“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” John Cleese mutters these lines at the end of a manic episode in the film ‘Clockwise’. It’s a comedy about a headmaster with control issues, in which everything that could go wrong does go wrong.
But he’s right. So much of the tragedy in life hits us because we do hope. We know how badly things can go wrong. Wars break out, love fades, marriages break, friendships fail, things get lost, people die.
I think it’s the people dying that affects me most.
Especially when you love them. I mean, it’s ridiculous and frankly offensive. All those years of learning things, loving people, caring for children, making friendships, hugging and kissing, laughing loving and hoping, and suddenly, sometimes without warning, they are gone.
And all the questions that death forcibly pushes under our noses, the ‘why’s and what for’s and what’s it all about’, they could all be resisted and ignored, if only we didn’t’ hope; if only we didn’t expect life and love to have meaning – and go on – and not be snuffed out.
We can try to manage the despair. We can pretend there is no real meaning, no purpose to love, that nothing is lost when it breaks, so long as we hide behind the despair. But once we begin to start hoping, we are in real trouble.
I remember my father’s death most clearly of all. What on earth was this empty carcass that I was sitting beside. It looked a bit like him, and reminded me of him, but it was totally empty. His body without his soul, mind and life in it, was ridiculous. A waste of space. Where had he gone- why had he gone? And none of these questions would have mattered if secretly, deep down, I didn’t suspect that there might be some meaning to life which outlasted things going biologically bust.
Without being haunted by this hope, I could do what I liked. Take what I wanted; grab what I fancied. Except I had tried that once as a teenager, when as an experiment I lived alternative years as first a deliberately selfish atheist, and then attempting the selfless Christian, so see what the difference was.
Living without meaning, and so without hope, certainly buffered me from being hurt, but it didn’t make me happy. I could either be hopeful, and so hurt and happy, or hopeless and numb.
I’m always a bit surprised at how casual some people are about Easter. Why settle for a spring bank holiday, bunnies and chocolate, when, if it’s true that Jesus rose from the dead, you can have hope, forgiveness, and love that never gets lost?
I can understand some people saying that the odds are too high- the issues are just too important to put all your eggs, chocolate, or otherwise into the one basket of the life of Jesus, – except that if it did turn out to be true that Jesus rose from the dead, the implications are overwhelming.
It would mean that all out hope and longings were vindicated. It would mean that we were created to be who we were, we did have a Father in heaven to welcome us home, we were made spiritually and morally clean for ever by his sacrifice, we can find forgiveness for those who are us with the forgiveness we have been given, we won’t be condemned for the misery we have caused others, we will meet the people we have loved after death – broken lives can be mended, the hope is real!
The great 19th and 20th century philosophers like Feuerbach and Freud tried to persuade us this was all just childish wish fulfilment. ‘We wanted it so badly we would believe anything to make it real’.
But whether or not Jesus rose from the dead is nothing to do with my wishes. He either didn’t, in which case he was a self-deluding fool who conned everyone as well as himself; or else he did, in which case everything he promised is real; death is temporary and love and hope win. Instead of nothing mattering – all our affections and longings and hopes matter enormously.
The longing to love and be loved, to chose hope over despair, and meaning over the ephemeral and transitory become gifts rather than taunts and frustrations. Because rooted in the reality of heaven, they are intended to make us hungry for heaven, and the hunger is one that will be fed and not frustrated. If Jesus rose from the dead, life and longing make sense. Happy Easter.