Hope: Why Every Human Being Needs It

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Hope as Looking Forward to Better Days to Come

The author of Ecclesiastes reflects on the absolute importance of hope, the sine qua non in a person’s life, saying,

“For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion.  For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:4-5, NIV).

Hope is looking forward, believing in a future which is better than the present. Koheleth’s message is realistic, not pessimistic. That is to say, as long as one is alive, there is still hope.1 Hope ends when one dies. Hope, then, is for this life, the here and now. Even when it comes to believing in life-after-death, one hopes for it now, because after death, either one’s hope is fulfilled or it is not. In the words of philosopher Peter Kreeft,

“Only angels do not need hope, for they do not live in time and have no future. But we creatures of time are constantly moving into the future, and our eyes are usually facing forward, [in need of hope].”2

A Distinctively Human Virtue

Hope is one of the most important spiritual virtues (cf. I Corinthians 13:13), along with faith and love. Every person has the spiritual potential to hope. Neither cats nor dogs nor birds hope but humans do. To be human, then, is to hope. It is literally a matter of life and death. With it, one lives with meaning. Without hope, one lives in despair.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Example of Hope

Hope is developed from oppositions to one’s aims or from obstacles, which stand in the way of pursuing one’s goals. It is also developed from the temptation to give up, when everything seems hopeless. As Solzhenitsyn says, referring to the inmates in the concentration camps, “The fighters’ spiritual strength rises to the greatest height and to a supreme degree of tension when their situation is most helpless….”3 Through exercising the virtue of hope, it becomes an inner, spiritual strength that helps one to cope with adverse conditions – spiritual, mental or physical – which either can or cannot be changed.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was arrested for criticizing Josef Stalin – the former leader of Russia or the Soviet Union – and sentenced to a total of eight years in various Soviet concentration camps learned there that “All that the downtrodden can do is go on hoping. After every disappointment they must find fresh reason for hope.”4 For Solzhenitsyn, hope was necessary for survival. He often had to find new reasons to hope in order to stay alive.

The Prophet Jeremiah’s Example of Hope

Every day is a new reason for hope. For example, the prophet Jeremiah, who is known as “the weeping prophet,” could not change the destruction of the city Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587-  86 B. C. He mourned over all of the dead men, women and children who lay in the streets of the holy city. Yet, right in the middle of that tragedy, despite everything that had happened to Jerusalem and God’s people, Jeremiah hoped for better days to come, a brighter future, saying,

“My soul … is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:20-24, RSV).

 Jeremiah’s message of hope to the exiled Jews applies to every human being, especially anyone who is encountering some kind of difficulty or problem:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).

Every person, then, needs to believe that there is still “hope and a future” for him or her.

Viktor Frankl’s Example of Hope

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, illustrates the need for hope by his experience in a concentration camp:

“When we spoke about attempts to give a man in camp mental courage, we said that he had to be shown something to look forward to in the future. He had to be reminded that life still waited for him, that a human being waited for his return.”5

Hope, then, is looking toward the future, especially during difficult times, believing that things will be better than they are now. It is Frankl’s lesson from the living laboratories of the concentration camps. He comments,

“The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.”6

Hope as Active Passivity

Hope involves patience. In fact, in biblical Hebrew, hope may be translated as “wait” (qavah, cf. Psalm 62:5; Isaiah 40:31) To hope, then, means to “wait,” to “look eagerly for” or “expect.” Hence, hope is active passivity or living in the present, while aiming toward and doing something about a better future. Hope also involves faith, believing that the object of hope, which, at present, is unseen, will be realized or come to pass in the future. In that sense, hope is positive, optimistic. As St. Paul writes, “… hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:24-25, NASB).

Hope, therefore, is the “fuel” that keeps human beings alive. The head and heart must “feed” on hope. To “feed” on it is to have, every day, a reason to live. Keep on hoping, keeping hope alive!

Endnotes

1. Michael A Eaton, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 16: Ecclesiastes, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove, IL.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), p. 126.

2. Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 176.

3. Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 3: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Parts V – VII, trans. Harry Willetts (New York, N.Y.: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1978), p. ix.

4. Ibid., p. 298.

5. Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster/ Pocket Books, 1963), p. 146.

6. Ibid., p. 117.

Corrie ten Boom (1892 — 1983): “Righteous Among the Nations”

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Corrie ten Boom

Brief Historical Background on the Ten Boom Family

Corrie ten Boom was born on April 15, 1892 in Haarlem, North Holland. She was raised in the Christian tradition of the Dutch Reformed Church. Her family had a deep respect for the Jews, calling them “God’s ancient people.” That would explain why, when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, starting in May 1940, Corrie and her family saved many Jewish people from being deported to the concentration camps in Germany. The family did that by being involved in the Dutch Resistance, an “underground” movement, which hid Jews from the Nazis. Also, on a regular basis, Corrie’s family provided food and shelter for the Jews.

However, on February 28, 1944, Corrie and the members of her family were arrested and imprisoned for hiding Jews in the ten Boom house. Casper, Corrie’s father, died in Scheveningen prison. But in September 1944, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were deported to the concentration camp in Ravensbrück, where they subjected to harsh and humiliating treatment by the prison guards. Betsie died in Ravensbrück in December 1944. Shortly thereafter, Corrie was accidentally released from the concentration camp.

Corrie’s Challenge and Difficulty in Learning to Forgive Others

In 1947, three years later, Corrie recalled meeting one of the Ravensbrück prison guards in Munich, Germany, saying,

“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him – a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken … the message that God forgives. …

“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

“… Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course — how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.

“‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out — ‘will you forgive me?’

“And I stood there … and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there — hand held out — but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“… And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. …

“‘Jesus, help me! I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much.’ …

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.

“And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then. …”

Corrie’s Teachings on Forgiveness

Corries explains to her readers what forgiveness is and is not. First, she writes, “forgiveness is not an emotion,” a feeling. Nowhere in the Christian Scriptures is a believer told to wait until he or she feels like forgiving his or her offenders. If that were the case, then a person may not forgive at all, because, usually, feelings themselves are not forgiving.

Second, Corrie says, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” A person’s will, the faculty of choice, must override the feelings, choosing to forgive his or her offenders. From that act of forgiveness, feelings may follow or they may not.

Third, not forgiving the offender is self-destructive, “poisoning” a person’s mind or soul, imprisoning him or her with bitterness and even hatred. Corrie writes,

“Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.”

By not forgiving the offender, he or she has an emotional “hold” on a person, exercising power over his or her life. Therefore, for the sake of the person who has by violated, wounded, in order for him or her to move on with his or her life, forgiveness should be granted to the offender.

Fourth, Corrie teaches that forgiveness is not necessarily a one-time, once-for-all event. Rather, it is an on-going struggle to let go of the emotional hurt or pain inflicted on a person by his or her offender. In Corrie’s words,

“And having thus learned to forgive in this hardest of situations [the Nazi prison guard], I never again had difficulty in forgiving: I wish I could say it! I wish I could say that merciful and charitable thoughts just naturally flowed from me from then on. But they didn’t.

“… [S]ome … Christian friends whom I loved and trusted did something which hurt me. You would have thought that, having forgiven the Nazi guard, this would have been child’s play. It wasn’t. For weeks I seethed inside. But at last I asked God again to work His miracle in me. And again it happened: first the cold-blooded decision, then the flood of joy and peace.”

In her own way, Corrie knew the struggle of the Jewish people, for upon their release from the Nazi concentration camps, they, too, had difficulty forgiving the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Promoting Christian-Jewish Relations

While Corrie recognized that many Christians in her day were responsible for virulent forms of anti-Semitism, she had learned from the faith of her father to have a deep respect for the Jewish people. She put her faith into practice, becoming an activist, saving many Jewish lives. And for her good works and valiant efforts, on December 12, 1967, Corrie ten Boom was recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel. On July 22, 2007, Yad Vashem also recognized Casper and Betsie ten Boom as Righteous Among the Nations. Corrie, her father and sister have also received recognition in the “Holocaust Encyclopedia” of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

30 Minute Meditations on Being Human from the Life and Writings of Viktor Frankl, Day 10: The Last of Human Freedoms

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Lesson for the Day: You always retain the freedom to choose how you respond to adversity and suffering.

“We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  There may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Source: Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 75.

30 Minute Meditations on Being Human from the Life and Writings of Viktor Frankl, Day 9: Finding Meaning in Love, Suffering and Death

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Viktor Frankl: Founder of Logotherapy

Lesson for the Day: Even in a concentration camp, a person can, if he or she so chooses, find meaning in love, suffering and even death itself.

“As far as I was concerned, I felt duty-bound to my mother to stay alive. We two loved one another beyond all else. Therefore my life had a meaning – in spite of everything. But I had to count upon death any minute of every day. And therefore my death also should somehow have meaning – as well as all the suffering that I would have to go through before it came. And so I made a pact with Heaven: if I should have to die, then let my death preserve my mother’s life; and whatever I should have to suffer up until the time of my death was to purchase for her a sweet and easy death when her time came. Only by imagining it in terms of such a sacrifice was my tormented existence endurable. I could live my life only if it had a meaning; but I also wanted to suffer my suffering and die my death only if suffering and death also had a meaning.”

Source: Viktor E. Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Vintage Books/ Random House, 1986), pp. 137-138.

30 Minute Meditations on Being Human from the Life and Writings of Viktor Frankl, Day 8: Ascribing Dignity to Every Human Being

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Viktor Frankl

Lesson for the Day: Dignity (respect) is to be ascribed to all human beings, even those who, through committing evil acts, don’t deserve it.

“‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’ ‘He is a reed,’ said Pascal, ‘but a reed which thinks!’ And it is in this thinking, this consciousness, this responsibility that constitute the dignity of man, the dignity of each individual human being. And it is always to be ascribed to the individual person whether he preserves this dignity or tarnishes it. Whereas the first behavior is personal merit, the second constitutes personal guilt.”

Source: Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1967), pp. 110-111.

30 Minute Meditations on Being Human from the Life and Writings of Viktor Frankl, Day 7: From Self-Transcendence to Self-Fulfillment

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Viktor Frankl Lecturing

Lesson for the Day: Being for others; doing for others; going out of oneself to others; unselfish service for others: Dr. Frankl calls that “self-transcendence.” It gives meaning to life, fulfilling a person.

“Being human is being always directed, and pointing, to something or someone other than oneself: to a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter, a cause to serve or a person to love. Only to the extent that someone is living out this self-transcendence of human existence, is he truly human or does he become his true self. He becomes so, not by concerning himself with his self’s actualization, but by forgetting himself and giving himself, overlooking himself and focusing outward.”

Source: Viktor E. Frankl, The Unheard Cry for Meaning: Psychotherapy and Humanism, rev. ed. (New York, N.Y.: Washington Square Press, 1978, Washington Square Press ed. 1985), p. 38.

30 Minute Meditations on Being Human from the Life and Writings of Viktor Frankl, Day 6: Having a Reason to Live

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Viktor Frankl Giving a Speech

Lesson for the Day: Hope is having faith in the future. It is a belief in the unseen or “not yet,” despite whatever difficulty or hardship one may be enduring in the present.

“When we spoke about attempts to give a man in [the concentration] camp mental courage, we said that he had to be shown something to look forward to in the future.  He had to be reminded that life still waited for him, that a human being waited for his return.”

Source: Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p.  99.