Something Worth Hoping For
Why do I exist and to what end is my existence? I can trace many of my greatest concerns in life back to this question. Normally, my anxieties and worries are far more shallow and insubstantial and include things like, how skilled of a writer am I? Am I a good enough wife, friend, or daughter? How do I make my teeth whiter and my arms leaner? But if I put much more thought into these queries, I will eventually arrive at a question of existentialism. Deeply rooted in human nature is the need to know if life is valuable and if so, for what purpose. Do you feel that question - a tugging behind your insecurities of worth and value, in your uncertainty about the future or your despair in the present? I know I do.
A professor recently told me that each of us has the ethical obligation to check the validity of any hopeful assertion claiming to answer this question. We must chase after any hopeful pronouncement that life does not end at death, or perhaps more importantly, that there is a way to defeat death. We can choose not to believe such truth claims if they show themselves to be untrustworthy, falsifiable, and inconsistent among other things. But until then, we have the obligation to chase them down.
It seems a beautiful and noble act to trust in a claim that asserts in the end, we will all be redeemed. That perhaps on our own, we haven’t done enough damage to separate us from our Creator or similarly, if left on our own, we’ll do enough to bring us close enough to our Creator for Him to do the rest of the work. That’s a lovely thought - one I have a hard time saying no to. Yet albeit a claim of hope, this is ultimately a claim of self-justification that centers on a goodness located internally within the human spirit.
More than Mediocre Goodness
If all we must do to escape the clutches of sin is think, work or even love more, God becomes an afterthought. God’s sustaining creation and salvation are not necessary in the least when we seek salvation, or at least assistance in salvation, from our own capabilities. While many would assert the reverse, this argument is based on the choice and action of individual humans rather than on the choice or action of God. A universalist assertion, then, is an assertion of hope not for the salvation of all through a good and gracious God, but simply an assertion of hope for the salvation of a singular individual. It is only a repackaging of works-righteousness, and an attempt to falsely separate the fate of humankind from the purpose of our Creator.
If I could rely solely on my goodness to save myself, I surely would. Lord knows I try to do this all the time (hence the teeth whitening). Yet no matter how hard I try, my goodness always fails me. It fails me because there is no way to quantify nor measure how much goodness one needs in life. It fails me because I’m never good enough, and even when I think I am, the actual world reminds me I've screwed up more time than I can count. Mediocre goodness, the type of goodness we all expend, doesn’t prove itself a worthy salvific claim to trust in.
Fortunately, there is hope expressed in another way that does not rely on our participation. It’s a hope based on a real man who lived a real life, died a real death and claimed to rise from the dead in order to conquer the sin of all humanity and save those who profess belief in him. Putting hope in the cross of Christ means putting hope outside of anything – mentally, physically or even spiritually – you do. It defies authoritarian structures that rely on the power of man. It runs contrary to our natural reason in every way possible. It is rooted in this world through it’s historical, tactile earthiness and yet hopeful in it’s assertions for something cosmic. The claim of hope found in the cross tells me I exist because I am loved and I am saved because this love is great enough to die for me. This is a claim that holds up to it’s reliability and the purpose it professes, and that’s something, in my opinion, worth hoping for.