The world is undeniably pretty messed up right now. Maybe, it even seems that it’s worse than it’s ever been. You hear too much of the pessimistic details already. You know them too well. But it’s not the worst that its ever been. Take the world of the Old Testament wisdom book Ecclesiastes, for example. For the author the world is so degraded as to have no sense of purpose, nothing better than ever-present evils visible everywhere, nothing in which to hope or to find any joy:
Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors, there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive, but better than both is he who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.Ecclesiastes 4:1-2
Man in this state and from this viewpoint after the fall yet before the redemption has no hope. Like the views of Immanuel Kant, it is almost seemingly better to not be rational, to not be human, to be only a child and die a child, thus avoiding at least the concerns and confusion that come from the mind. But yet, because even children, and obviously adults, do have the rationality, and the self-perception that comes with it, man is almost worse off than the non-rational animals. For the perception that he will come to the same end as the animals causes even more pain for him on top of those of the world and those of the evils in the world. God has “put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Yes, by the time Ecclesiastes was written there were arguments, even proofs for the immortality of the soul. But for man in this state as we know Theologically, there would be relatively little difference between being dead and never having existed. Sure, you have existence, but such existence is merely
They’re seemingly all that man has to look forward to, to see beyond the evils he faces. Dark, nothingness, no perception of yourself, nothing… Like Hamlet saw for himself, maybe this seems preferable to the evils of the world, but its certainly nothing to desire to live for.
And thus the time before man’s redemption, except for those, who like Abraham, had faith, had faith that there would be an object of hope, some end greater than nothingness and disintegration, something that although not yet made attainable in time, would be. By faith they made it present in their now, as Pope Benedict XVI accounts in his encyclical Spe Salvi, as in fact, a basis for their actions. Faith is a supernatural virtue, so it came to them by the special help, grace, of God acting within them, and it was as regarding this special end as being attainable by the gift of God. That end as attainable is our reaching God, which by Christ’s Incarnation did again become attainable, did become something that we could believe in, and with faith, see as real, now.
Such is what Pope Benedict says about the power of faith and hope upon the martyrs, to disregard the present evils as less real than the real end of man made possible by Christ. With the end possible, there can be hope, there can be joy. Order can be seen in the world, because even as it seems that all is scattered, and worse than we have seen before, we both don’t have the full picture and we do. We know the final end for man is attainable and is real. And we also know that we don’t know all the details of how this will be achieved and worked out through the sequential nature of the temporal order. But we know that the end is there, most importantly.
We despair because we see the temporal order we don’t have full knowledge of as being in total disarray. By our human natural power it is. But we know the end. And it’s certainly not in disarray. For the order is God’s, the whole world is so unimaginably more in God’s power and control than we can think of it to be. And as such we know that the end is comic. The end is unitive. The end is joyful. The end should be the principle by which we act even now. It is an end unchanging and fixes in its philanthropic love. It is an end that is not just an idea, a principle, or a set of laws. It’s a person. And the reality of the union we can achieve through cooperation with his grace is more real than anything we now consider.
Estote populum spei!
Jesus Christ is God’s gift of hope to man. When God became man, hope became into man. Hope entered the world. And that hope is still here!