I am without hope.
Well, I’m not actually, but I am according to many of the Christians who engage me in futile dialogue about how lost I am, how much in need of repentance I am and how not believing in Jesus leaves me entirely adrift in life. ‘Hope of what?’ I invariably ask, and they tell me of being resurrected after I die, of avoiding the judgement of God in the post-mortem state and of spending eternity thereafter with the Lord.
And I have to agree, I am without hope of these things. In return I tell them that evidence shows us that people do not live forever, that because no-one survives death there can be no judgement after it and that no-one therefore gets to spend eternity with the Lord (never mind the fact there’s no Lord to spend it with.) No-one in the entire history of humankind, I tell them, has ever done such things. They say then that they feel sorry for me, because the bible promises they will happen and that only as a Christian (repent! repent!) can I have hope that I will enjoy them for myself.
Just in case you were wondering, all this Christian ‘hope’ in impossible events might sound like it’s indistinguishable from wishful thinking, but it’s not! Here’s how the Desiring God website puts it:
When you read the word “hope” in the Bible (like in 1 Peter 1.13* ‘set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’), hope is not wishful thinking. It’s not “I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but I hope it happens.” That’s absolutely not what is meant by Christian hope.
Christian hope is when God has promised that something is going to happen and you put your trust in that promise. Christian hope is a confidence that something will come to pass because God has promised it will come to pass.
*written by someone who wasn’t Peter, but we’ll overlook that.
So, you see, Christian ‘hope’ is fixing one’s own wishful thinking onto the wishful thinking of people who lived two thousand years ago, people who believed with certainty that Jesus would be coming to the Earth through the clouds to rescue them at any moment. Having hope today is trusting in this mistaken belief; wishing and hoping that these guys were right, when clearly they were wrong. The hope of today’s wishful thinkers is that the wishful thinking of the past will eventually happen. But these first century wishful thinkers were making it all up; wishing and hoping and praying that Jesus would be back soon, that the resurrection process that they thought he’d begun would continue with them and that they’d inherit the Earth and live forever. As Word of God for Today puts it:
Paul spoke* of the “…hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time… (Titus 1:2). Only in Christianity is there such a promise of glorious life beyond the grave. The hope of eternal life is very important, and even if we Christians have hope only in this life we are of all people most miserable (1 Cor. 15:19).
*Not Paul, but we’ll overlook that too.
I sometimes ask Christians to point me to one person, one ordinary mortal who has ever achieved immortality – not someone from a story or (biblical) myth; not Jesus who wasn’t, according to them, an ordinary man, but an incarnate deity – who has survived death and gone on to live with God forever. They can’t, of course. None of the bible’s scenarios for the end of the age, the return of Jesus, the resurrection of believers and the rest has ever come to pass. Nor will it.
Despite their denials, hope that all these fantasies will come true is wishful thinking, just like the Rastafarians hope that Haile Selassie will return from the dead to rescue the descendants of slaves from Jamaica, or my fantasy that one day I’ll win the lottery when I don’t even buy a ticket. It’s wishing, as countless people from different cultures and religious background have throughout history, that life doesn’t end when we die.
Christian hope is futile wishful thinking in an impossible dream. I for one am glad to be without it.
Why is hope a good thing to anybody? Hope implies a way out of this life. Hope implies that the world we live in is so undesirable that there must be something better.
Even when I was a believer, I had issues with this way of thinking. The people who said, “this life has nothing for me. I’m waiting on the next one.” That was always like a huge slap in the face of God to me. He supposedly created all of this for us and we throw it back and say, ‘No thanks. Give me something better.”
But as an unbeliever now, hope is an odd concept. Hoping for something after we die. Hoping that life doesn’t really end. Hoping for something more. I can understand and empathize with people who do not wish to die. I get that. But to say that our only purpose in this life is to please a god in order for a different life later on? What a strange idea. That’s Christianity in a nutshell though, isn’t it? Hope and pray in this life solely for reasons concerning the next life. To be honest, it’s all rather absurd.
We have only one life guaranteed. We have only one life that we can absolutely be sure of. That life is here and now. Focusing only on the next one that some believe is really there when they die, is making people squander opportunities for happiness in this life.
Is this life really so bad that we are quick to be rid of it? To hell with this one…on to the next? There is so much beauty, mystery and discovery all around us. Too many people have put their blinders on and focus so much on looking up that they miss all of the wonder right in front of them.
Absolutely right, Ben. This is it, no rehearsal, no test. We make the most of this life or not, but there’s nothing after it, let alone something better.
I’ve never been able to understand the Christian claim that God intended us to live with him, once this life was over, as spiritual beings of some sort. If this is the case, what is the point of this existence? If we are intended to be eternal spiritual beings, why not make us that way to begin with? Why create us as physical beings with a very limited life span and a nature that is anathema to God? Like everything else in Christianity it makes no sense.
I don’t want to leave this life – I enjoy it too much – but know I must, one day. Until then I’ll continue to make the most of it, appreciating all it has to offer. Pleased to hear you do too.
I never understood that either. Why create us with this temporary life if we were made for a better eternal one? They say it isn’t about works yet we are also told that this lofe we have was given so that we could do things to please God and win more souls to Christ. That sounds suspiciously like works to me.
Christianity doesn’t make sense to me any longer. Not even a little bit. Which is funny, because when I was a believer, I would swear up and down that it made sense and was the only truth. I was fully convinced with absolutely no reason to be. Cults are like that. They fill your head with happy thoughts and even if those thoughts don’t make sense, you are somehow talked into believing them.
I do find myself wasting too much time in this life doing unproductive things, but even when I do, it’s on my terms. If I have some lazy days when nothing gets accomplished, that’s my choice and it just affects me and the life I have now. I don’t worry about letting God down or how my choices affect eternity. It’s my life and I’ll do what I wish with it. If God is real and disapproves, he can come down and let me know face to face. I think that’s fair.
Hi Ben, I was putting together a response to you and it became a blog post in its own right. So, for better or worse, you inspired what follows!
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