wonder if we would be better off without it.

But I know that the New Years is among the saddest of times for many people. While some people party much of the night and most of the morning, others feel depressed, thinking that with the close of another year, they have left behind part of their lives and are a year closer to the end.

It’s no wonder when the “theme song” of New Years is the old Scottish tune, “Auld Lang Syne,” whose lyrics are:  

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:

Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old lang syne.

On Old lang syne my Jo,
On Old lang syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On Old lang syne.

Evidently, there are various versions and interpretations of these odd words, ascribed to the poet Robert Burns, but when combined with the melody, it’s a decidedly sad song. “Old Lang Syne” is roughly translated as “long, long ago,” according to Wikipedia. The song does nothing to lessen the overall sadness of the New Year, a sadness which I believe is associated with loss of the past and fear of the future and, ultimately, of death.

So, what are skeptical seekers of God to make of New Years and its rituals?

First, don’t place much importance to the passing of another year. Life goes on, or doesn’t in some cases, in a continuum, completely unaware of months and years. The search for God also goes on, for non-believers – and if they are interested in a genuine faith that is never smug or certain – for believers.

St. Therese
Google Image
One of the most popular saints for Catholics of my generation is St. Therese of Lisieux, named for her hometown in France. A Carmelite nun, she’s known as “the Little Flower,” and “St. Therese of the Child Jesus.” She lived to be only 24 in the last part of the 19th century, and I’ve always thought of her as a pious, syrupy saint with whom I have nothing in common.

But Tomas Halik, the Czech philosopher and psychologist, who won the 2014 Templeton Prize and whom I have often quoted in these blogs, writes that he recently discovered the “real” Therese, someone who had grave doubts about God and life after death.

“I no longer believe in eternal life,” Halik quotes her as saying when she was close to death from tuberculosis. “I feel that there is nothing beyond this mortal life.”

“My mind is gripped by the arguments of the worst materialists,” she is also quoted as saying.

Says Halik: “Not only was Therese to know the collapse of the sweet life of piety, which she had always known up to then; her previous profound sense of God’s closeness was to be swallowed up by mist, darkness, and emptiness.” According to Halik, she describes how Christ led her into a subterranean space “where no sun shines any longer.”

Obviously, no one knows the true state of her mind at the very end of her life. But what is most remarkable about Therese, writes Halik, “is the way she accepted and perceived her contest with God, with darkness and forlornness, her experience with the absence of God, and the eclipse of her faith. She accepted it as a mark of solidarity with unbelievers.”

The point here is not to wish this kind of doubt on anybody, particularly a dying person, nor is it meant to question the value of faith. On the contrary, it’s meant to suggest that without doubt and skepticism, we’re unlikely to understand the real value of faith and unlikely to pursue it with seriousness.

Therese accepted her doubt because she knew and appreciated the joy of belief.



Thursday, December 25, 2014

Juvenile Notions of God and Religion

Google Image
The following is from a recent display, called “Funny Notes from Little Kids,” on the MSN home page:

Dear tooth fareis: My tooth whent down the drane. It was an accident. Will you take this eyelash insted?

From Emerson

An arrow points to a circle Emerson made with his pencil. Presumably, he had placed an eyelash - or part of one – there.

We can smile because a child wrote it. If an adult had written it, it certainly wouldn’t have made it onto a nationwide stage unless it was part of a news story on adults who believe in tooth ferries and who had been denied an education, and we wouldn’t smile.

We adults try not to be childish or juvenile - except when it comes to God and religion. This is especially evident at Christmas time. We get caught up in the childish accidentals and miss the substance. Many of us also have childish or juvenile reasons for believing, and just as childish or juvenile reasons for not believing.

How many of us believers have moved beyond the “old white guy in the sky” idea of God, or of God, the scorekeeper who keeps tabs on our virtues and vices? How many of us still feel that God is going to punish us in some physical way for our misdeeds? How many of us still try to make “deals” with him/her (“I’ll go to church if I get that raise.”), much like children negotiate with their parents?

It’s no wonder many non-believers equate our faith with belief in the tooth fairy.

But how many non-believers, or people who have given up on God and religion, allow themselves to be influenced by the cultural climate and its indifference toward God and faith, much like teenagers who won’t wear warm clothes in the winter because they’re not “cool?” Or how many uncritically accept the negative stereotypes of religion and religious people, like children who are afraid of the old man in the house down the street because of what older children have told them.

Let’s face it. Many of us believe or fail to believe for childish reasons. So, for searchers of God, believers or not, what constitutes a mature faith?

Before getting to that, a disclaimer. I don’t judge anyone’s faith as immature or childish. That’s not my role, nor my point. Everyone’s faith, or lack of faith, deserves respect.

For me, however, an answer to the question about mature faith lies in two seemingly contradictory passages in the Christian Bible.

The first is from Mathew’s gospel, where Jesus tells his disciples they must become “like children.” The second is from Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth. He writes, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

So, which is it? Should I be like a child, or should I “put the ways of childhood behind me?”

Google Image
Both, of course. Regarding Jesus’ words in the gospel, the Message, Catholic/Ecumenical Bible translates Mathew’s quote as “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in.” Jesus wanted his listeners to throw away the baggage of adulthood with its cynicism and distrust and return to the trusting, loving child we once were.

And without abandoning the loving attributes of children, Paul wants his readers to grow up. God is not to be found in the juvenile trappings of religion but in its substance, nor in childish “deals” with God nor in images of God that may not have changed since we were in the eighth grade. If we’re serious about the search for God, we have to do the work. We have to open our minds and hearts, seek out, and read and listen to whatever can help in the search. We have to reconcile our faith with what we know from science and the arts. And we have to remove the obstacles that impede it.

“...Follow some church members through the week," writes Eugene C. Roehlkepartain in Religion-Online. Few will show any signs that they are Christians. They won’t read their Bibles or pray. They won’t work in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. They won’t participate in rallies to fight injustice or discrimination. People in mainline churches live lives unaffected by their faith. And part of the problem is that churches are not doing what it takes to make faith mature.”

The writer is talking about mainline Protestant churches, but my own Catholic Church and many other have the same problem.

No, a mature faith means first, recognizing God as loving father/mother, communicating with him/her, and accepting uncertainty and doubt as part of the deal. Then it means being the person and doing the things Roehlkepartain mentions, especially – in the case of Christianity – reaching out to others.

Does that sound anything like belief in the tooth fairy? Not even Emerson would think so.      

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are Believers Risk Takers?

Google Image
During his first week in college, Michael Conway’s grandmother - a great cook who always shared what she made – died, and after the funeral, Conway got into a conversation with the guy who worked at his dorm’s front desk.

Seeing his stress, the guy invited Michael to join a group called Labre, which seeks out homeless people in downtown Chicago, offering them hot dogs, granola bars and occasional toiletries. The guy obviously knew that Michael needed to “get out of himself,” specifically by “paying forward” his grandmother’s generosity.

Fortunately, it worked for Michael, who took the risk to become a regular member of Labre during his four years in college. I recently read about him and the account of his “calling” in America magazine, making me think of how searchers for God, in a variety of unlikely ways, “find” him/her. Many people today think that searching for God is anything but risky, that it’s an accommodation to the status quo. But is it, really?

I’ve mentioned before in these blogs that in the interest of clarity and better communication with people with whom I’m trying to connect, I avoid “churchy” language and references to the Bible. The language of religion just doesn’t resonate with many people today.

But sometimes stories from the Bible, along with stories like Michael’s, best illustrate what I’m trying to say. The “call of the Apostles” in the Gospels is a case in point. This is from The Message translation of Mark’s gospel.

“Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, ‘Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.’ They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.

“A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.”

“Yeh, right,” I’m tempted to say.

There’s a lot here that doesn’t make sense, not the least of which is the willingness of these fishermen to drop everything and follow this itinerant preacher. One important explanation, of course, is that the four gospels attempt to describe the estimated 33 years of Jesus’ life - focusing on the last three “public” years - in very few words. There’s so much left out.

Google Image
Had Simon, Andrew, James and John heard about Jesus beforehand? Had they already been thinking about a career change and of joining him? Maybe they were deep in debt and wanted to get out of the business. Maybe they were tired of the hard work, long hours and uncertainty of fishing. Maybe James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were fed up with their father. After all, Jesus refers to Zebedee as “Thunder.” Did that indicate he was hot-tempered? 

There is a lot more to these “calling” stories than meets the eye.

A couple of thoughts strike me about the stories’ relevance to us – people who have our own agendas, who are suspicious of the unknown, who need to be persuaded before committing to  something, let alone someone.

First, these apostle recruits may have been “simple” fishermen but they undoubtedly knew what they were doing. They surely calculated the prospects of following Jesus compared to their current lives, even though they could not have seen the tragic ups and downs of a future with him. The details just weren’t included in the gospel.

Second, they probably weren’t the smartest or wisest, let alone the most prominent, people Jesus could have chosen. And they probably weren’t the most devout. They may not have attended synagogue regularly. They may have on occasion cheated buyers of their catch. They may have been in relationships that were forbidden by the religious authorities. They may not have observed the detailed laws prescribed by those authorities. They may have been on the fringes of Judaism. They may not even have believed in God. In short, they were a lot like us.

Still, they were risk takers. Although wandering preachers were common at the time, according to Scripture scholars, Jesus appears to have been unique. His viewpoint on God and God’s relationship to human beings, his demands, his compassion, his self-confidence, his strength, his persistence, his obvious ability to overcome physical and spiritual obstacles were obviously attractive. But actually committing to this preacher was risky.

So, why aren’t these attributes not attractive today, and why are so few people who long for fulfillment in their lives willing to take a risk? Instead of the Jesus who challenges us, who lovingly invites us to faith, many see a plastic, pious, other-worldly Jesus with whom they have nothing in common. Could it be that we may have grown too comfortable with our lives, too smug in our doubts, and intolerant and judgmental about people who don’t share them?

Readers who have given up on God and/or religion may think that this applies mostly to Christians. But the description fits believers and non-believers. And if we’re serious about our search for God, at some point we must become risk takers, making a leap of faith and a commitment, as did Simon, Andrew, James and John, and Michael Conway.



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hope: Faith’s Weaker Cousin?

Photo by Beatriz Botero

Tom Pfeffer, my sister’s brother-in-law, was an extraordinary priest who was pastor of a mostly Hispanic parish before he died in April of 2004. Before that, he was pastor of a rural Iowa parish where he noticed on frequent funeral trips to the cemetery a lone grave outside the official Catholic cemetery.

After some research he found that a man who had committed suicide years before was buried there. According to Catholic rules at the time, the man couldn’t be buried in a Catholic cemetery, considered to be consecrated ground.

Tom made it known that he wanted to be buried next to the man, also outside the official cemetery. It reportedly caused a stir among some who didn’t want their beloved Tom to be buried in “unholy” ground. But Tom won.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t view suicide as a cowardly act resulting from despair. For him, compassion trumped passing judgment. He understood that people can be so down on themselves and their lives that they are driven to take their own lives.

I’m writing about this in an attempt to shed some light on the subject of hope. I’ve had a start to a blog on this subject for some time but just couldn’t get it written because I hadn’t figured out exactly what I wanted to say.

(After reading this blog, Jim Stessman, my friend and former newspaper colleague who reviews these blogs pre-publication, noted that Tom, who was his friend, too, “was a cheerful guy whose face communicated hope.”)    

Still, hope’s meaning seems vague. Isn’t it just faith’s weaker cousin? I’ve sometimes thought that hope better describes my faith.   It occurred to me that I could get into the subject by considering its opposite, hopelessness.

Thankfully, I haven’t experienced hopelessness personally. But many people do, and I imagine it as the worst thing that can happen to you. In the case of hopelessness that results in suicide, it may be the worst thing that can happen to family and friends as well.

I’ve been to places where you would expect to find hopelessness. I experienced terrible poverty while living in South America, but I was shocked about the lack of basic human resources that I found in several later trips to El Salvador.  
Google Image

I remember, for instance, entering a rural shack in the extreme heat and finding an elderly woman sitting alone on the edge of a bed. The shack had little circulation, no fan and sparse furnishings. The woman could barely see or hear and her leg was swollen terribly. My niece, a wonderful nurse, examined her and said she probably had, among other things, untreated congenital heart disease. It likely remained untreated.

Conditions in El Salvador, for me, are a recipe for hopelessness, but you don’t get that impression from Salvadorans, the majority of whom seem resourceful, tenacious and relatively happy.

Still, my experience in El Salvador helps me understand hopelessness, which should help me understand hope. There seems to be a kind of hope that’s superficial, expressed as “I hope it doesn’t snow; that I get a raise; that my candidate wins the election;” or even that “my girlfriend doesn’t get pregnant, or that my Mom survives her breast cancer.”

But hope in the traditional Christian sense is a virtue, which is the way your life conforms to your principles. For Christians and other believers (who are not mentally ill or have other overwhelming problems with which to deal), hope is not allowing hopelessness into your life. It’s trusting that you’re on the right path to God, and never giving up on his/her love. For non-believers, it may simply signify a sense of optimism about the future.

Singer Danny Gokey, who at age 34 had reason for hopelessness with the tragic death of his wife, sums it up well in the lyrics to his song, “Hope in Front of Me.”

There's hope in front of me.
There's a light, I still see it.
There's a hand still holding me
Even when I don't believe it.
I might be down but I'm not dead.
There's better days still up ahead.
Even after all I've seen
There's hope in front of me.