Great challenge to human hope

By Dave Henning / March 8, 2024

“The great challenge to human hope is not just the question of where history is going but of where we are going.  The great problem is how to have a human hope that can make sense of death, stand up to death, and help us to face the fear of death and even triumph over it. . . .  One of the crucial parts of the Christian story has always been ‘deliverance from death through Christ.’ “- Timothy Keller

In Chapter 8 (“A Hope That Can Face Anything”) of Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller underscores that Christianity gives us resources for a future hope.  A future hope unlike any other.  Yet, Pastor Keller, in citing Christopher Lasch, argues that secular optimism achieves disastrous results.  Because it weakens our collective ability to face difficulties and suffering.  In addition, secular optimism fails to move people to sacrifice immediate pleasures for a larger purpose.

Therefore, only hope provides the alternative to secular optimism.  For example, Howard Thurman, an African American scholar at Boston University, gave a famous lecture in 1947 on the meaning of “Negro spirituals.”  Furthermore, he engaged criticism of the spirituals as too otherworldly, filled with references to heaven.

Hence, Pastor Keller also comments on that criticism.  Timothy writes:

“Why could nothing destroy [the slaves’] hope?  It was because it was otherworldly, it was not based on any circumstances within the walls of this world.  It lay in the future of God.  This hope enabled them to ‘affirm a terrible right to live.’ ”

In conclusion, Pastor Keller stresses that culture’s hope in individual freedom fails to incorporate into itself and render meaningful the single most unchanging and certain fact of human life,  Death. Consequently, the author counters, it’s an illusion to insist that death is nothing to be frightened about.  Because such a stance muffles the obscenity of death.  So, in the next blog, Pastor Keller explores why we fear death. Why it makes us rage.  That Christian hope has something to say.

Today’s question: Do you see death as the great challenge to human hope?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Our champion of salvation”

About the author

Dave Henning

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