Lesson 6a: Hope: Time and Eternity

In the Old Testament the virtue of Hope is directed to the coming of the Messianic Age when peace and justice will reign on earth. The fulfillment of this hope was long delayed because of Israel's failure to carry out her covenanted witness to the One True God for all the nations. It is only in the last books of the Old Testament such as Daniel, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Wisdom that the rewards of a future life are clearly taught. Although the pagans of the Near East did believe in a future life, the Old Testament for the most part speaks only of a survival in Sheol, a dark place where contact with the living and with God is absent. The reason for this is probably the biblical writers' fear of supporting fanciful pagan beliefs about a future life until a definite revelation about it was given them by God. We begin to see the dawn of this revelation (that would be completed only with Jesus' Resurrection) only in the later books of the Old Testament Daniel, Wisdom and 1 and 2 Maccabees when it became necessary to encourage the martyrs of Greek persecution.

To endure this long time of waiting the Old Testament saints strove to carry out the Mosaic Law faithfully in all its details. Consequently when that Law was finally fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us, the faithful Remnant (for example, Simeon and Anna in Lk 2:22-38) received the Messiah with joy, but the religious leaders of the Jews rejected him and failed to lead the Jews as a people to accept him. We must not condemn most of the Jews of that time in Israel since they depended on their leaders for guidance. We certainly must not condemn the Jews in the Diaspora who probably knew nothing of these events. Nor can we condemn Jews of later times who have often been turned away from the Gospel by being cruelly and unjustly persecuted by those who professed the Gospel. Yet Jesus' rejection by so many of his own people and his crucifixion have become for all the world the great evidence of his love for all of us, even his enemies. Without the Cross we would never have understood the depths of God's love for us, namely that God the Son, in obedience to his Father's mission, in his human nature, truly died for us. Thus God's infinite power that through love has been put at our disposal is the ground for the certitude of Christian Hope.

New Testament Hope also includes justice and peace on earth in this world just as did Old Testament hope. We pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Thus current "liberation theology," freed of certain Marxist influences, is entirely in accord with Christian Hope. Yet Christian Hope goes beyond this, since what we hope for is justice and peace not in a merely earthly sense, but "as it is in heaven," that is, as it is in the Community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this community that is the Kingdom of God in the fullest sense. Sometimes the words of Jesus "The poor are always with you" (Mk 14:7) are used to argue that since the elimination of poverty is impossible there is no use working for a better world. But Jesus spoke these words to rebuke the Pharisees who criticized the penitent woman for anointing his feet with precious oil. He meant that that we ought both to care for the poor and show gratitude to others. Since He knew, however, that since He was soon to die, for the short time remaining he accepted this woman's gratitude. Plenty of time was left to care for the poor in whom we should see Christ still present with us (Mt 25:31-46). No doubt there will always be those who need our help and are in that sense poor, but the Gospel does not say that material poverty in the world cannot be overcome, instead it commands us to work to that end.

Christian hope, therefore, is hope that we really can bring justice and peace on earth and by the help of God this is possible. Some see in the passages of Scripture that speak of the end of the world as a great catastrophe proof that things will get worse and worse in history until Armageddon (apocalyticism). Yet the Bible also provides pictures of an era of peace and justice when the Kingdom of God is realized on earth (millenarianism, or utopianism). In fact the Church refrains from detailed teaching on future history, probably because these two biblical pictures represent the extremes of what is really up to us to determine. If we use God's grace we can make a good world; if we do not the world will go down in flames, though God will still triumph along with those who remain faithful. The threat of disaster will remain to the end, but the hope of victory will also remain if we trust not in our own power but in God.

Closely related to Christian hope, therefore, is Christian asceticism including the virtue of Poverty, so beautifully exemplified by St. Francis of Assisi. Asceticism is the practice of restraining our physical appetites from their tendency to selfish excess, now exaggerated by original sin and by our own addictions. We need to restrain them so they do not enslave us in addictions that frustrate the fulfillment of our higher spiritual needs. Poverty is contentment with the bare necessities of life so as to restrain our tendency to greed, consumerism, etc., that also dull our spiritual perceptions. What is important is that we are not blinded by the attractions of time so much that we lose sight of our real goal in Eternity.


  • Ashley, Living the Truth in Love, Chapter 4 and Chapter 5


  1. Does the Virtue of Hope gives us certitude of salvation? How?

  2. Explain the first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer.

  3. What do you think of the asceticism of St. Simeon Stylites (see New Catholic Encyclopedia) who for 36 years lived as a hermit on the top of a pillar?

  4. What is the difference between the Hope that inspires Christian martyrs and the hope of persons who burn themselves to death in a demonstration in favor of a political cause?

  5. Did Jesus on the Cross despair when he cried out, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me!" ?


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