From Faith to Hope in 2018

I don’t have much faith in my New Year Resolutions, but there is a four-letter word I will try to keep muttering as world news unfolds in 2018. No, I don’t mean that word!

When Galadriel expressed the state of world affairs in an elvish way, I think it was a good summary of general feelings today. “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost … ” (from The Fellowship of the Ring).

Devonshire tree sustained for centuries

The New Year is supposed to be a time of cheerful anticipation of good things ahead, but there is a widespread mood of pessimism and foreboding after several decades of relatively stable world order, even talk of apocalypse by the end of the century. People who lived through the 1340s and 1940s might understand because they feared the world they knew was coming to an end. The modern challenges are not, or at least not yet, the pandemic disease and political tyranny they faced, but we hear questions whether liberal democracy and other fond institutions can survive the threats of climate change and food insecurity, ecology and extinction, mass migration and nuclear arms. The booming stock market cannot be a salve for an Anxious Age struggling to balance sustainable living with social justice.

Faith is a trust in promises made. We grew up with expectations that lives will continue to prosper in almost every way, and should look back gratefully on more optimistic times. But I wonder if ‘faith’ should now be replaced with the more tentative word, ‘hope,’ which has a more fragile meaning. Hope is a brave outreach for something good that is presently unseen, maybe unknowable, but seems irrational and even foolish to cling to. But I find encouragement in those four letters from stories in history and wisdom literature, like the ones started with the Oriental prince who left the court to become the ‘enlightened one,’ the baby abandoned in the rushes, the other baby born in a manger, and a hobbit who left an obscure shire for a long journey. Those are stories that teach us something can come from nothing, and hope is the comforting watchword that it will be future good. I wish that for myself and for all at this season.

Next Post: Heat in the Dead Woods

About Roger Gosden

British-born scientist specializing in human and animal reproduction & embryology. Academic career spanned from Cambridge and Edinburgh to McGill and Cornell's Weill Medical College in Manhattan where he was Professor & Research Director. Married to Lucinda Veeck Gosden, embryologist for the first successful IVF team in America, he retired early to Williamsburg, Virginia, to write and to recover from 'nature deficit disorder'
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