Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent 2

For the recap this week I am posting the following excerpt from an advent meditation fro Miroslav Volf. From this I quoted on Sunday. For discussion I suggest the following questions:

1. How does the Christian vision of hope differ from optimism or wishful thinking?

2. How might the knowledge that Christian hope is fundamentally different from "extrapolitve cause and effect thinking" make you think differently about your daily struggles with various temptations?

3.What sorts of disciplines can help you move the concept of hope from the realm of the abstract to a place deep within your heart - so that our hoped for future begins to impact more and more upon us in the present?

"Optimism is based on "extrapolative cause and effect thinking." We draw conclusions about the future on the basis of the experience with the past and present, guided by the belief that events can be explained as effects of previous causes. Since 'this' has happened, we conclude that 'that' is likely to happen. If an extrapolation is correct, optimism is grounded. Since my son Nathanael could pick up Little Bear and read it when he was in kindergarten, I could legitimately be optimistic that he would do reasonably well in the first grade. If extrapolation is incorrect, optimism is misplaced, illusory. Aaron, my two-year-old, is very good at throwing a ball. But it would be foolish for me to bet that he is likely to land a multimillion-dollar contract with a pro ball team and take care of my retirement. Our positive expectations of the future are based mostly on such extrapolative thinking. We see the orange glow on the horizon, and we expect that morning will be bathed in sunshine. Such informed, grounded optimism is important in our private and professional lives, for the functioning of families, economy and politics. But optimism is not hope. One of Moltmann's lasting contributions was to insist that hope, unlike optimism, is independent of people's circumstances. Hope is not based on the possibilities of the situation and on correct extrapolation about the future. Hope is grounded in the faithfulness of God and therefore on the effectiveness of God's promise. And this brings me to the theme of Advent. Optimism is based on the possibilities of things as they have come to be (the future in this way is dependent on the past); hope is based on the possibilities of God irrespective of how things are. Hope can spring up even in the valley of the shadow of death; indeed, it is there that it becomes truly manifest. The figure of hope in the New Testament is Abraham, who hoped against all hope because he believed in the God "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Rom. 4:17-18). Hope thrives even in situations which, for extrapolative cause-and-effect thinking, can elicit only utter hopelessness. Why? Because hope is based on God's coming into the darkness to dispel it with divine light.

Every year in the Advent season we read the prophet Isaiah: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness--on them light has shined" (Isa. 9:2). This is what Christmas is all about--something radically new that cannot be generated out of the conditions of this world. It does not emerge. It comes. We do not extrapolate it. God promises it." - Volf - for bib. cit. email me.