What is the nature of hope?

This week I ran a focus group, interviewing a church group who had been to see their MP as part of the work I do.

Imagine a room at the back of a church, an assortment of motley chairs, and an equally eclectic group of people, and you won’t be too far off on picturing my Thursday morning.

This group related with delight how they had been to see their local MP, something they had never thought was possible. They told me how excited they had been to go, and how they had never been to Parliament before. They told me that it had given them confidence and that they wanted to do more.

And honestly, I was really taken aback. Here was a group of people that you would neither expect nor choose if you had been tasked with assembling a group to meet with an MP about climate change – talking with such obvious pride and joy about their experiences. They radiated enthusiasm.

After the focus group I interviewed the vicar who leads this group. We talked about her leadership of the group and the transformation of the people I had met – their embrace of what might be possible.

It made me think about a quote which someone posted a quote in a group before Christmas. It’s a quote from Rebecca Solnit, “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.”

On this view, the nature of hope is possibility; the undetermined nature of the world provides space and agency in which to hope.

Except, this isn’t my view of hope, and it is not the hope-fulness I recognised in the people from the focus group.

If hope is based upon the fundamental precariousness of the world, the contingency into which we can hope to enact a particular state of affairs, then it too is ultimately precarious and ultimately arbitrary.

Unless the opposite of Solnit’s quote is true, and we do in fact know what will happen, I think hope will collapse into mere optimism.

The hope I felt I witnessed on Thursday was situated within contingent possibility, but it was tethered and grounded to something outside of this.

When the vicar I interviewed talked about the journey her group had been on, it was clear that she had hope for them from the outset. Not just that the desired outcome was possible, but that the group in some sense already existed within the actuality of the reality she wanted them to experience.

The nature of hope is expectant actuality; the determined nature of the world provides space and agency in which to hope.

To say the nature of the world is determined is not to say that all possibilities are fixed and it is not to invite our passivity. It’s to say that the structure of reality is such that we really can reasonably have hope, that the dynamics of the world allow for our activity.

For my own part, I have a fundamental hope in this created world being secured by the goodness of its Creator. I approach the objects and events of ordinary perception with hope, with an expectation that all things are capable of being brought into greater conformity with the reality of their relationship to and with a good Creator.

Needless to say, I have not fully worked out the metaphysics of hope.

However, I have experienced its fruits. Fear imprisons and paralyses. Hope liberates, motivates and restores.

Matthew 12 quotes from Isaiah 42 which says of Jesus, “In his name the nations will put their hope“.

What is the nature of hope? It is not the openness of possibility. Rather, it is trust in the full realisation and instantiation of a particular actuality.