Can Hope be False?

Ancient wisdom says that “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.”

I’ve become fixated on these three for about a month now. It started with faith, moved to hope and has now encompassed all three. It is the subject I hope to write about for a little while. I think I have been drawn in this direction as I’ve wrestled with what it means to live, to live fully. As I began to recognize how pragmatism and pessimism deprived me of more faith, it led down a deeper and deeper road to explore those things that defy analysis, are not rational and practical, yet seem essential for this life. For the moment I want to focus on hope, in particular the notion of “false hope.”

Cervantes asked, “Which will you have: wise madness or foolish sanity?” Of course the answer is likely neither, but a little of both. But it is with his question that I address an imagined two camps. I don’t write to the camp that has embraced wise madness, but to many of us who have embraced foolish sanity and perhaps lost some faith, hope and love along the way.

Emily Dickinson describes hope as “the tune…that kept so many warm.” Can that warmth be false? Should it be shunned if it might end? That’s like saying I won’t eat because I’ll get hungry tomorrow. It’s the person who turns down a warm fire because tomorrow he will be cold again. It is the opposite of hope; it is despair to pass up what is in front of us for fear that there may be nothing the next day. The object of our hope may fail, but hope does not.

Is hope ever false? I was talking the other day about the idea of giving someone false hope. As the words came from my mouth, a thought came to mind just as quickly- can there be such a thing as false hope? Perhaps, by focusing so strongly on the object of our hope, we have missed what hope really is. Hope can be false if you view hope as a means to getting what is hoped for. If we define the validity of hope by the quality and likelihood of what is hoped for then hope can only be true if what we hope for comes to pass. But what I am wondering, even suggesting, is that hope has a value in itself. There is a power in hope that exists whether what is hoped for comes to pass or not. I think many of us spend so much time worrying about the validity of our hope that the power and beauty of hope itself is missed. In my opinion, hope isn’t false, but many times what is hoped for does not come to pass. The fire may not last, but I am thankful for the warmth that got me through that night. I want to encourage those who have clung to foolish sanity, embrace some wise madness. This is an encouragement to those whose pragmatism has left them in a black and white world. There is color out there, but it takes some faith and hope to see it.

There is an anxious pessimism that develops in many people that pulls them out of the present and into the future. It makes it impossible to enjoy the moment unless all possible pitfalls are anticipated and avoided. This is one of the many hope stealers. For these individuals, enjoying the hope of the moment becomes life giving and curative.

How can hope be false if it feeds our soul, warms our hearts and carries our feet forward when nothing else could? Much like my blog concerning faith, I question the logic and the timidity we attach to our beliefs. As I contemplate life, I am drawn to the things that defy logic and easy categorization. I am pulled to a place of more radical living and it is there that life seems more real and more powerful.

The New Year is a time when people make resolutions and dream about what their lives might be like. It is a time of hope. There is nothing wrong with hope, it is often the very air we breathe and food we eat. There is a fear that we can starve on false hope, but I’m not sure that we will starve on hope. I think, if nothing else, that we are in equal danger of starving for lack of hope. The object of our hope may disappoint, but hope itself can sustain us.


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