The new year brings with it the promise of hope. But it seems we’ve utterly lost sense of what hope even means. Hope, to us, seems like thinking we will become the “best version of ourselves” in the new year, or we will manifest our way to success, or we will suddenly encounter great riches. All of these things, of course, are within our reach should we only commit to our daily gratitude practices, 5 a.m. meditations, or ice baths. And if after all of this we don’t transform into the version of ourselves we’ve visualized, we fall into the lap of despair.

Thankfully, R. J. Snell in his recent book Lost in the Chaos: Immanence, Despair, Hope, sets the record straight. Hope, he tells us, “does not do an end-run around our responsibility and our cooperation but allows them to be fruitful, albeit without the hint of the illusion of mastery or its tyranny, without the pretenses of rationalism, the frenzied pointlessness of denuded nature, or the idylls of faux-enchantments.” He explains that hope “allows us to grow into the full stature of the children of God, capable of acting, of becoming an acting person.”

Hope, then, doesn’t assure us that we will always thrive, that we will never suffer. Hope leads us to the authentic freedom that comes only from true self-mastery. As Snell writes: “Hope is not blind, or merely optimistic. . . . Hope is a virtue. It is a state that perfects us, makes us well, capable of thinking, living, and acting in the freedom of excellence, as flourishing human beings.”

Given the great cultural confusion about what hope actually is, it is no coincidence that it is a common and unifying theme across all our essays. This month was no exception. Jayd Henricks spoke to the heroic charity required of church leaders in an age of great confusion. Nathaniel Peters reflected on the example of hope we have in the legacy of Richard John Neuhaus. Marcus Gibson shared a new way to think of healinglamentation, a posture “enlivened by hope rather than rendered morbid by despair.” And Micah Watson’s insightful review of Russell Moore’s Losing Our Religion shares the anguish of many in the evangelical community who feel separated from the very tradition that nurtured them. 

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Alexandra Davis

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