Source: Brian Holdsworth on YouTube
Music composed and generously provided by Paul Jernberg. Find out more about his work as a composer here: https://pauljernberg.com
Anxiety and depression can be debilitating. They can make you turtle up and opt out from the business of living life and despair is the crippling result.
When we lose any sense of purpose, meaning, or hope, it’s the kind of thing that can completely derail your life – which is to say, we need hope to live. We need hope to give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning and live our lives as if there was a good reason to do it.
But what is hope? Hope is something that people of nearly every walk of life admit is a good thing. Politicians and ideologues of every wind of doctrine employ the language of hope because they know how universally appealing it is.
Hope could be described as our willingness to look forward with the trust that things will get better. But what is that based on and what do we mean by better?
Because if by better, we mean that all of our wishes and expectations will be satisfied, what are we basing that on? Is it past experiences? Because if we find ourselves in a place of struggle and adversity in the present, it can only be because the past didn’t deliver on those expectations.
So what makes us think the future will be any different? This, for me, forces us to confront the fact that there are two opposing and competing views out there with variations in between. One is that God exists, he created us with a purpose, and he is intentionally invested in our lives. The other is that there is no God and that our existence is the consequence of an incalculably long sequence of cause and effect propelled by random chance.
Yet both the theist and the atheist need hope to survive. The consequences for giving into despair are the same. They are crippling doubt, anxiety, lethargy, and varying degrees of self destruction.
But if we both need hope to survive, what informs it? Is it irrational optimism that insists everything will turn out great in spite of our past experiences and any reasonable forecast for the future? That doesn’t seem to work. Nothing in my experience tells me that living a lie is healthy for my body or mind.
If you’re an atheist, you believe that your life came about through random indifferent chance. You’re an accident of the natural processes of the universe assembled through an impossibly unlikely sequence like trillions of monkeys typing on keyboards until one of them accidentally writes a Shakespearean play.
You will live 80 some years if you’re lucky which, when compared to the 13 billion or so years of the universe, is a number so small that it might as well not be measured. You will drift around a mostly vacant universe until you die without any discernible rhyme or reason.
If hope means looking forward to some anticipated good, what grounds does an atheist have to do that? For an atheist, looking forward means anticipating the ongoing process of aging and deterioration until your eventual demise and nothing more.
If you’re a theist or a Christian, like me, you can also anticipate suffering and death as you look ahead, but you can do so with the consolation that this process will lead towards the ultimate fulfillment of your life, what every religion calls salvation or deliverance.
To be a Christian doesn’t mean to expect God’s going to make everything turn out how you want it to in this life, in spite of what every televangelist would have you believe. It means that your suffering comes with a purpose. That it has the potential to sanctify you and transform you into what you were created to be.
Both the atheist and the theist need hope to fend off despair. But the atheist has no way of reconciling this need with his or her perspective and nothing truly to place their hope in. Therefore either hope is irrational or their belief which contradicts hope is irrational. To concede the former is to embrace despair and death. To embrace the latter is to admit that atheism cannot be true.
As CS Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
If we can recognize that we need hope to survive but there is nothing in our material prospects to fix our hope on, perhaps it’s time to concede that our hope should be placed in something that transcends the material world.
This is what has always been my safeguard against the potential effects of anxiety. I still get stressed like anyone else, but at the end of the day, I’m consoled by the fact that no matter how bad things get, my experiences, including and especially my suffering, are accumulating towards an ultimate good which is the only good reason to justify our inescapable need for hope.
Header image: Anh Nguyen via unsplash.com