Christian Hope Is Impossible

After reading my last post about Jesus’ triumph over death, my neighbor Sara Langseth shared with me an email she’d written to some friends, with whom she was discussing radical environmentalism and the future (if any) of our planet. Sara has been reading a book by Derrick Jensen, who argues that our industrial culture is turning natural resources into poisonous waste at such a rate that our individual green-lifestyle choices aren’t going to fix it.

Unsettled by Jensen’s call to bring down this culture through violent resistance, but unconvinced that personal virtue is enough, Sara finds herself musing about original sin:

Even my numb brain wonders whether Jensen’s eager endorsement of blowing up dams is any more of an answer. I wonder, really, whether the only thing left to do is say that I — we — are being broken to bits by our own powers, our own principalities, and that the very first thing we have to do is feel this, in any small way we can. Feel it and know that there is no personal morality here. That this isn’t about whether a “green” activist will smile and give me the thumbs-up
> because I compost my apple cores and ride my bike around. Again, if I were able to understand Christian theology, I’d say I was talking about original sin….

…This is why I am a Christian, even with all the absurd BS that being “Christian” means to all of us: because it’s not about my personal morality. To everyone who argues that “the world is a better place” because of some small thing I might do to make it die more slowly — my point was that this is NOT the point. My point is that we may well be absolutely screwed, absolutely doomed, and that I can not separate my culpability from yours. I feel like sometimes I have to sit with this and let the horror of this penetrate my bones. I have to hang on my own cross and ask, “Eli, eli lema sabacthani?” Otherwise I’m going to be hopelessly goggle-eyed and ridden with denial.

“Eli lema sabthani?” – “My God, why have you forsaken me?” – is what Mark and Matthew record Jesus saying on the cross before he dies.

(Luke and John make him much more confident about the whole thing.) The Mark and Matthew version is pretty rich: Jesus’ death is a real death here. He loses everything — the Son of God is utterly alone — God has lost God.

(It’s a rich quote for other reasons, but I’m going to stop with that before I get wordy and pedantic.)

I don’t think the point of Christianity is to quickly bypass horror and death with syrupy promises of resurrection. The pious picture of the Christian saint giving a sappy smile as the lion comes to eat him is utterly, utterly wrong. My point is that Christian hope comes from somewhere in the middle of the contact point between the lion’s teeth and the saint’s jugular. It’s a hope that shows up when hope is impossible. It’s a hope that makes no sense.

I do not understand this hope, and I do not know why I believe in this hope — or even IF I actually believe in this hope at all. But it’s the only straw I’ve got, the only thing I can hold onto that doesn’t break to bits at the moment I grasp it. And it’s the only straw I can grab that makes me turn around and believe that the world is real, and makes me want to love it.

I am not going to go blow up a dam.

My own temptation to despair is usually ethical rather than environmental–the cruelty and indifference of human beings towards their own. The common root of the two dilemmas may well be the same failure of our imagination to see other sentient beings as ends in themselves. Impossible hope is the only honest hope, sometimes–the only one that isn’t complicit in this failure, but rather allows us to keep our eyes open to the pain, not minimizing it as “good religious people” who are supposed to “think positive”.

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