Self-Centered Hopes

Contributing Writer: Aaron Hedges, Inheritance of Hope Technology & Talent Director 

Theologian Arthur McGill finds another kind of “hope” on display.  What he calls a “gospel of having” goes a step further than the “prosperity gospel” by removing any reference to God at all.  This “gospel” is the good news that you can have things to meet your needs, no God needed.  You can have money to meet your material needs.  You can have medicine to meet your medical needs.  You can have attractiveness to meet your relational needs.  You can have education to meet your career needs.  You can have weapons to meet your security needs.  You can have knowledge to meet your decision-making needs.  And on and on and on. 

Whatever you need, there is something available to you, some thing potentially within your possession, that can meet the need.  You need not need.  Need can be eliminated by having.  Good news!  Or is it?

Although he was not American, perhaps no one put these American dreams to the test more fully than King Solomon.  Solomon had every sort of possession in abundance—material wealth, military power, knowledge and wisdom, international acclaim, the best foods and drink, even possession of people for his service and desires—he had everything and every comfort that could be had. 

If having could satisfy someone, it would have satisfied Solomon, yet this is not what we find in his writing.  Instead, his book, Ecclesiastes, is an ode to meaninglessness!  The man who had it all writes not of deep-seated satisfaction but of meaninglessness.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 1:1

Hopes for dis-ease avoidance – the American dream and its cousins, the “prosperity gospel” and the “gospel of having” – lead us to either arrogance or despair.  We may think that we are the masters of our own fate, that we can conquer all obstacles, that we have the power to create a fulfilled life and overcome death.  Since all evidence is to the contrary, this must be deemed a false hope.

Or we recognize the elusive and illusive nature of that self-powered approach and fall into indifference and apathy.  We recognize we can’t have it all, so we resign ourselves to meaningless enjoyment of what we do have, (a)pathetically biding our time with as much distraction as possible until it is our turn to die.  Theologian Jurgen Moltmann calls such hopelessness “diversion in the waiting room of death.” 

Whichever way you take it, in the end dis-ease avoidance does not offer real hope.  It offers self-powered false hope or self-entertaining hopelessness. 

Talk about a dead end!  Death always ends these “hopes.”  Every person who has “hoped” in these self-centered ways has found disappointment.  As alluring as they are, dreams and “gospels” that center on ourselves – our abilities, our comfort, our possessions – are guaranteed to fail.  We simply cannot avoid dis-ease and death forever.

We need a different center.  We need a different kind of hope.