Mere Christianity 17: Hope

In this chapter Lewis talks about the virtue of hope.  This is chiefly a continual looking forward to the next world.  Lewis sums it up with another of the most well-known quotes from this book:  “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”:  aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Much of the good that has been done in this world has been done by Christians who had the hope of heaven as the primary focus of their lives.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.  The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

We really do want heaven, even though we may not realize it at first.  This is because for most of us, our conception of heaven is limited to a place with streets of gold, harps and mansions in the sky, where we get to be with all our friends and loved ones who died before us and favorite Bible characters for all of eternity.  For most of us, heaven is nothing more than that song MercyMe did a few years back.

But the truth of the matter is that if we look honestly inside our hearts, we will find that the things we want most of all are things which cannot be had in this world.  How many of us have fallen in love, or thought of some beautiful, exotic country, or plunged ourselves into some exciting field of study thinking that it would offer us deep and lasting satisfaction in this life, only to find that these things never quite kept their promise?  The person we fell in love with may have been an exemplary spouse, the country may have been exceptionally beautiful, and the profession may have been very rewarding, but there was still something–something that we can’t quite put our finger on or express in words–that eluded us.

There are two wrong ways of dealing with this, and one right way.  Wrong way #1 is to blame the things themselves–that is, to say that if only I had married a different woman or gone for a more expensive vacation, I would have found what I was looking for.  People who take this approach go through a whole lifetime’s worth of women, vacations, hobbies, etc. always thinking that at last they have found what they were looking for and always ending up disappointed.  Wrong way #2 is to just throw up your hands and say that whatever it is that you were looking for is something that doesn’t exist.  People who take this approach usually say things like “Of course it’s natural for you to want to go off chasing rainbows when you’re young.  But eventually we all learn that there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and we just give it up, settle down and live our lives.”

The right way is to acknowledge that if there is a desire that we feel, then there must be something somewhere which satisfies this desire.  And if there is nothing in this world which satisfies this desire, then the desire must be for something which is not of this world.

Unfortunately it is possible to have too much of a focus upon heaven.  Evangelical Protestant-dom has made a specialty of this for the last several decades.  We talk about heaven, what it’s like, how to get there, why it is our ultimate destiny.  Salvation for us is nothing more than going to heaven when we die.  Earth is nothing in comparison to heaven–if anything it is a vicious pit of sin and temptation at every turn just waiting to snatch us off the path to heaven.  Our whole approach to sharing the Gospel is based on heaven–“If you died in a car wreck tonight would you go to heaven or hell?”  “Is your name in the book?”  “When the rapture occurs will you be taken or left behind?”  Preachers get a lot of mileage out of devaluing anyone who values anything in this world so much that they would not be willing to give it up immediately if Jesus were to return right here and right now.

I don’t get this, because I really don’t want to go off to heaven just yet.  I enjoy this world too much for that.  I want to see if Georgia’s football team is anywhere near as good as all those people who talk about winning the national championship this year say it is.  I want to marry.  I want to have kids.  I want to explore and develop my gifts in order to make a difference in the lives of others, knowing full well that these gifts will probably require a full lifetime to develop.

Christianity is not about escaping from this world, it is about living in this world.  Not “Can’t wait to get out of this world”, but the difference that Christ makes in this world.  Like it or not, we were meant to live in this world.  Everything we know of beauty, we know because we have seen it here in this world.  Everything we know of love, we know because we have experienced it here in this world.  God created this world and everything in it, and we are a part of that creation.  It is useless to try to take ourselves out of it.

And yet, there really are longings and desires inside of us which this world cannot satisfy.  This world was never meant to satisfy those desires or longings, and nothing in this world will satisfy them.  Hope is looking forward to the next world where those desires will be fulfilled, and orienting our lives around the expectation that these desires and longings will be fulfilled in the world that is still to come.