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Creation Groans | Hope on the Other Side

In this episode we explore what exactly hope is, how it relates to optimism, and how, when we find hope, we might also find repentance, forgiveness, joy, and love.


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Trail into bright forest

In this episode we explore what exactly hope is, how it relates to optimism, and how, when we find hope, we might also find repentance, forgiveness, joy, and love.

Description

How should we respond to a problem that seems unsolvable? This is the question we ask in a series about the environmental crisis as we explore the fine line between hope and despair. After having delved into the hard reality of the environmental crisis for the previous two episodes, we spend this episode with our focus on hope. We explore what exactly hope is, how it relates to optimism, and how, when we find hope, we might also find repentance, forgiveness, joy, and love. 

Before You Read

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Transcript

Hoogerwerf: 

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Colin Hoogerwerf. 

Stump: 

And I’m Jim Stump

Hoogerwerf: 

This is the third and final episode in our series, Creation Groans. In the first episode we entered the world of wounds, with the help of some ecologists and a few theologians. Their knowledge about the world helped reveal the dire state of the planet. In the second episode we explored the dark emotions that come with the acknowledgement of those wounds, realizing that the path to hope often goes through the middle of suffering. 

Stump: 

And because our whole point here is that you can’t skip over the suffering, we suggest that you go back and listen to those episodes first, if you haven’t yet. 

Hoogerwerf: 

And this whole time we’ve been adamant that hope IS on the other side of suffering. I have to say, when I started putting this series together, I didn’t know exactly how it would end. There was a while, a long while, when I was unsure of what hope looked like. And I was worried I was going to get to this final episode and have to invent a hope that wasn’t genuine, for the sake of the story. But that’s not what happened. Hope came upon me bit by bit and then all of a sudden. But that’s also not the end of the story, because just like it came it also faded again and sometimes, when I’m lying awake in the early morning, it seems to disappear all together. But I think that’s ok. This journey through suffering to hope isn’t something we do once. It’s something we do continually. Every day. Every hour. 

So we’re going to talk about hope, what it is, how to find it, and even why, maybe, hope isn’t the ultimate goal after all. 

[musical interlude] 

Let’s start by talking about the difference between hope and optimism. This is something that has come up before on the podcast and something you’ve thought a lot about, right Jim?  

Stump: 

Right. I said in the first episode that it wasn’t until recently that I became aware of the world of wounds, but it didn’t take much time to lose any of the optimism I had about the state of our planet. And the planetary crisis is only one lens through which to look at these ideas about hope and optimism. In a blog post I wrote last year, I told the story of speaking at the funeral of a colleague of mine where I couldn’t bring myself to give the platitudes you often hear at such things, but I did say that I hoped I would see him again one day. Afterward a pastor friend wondered why I used that word hope. Why didn’t I say I knew I would see him again?

Hoogerwerf: 

And what did you tell him?

Stump: 

Well my answer at the time was to quote the Bible, to say that hope was a perfectly good eschatological attitude to have. And I think that’s right and I didn’t really want to get into a big debate with him then. I think he felt like I wasn’t being very optimistic, and if optimism is tied to certainty, then maybe he was right. The older I’ve gotten, the less certain I’ve become about things like exactly what happens after we die. But I think I still have hope.

Hoogerwerf: 

I think the relationship between hope and optimism and certainty is really interesting. Patricia Bruininks, who you heard from last episode, actually studies the difference between hope and optimism at Whitworth University. She explained the difference by having us imagine that we are planning a party. 

Bruininks: 

It’s an outdoor party, it’s like a family reunion. You’re in charge. 100 people are coming. Foolishly, you don’t have a plan B in case of bad weather. You wake up that morning and the weather forecast is terrible. And even the most optimistic person isn’t going to be optimistic that this is going to go well. But you can hope. You can still hope because the weather can change. You might even kind of look outside and maybe think you see some blue in the sky. And this is a great example because there’s nothing you can do. But what you can do is you can pray. But you can also like keep checking the weather forecasts to see if things have changed. And I think that’s a good example. Whereas if it’s the reverse, if you wake up and there’s like a 90% chance that it’s going to be a great day, you’re optimistic, your family reunion is going to be awesome. But you’re not even going to bother to hope. Like, you wouldn’t even—it would be funny to say, “well, I hope, we hope the weather’s good for our family reunion,” because it’s going to be good. And hope involves, it really involves itself an investment, takes kind of psychological energy to hope. So why would you take your resources and put them towards that investment If it’s not needed?

Hoogerwerf: 

I often feel like the foolish party planner who woke up to the bad forecast. Hope is all I have to go on. And I have really come to think of hope as what is left at the bottom of the well, when all reason for optimism has almost completely dried up.

Bruininks: 

So you can have just the tiniest inkling of possibility and hope. You also can have the tiniest inkling of possibility and fear. So you can know that the odds are very low, for something bad happening, but because it would be so bad if it did, then that fear would overtake maybe what we would call logicalism. 

Hoogerwerf: 

This is why some people avoid flying, because though the odds are very low that something bad will happen, the consequences are bad enough for some people to avoid it all together. The fear overcomes the statistical logic.

Bruininks: 

But hope, fortunately, works the same way. So that you just need a little bit of likelihood to really—like hope will rise dramatically.

Hoogerwerf: 

And in this way, hope works outside of reason too; it’s not simply a recognition of the odds, but a commitment to do what we can in spite of the odds. Hope will inspire us to do drastic things, things that might seem unreasonable to the optimists or to those still blind to the wounds, and it will have us do things that might seem impossible, because that little inkling of hope will shine so bright that it will overcome the darkness that looms with high probability all around us. 

But I still tend to get hope and optimism confused. especially when it comes to communicating the seriousness of our environmental crisis. We don’t want to scare people. And we know that hope is a good motivator. But I think what we’ve often tried to do is not to give people hope, but to give them optimism. “We can do it!” “There’s still time” 

Stump: 

“The forecast for the big party is not as bad as you think.”

Hoogerwerf: 

Right. But there’s a lot of good evidence to say that optimism for our environmental situation is probably misguided. For example, the targets that scientists have set for carbon levels that won’t lead to catastrophic changes.

Lindroth: 

Yeah, we’re gonna overshoot, we’re gonna overshoot substantially.

Hoogerwerf: 

That’s Rick Lindroth again. And sure, there are good things happening. And we should look for those good things. For example, young people around the world have started to stand up and demand change, using, mostly, peaceful tactics. There might even be cause for some optimism that the work those young people are doing will cause some change. But the overall weather forecast for our big party still calls for rain. A lot of rain. 

Stump: 

Here’s Steve Bouma-Prediger talking about definitions of hope and optimism from the environmental writer, David Orr.

Bouma-Prediger: 

“Optimism is the recognition that the odds are in your favor. Hope is the faith that things will work out, whatever the odds. “Optimism—he continues—leans back, puts his feet up and wears a confident look, knowing that the deck is stacked while hopeful people—here’s the difference—are actively engaged in defying the odds or changing the odds.” Optimism says, “Hey, this is all gonna work out.” You don’t do anything. It’s just, God’s gonna do something or someone else is. It asks nothing of me. Hope engages you in acting on what you believe, but do not know for certain about some good future. Okay. So hope is—what my definition is—confident expectation of some good future. And in the Christian case, it’s constant expectation based upon God’s track record, so to speak, as a keeper of promises.

Stump: 

The way he’s talking about this, optimism is something that comes to me based on external circumstances, but hope is less based on those immediate circumstances and more based on where this situation fits in the bigger picture of what I believe. We might say it is “seeing as” rather than simply “seeing that”.

Hoogerwerf: 

Describe the difference between those two a little more. 

Stump: 

“Seeing that” simply means that my perceptual equipment is working properly. But “seeing as” means that I understand what I see. For example, I might see that a bunch of people are running around on a grassy field. But it takes some further conceptual content or experience to see that as a soccer game. Or I might look through a microscope and see that there are a bunch of blobs; but someone with proper training could see those as cancer cells.

Hoogerwerf: 

Sounds a little bit like the world of wounds we talked about. 

Stump: 

Yes, this is the same idea as when I said I didn’t have the eyes to see the environmental crisis at first.

Hoogerwerf: 

Ok, so I can look out at the world and do all the statistics and calculate the odds for whether things will turn out ok or not. And my optimism just depends on the situation I see. But hope takes something more than that. 

Stump: 

Right, I have to bring some other conceptual content to see the situation as something different. We can illustrate this from the book of James in the New Testament. He’s writing to some people who are going through difficult times and says, “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Because they know this other thing, they are able to see their circumstances in a different way.

Hoogerwerf: 

So maybe our ability to see the environmental crisis in a hopeful way depends on us knowing something else. Let’s introduce some more conceptual content that might help us do that. Here’s Willie James Jennings. 

Jennings: 

So I understand hope to be a discipline, not a sentiment or a feeling. Not something that is like a soft bed that we lay in, while the house is burning. I understand hope to be like wonderful parents saying to us, “get up, get dressed, it’s time to move. It’s time to move.”

Hoogerwerf: 

I like this idea of movement, that there is some action that is required in hope. It reminds me of a poem by Wendell Berry, the great environmental thinker of our time. The poem goes like this. 

Stults:

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

Hoogerwerf: 

In the poem we could think about the harvest as hope. It is the fruit that we are waiting for. And what’s interesting is that the harvest requires our work but we can’t bring about the harvest with our work alone. The harvest comes about in partnership between our work and the grace of God. And here I’m teeing you up for another one of your favorite logic ideas. 

Stump: 

Our work is necessary but not sufficient for the harvest. To say it is necessary means it is not going to happen without us. But it is not sufficient in the sense that we cannot do it on our own. We need something more.

Hoogerwerf: 

Great work is done while we’re asleep, as Wendell Berry says, but we also have work of our own to get to. 

Jennings: 

I think, for a lot of people, they feel so—a lot of people I know who look at, you know, the climate and they feel so overwhelmed. They don’t know what to do. And I always say, “well, there’s a lot we can do.” The question is not ‘what can we do’ the question, ‘do we have the will, as a collective to do it.’ And so especially, as I’m speaking to Christians, you know, Christians can can wield quite a bit of clout if they decide together that, okay, we will not continue certain practices.

Hoogerwerf: 

In terms of the environmental crisis, we don’t want to be like the example that Steve Bouma-Prediger gave earlier. 

Stump: 

The optimists who sit back, put their feet up, just waiting for things to work out. 

Hoogerwerf: 

But neither do we want to sit back, dejected waiting for the end of the world. There is work to be done. There are changes to be made, as Willie James Jennings points out. I’ve been somewhat dismissive of some of the typical actions the environmental movement often gives as solutions to the problem, things like recycling or changing light bulbs, using paper straws and cloth bags. But here I want to come back around and say that these things are not bad things to do. But if they are done with the goal of solving our environmental crisis—if they are acts that are meant to inspire optimism that we can solve all our problems this way—I worry that we will be disappointed and worse, we will be living in a world too far gone and without the tools or will to fix it. But, if we do these things as an act of planting seeds, like in the Wendell Berry poem, knowing that this work of planting, this work of changing the way to eat, live, drive, and play, is continual work and that these things must also be left to grace, then they are beautiful and worthwhile things to do. 

Stump: 

OK, so recycling isn’t going to solve the environmental crisis—even if we all do it. But we should still do it.

Hoogerwerf: 

Yeah. I think so. But then I learn that most of our recycling doesn’t get recycled at all. So maybe I don’t know.   

Stump: 

Well, I think there might be another reason these individual actions are important.

Hoogerwerf: 

Good, let’s hear it.

Stump: 

The kinds of changes necessary for really affecting the future climate are on a really big scale—governments and corporations that need to change. But in order for those things to change, there have to be enough people voting and pushing for that kind of change. And I think the individual actions like recycling and using LED lightbulbs might help us become that kind of people. The individual actions do not fix the problem, even if everyone in America or the world started recycling and using LED lightbulbs, it wouldn’t be enough. But maybe when people do these things, they start to see things differently and become more likely to support the bigger scale changes that must happen.

Hoogerwerf: 

Yes. And maybe there’s another reason for individual actions like recycling, or picking up the piece of trash along the side of a trail: they are simply the right things to do, regardless of the consequences they bring. 

Bouma-Prediger: 

What can one person do? That’s the common question in respect to climate change.  What difference can one person make? Well, why be a consequentialist? Jesus wasn’t. Gandhi wasn’t. King wasn’t. They all simply saw an issue that needed to be addressed, whether it’s racism or environmental stuff, and they just simply did what was right and good in their eyes. And because they were those kinds of people right, and said, in effect, if good consequences come, great! I really hope that’s the case. That’s what I pray for. But that’s not why I’m doing it. I’ll leave the consequences to God.  

[musical interlude] 

Hoogerwerf: 

Engineering is another way we’ve taken action to fight the environmental crisis and it’s worth talking about. Here’s Rick again. 

Lindroth: 

The whole engineering concept to me is eeh, it gives me serious pause. Now, there’s engineering and there’s engineering and there’s engineering, right? You know, it’s one thing to perhaps engineer drought resistant crops as a way to continue to sustain our food resources, as opposed to pumping sulfuric acid into the sky to reflect sunlight.

Hoogerwerf: 

There is a temptation, that I often find myself falling into, to lay the foundations of my hope in the future—or is it my optimism?—in some of these forms of geo-engineering. 

Stump: 

I don’t think you’re the only one. There’s a common sentiment and in fact an entire movement has formed around it, called the eco-modernist movement which says that technology is the way out of the environmental problem. But on the other side of the eco-modernists are the neo-luddites, who resist modern technology, often blaming our problems on technology.

Hoogerwerf: 

As science adds to our knowledge of the working of the world, new technologies are possible that we never could have dreamed of. There are businesses that have developed methods to suck carbon out of the air and inject it deep into the earth. There are plans to cover deserts with reflective sheeting. There are robots being built and deployed to remove plastic from the oceans. There are already tests underway to inject aerosols into the atmosphere to dim the sun. But as Rick points out, not all engineering is the same.

Lindroth: 

So I’m not necessarily opposed to all potential engineering. In fact, I think engineering is gonna have to be a part of our solution. I mean, even sucking carbon out of the air, that’s, you know, that’s engineering. Can we do it on a scale that could even come close to having a significant impact, you know, at this point? No. Maybe in the future. Can we do it more efficiently than planting trees? I don’t know. I don’t know. So I’m not necessarily opposed to virtually all technological engineering solutions, I think we’re going to have to incorporate them. But there have been so many attempts at technological fixes, which have just created downstream, more complex, more indirect, more serious problems. It just gives me serious pause.

Hoogerwerf: 

There’s one form of geo-engineering that I think is interesting given our introduction, in the World of Wounds episode, to the dire state of coral reefs. It’s been called assisted evolution, and that sounds scary, but it’s really just selective breeding, which is the same thing we’ve done with cats and dogs and chickens and tomatoes for millenia. The difference is that it’s now being used as an attempt to save coral reefs. And there is definitely some tension within the scientific community about the ways in which it is done.

Miller: 

We certainly didn’t expect or want to have to recommend or even contemplate these types of interventions. We shouldn’t have to contemplate these types of interventions. And yet we find ourselves being forced to contemplate them in order to head off, as I said, these mass extinctions and these massive loss of services from coral reef ecosystems upon which humans depend.

Hoogerwerf: 

You might recognize that voice as Margaret Miller, the coral ecologist we met back in the World of Wounds episode. The way this kind of engineering solution for coral reefs works is that coral specimens are collected and bathed in warm or acidified water. Those corals that do the best are bred with others that do well, with the goal of eventually increasing a coral’s ability to withstand higher temperatures or acidity. And those better adapted offspring could be used to repopulate the reefs at some point in the future. There are other attempts to genetically modify corals for the same purposes. Either way, this work is not totally straightforward.

Miller: 

When we think about wild species and wildlife, and having the responsibility to do that selective breeding in a way that isn’t going to have long term consequences that are perhaps not helpful, right, so much of the challenge with any of the population level assisted evolution type approaches is, you know, we’re really worried about climate change and warm temperature stress right now. But we know that disease is a big problem, we know that toxins are a problem. We don’t know what the future environmental stressors that we’re going to be worried about are.

Stump: 

Let’s apply Rick’s hesitancy to technological fixes here. Margaret points out a major reason for concern, which is that what we make might end up being more vulnerable to some future threat that we couldn’t anticipate. And there’s also the fact that with a technological solution like this, people might get the impression that we can just go about doing our business, even if it means ruining reefs, because we can just fix them again. 

Hoogerwerf: 

But there’s another side to the argument. 

Miller: 

So that’s one side. The other side, are we not—given that we’ve caused the problem—are we not obligated to do as much as we can, in as responsible a manner as we can to figure out, again, to keep from losing the pieces to prevent extinctions to the extent that we can to maintain the peace of those ecosystems, to get them through the next few decades, that we can restore for them a viable environment, and especially given again, that these vulnerable human communities are often the ones that are differentially affected and dependent on those ecosystem services?

Hoogerwerf: 

In the case of helping corals to withstand the changes that are happening, I do find some hope, and maybe even a touch of optimism, if not because I know there are people like Margeret who care enough and are thinking deeply about how to come alongside creatures like corals. But I think we need to be careful when it comes to engineering and technology not to become overly optimistic that we can fix everything without having to rethink the ways in which we have mistreated the planet in the first place. 

[musical interlude]

Last spring BioLogos held its national conference, in San Diego. One of the sessions from the conference was a live podcast recording with Makoto Fujimura, which came out on the podcast shortly after. In the conversation Fujimura brought up the Japanese art of Kintsugi. 

Stump: 

In Japan when valuable pottery broke, the shards would be saved and eventually sent to a Kintsugi master who would rebuild the pottery from the shards. But the goal was not to restore the pottery to its original condition. Rather, the scars from the break would be highlighted, often in gold, so that what was made is a new piece, out of the old. The brokenness becomes beauty. 

Hoogerwerf: 

This metaphor strikes close to the heart of Christian Scripture. Jesus himself was broken and was restored. And he came back not as a perfect replica of his pre-crucified self, but he came back with wounds. 

I sat down with Praveen Sethupathy in San Diego, just shortly after this session with Fujimura. Praveen is a geneticist at Cornell University. He is not a climate scientist or an ecologist, and he wasn’t sure he could help me with my problem of finding hope in the context of the environmental crisis. But I knew that Praveen has a lot of wisdom and so I asked him my questions anyway about hope in the face of such great wounds. 

Sethupathy: 

When I was becoming a Christian, thinking about the wounds inflicted upon Christ, right, I actually stopped reading and didn’t get to the resurrection. And that was really hard to swallow. It was very confusing, right? Here’s the sort of protagonist of the story that is naked and disfigured and pathetic on a cross and taking this abuse and the shame. I think you have to sit with that for a little bit before you go. But then three days later, he rose again, right, demonstrating the victory over death. And then for us too, from a symbolic or figurative standpoint, when we experience self inflicted externally inflicted wounds, right, we can know that there’s hope, that hope is powerful because of those wounds, right? Because then it makes you ask, why did he do that? Why did he have to endure all of that? Couldn’t he have snapped his fingers? Couldn’t you have done this or that? But there are reasons for that. And the hope is there because of the wounds. We have to sit with the wounds that are exposed by coming to terms with what’s happening, that will be done to the environment and the way that we’re hurting ourselves. I think we have to sit with it in order to appreciate the hope that we’re trying to bring about.

I don’t think that we are going to be able to create by ourselves, on our own, this new reality, as though the brokenness didn’t occur. But I think it is our calling to work toward bending that right. God said that we are ministers of reconciliation. So I think we must work toward that, with the hope that the eternal eventuality that we have with God will be the ultimate reality, the ultimate manifestation. But I think that our calling is to have the kingdom of heaven, here on Earth. And our goal is to try to work toward that, but we’ll never forget. What we have done to ourselves is always going to be a part of us. And I actually think that’s good. It’s good. It’s why studying history is good. We have to remember the kind of brokenness that our sin has led to, even as we attempt to mend it, so that it’s functional and even beautiful again. So I think it’s possible to work toward that, to be on the right path, to be on the right trajectory. With some things it doesn’t feel like on this side of heaven we’re really going to complete that pot. But I don’t know that that’s the goal. I don’t know that that’s the goal. I think that it is creating communities where we’re working toward that. I think that’s where beauty is, that’s where the beauty is gonna come out of.

Hoogerwerf:

I came out of my conversation with Praveen and with this new kintsugi metaphor from Fujimura, with more hope than I’d had in a long time. I thought, “there’s the end to the podcast.” But it turns out hope isn’t the only end. There’s more that comes along with it. 

Jennings: 

And so especially for Christians, we are disciplined by hope, we don’t hope because the circumstances look favorable or the situation looks like it might turn in our favor. We hope because we are inside God’s life. It is a life that we know has entered death and overcome it. So we hope as an act of profound resistance, that is a discipline. And which brings me then to what joy is. And I just said what I think joy is, and that is I understand joy to be an act of resistance.

Hoogerwerf:

In the same way that despair might follow hopelessness, joy follows hope when hope leads us to resist what the statistics might be telling us to do. Remember, it was joy that our Psalmist found in the fields while doing the work of the harvest. But then once again, in this journey I was on, in search of hope, I was re-routed, with a reminder from Norman Wirzba

Wirzba: 

If we believe, as environmentalists are constantly telling us we need to believe, that human beings are the causes of many of the drivers of habitat loss, species extinction, climate change, and so forth. it ain’t enough to have grief. You gotta have repentance, and you got to be seeking forgiveness. And so, you know, in my book on food, for instance, I’m saying, if there isn’t a desire to repent, forget about hope. Because it’s just one more, it’s one more lazy manifestation of how we talk about hope, where, you know, we can feel sad, and then just say, well, it’s gonna work out. And that is what you know, Kyle White, this indigenous philosopher, friend of mine says, it creates the ultimate bystander effect, which is why young people are sick and tired of people saying, “well just be hopeful.” If we’re gonna talk about hope, we got to talk about repentance, we got to talk about forgiveness, we got to talk about reparations. These are all things that need to be on the table. And right now, I’m not hearing a lot of environmentalist talk this way, because I think the language of repentance is really terrifying to them.

Stump: 

Hope without repentance and confession, without forgiveness and even repairing the harm we have caused, is a flimsy kind of hope, a kind of hope we have been trying to separate and distinguish from the more robust hope we’ve been looking for, the kind that is a discipline and a commitment. 

Hoogerwerf: 

Margaret also made the link between hope and repentance in the context of the coral reefs.

Miller:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

If we repent enough to actually change the way that we treat the oceans—and it’s true for most ecosystems throughout the planet, they can recover if we do it in time, right, if we don’t wait too long where that fruitfulness is impaired so much that they can’t come back. But for the most part, populations can rebound. And so there is potential for us, with repentance, and with, you know, this transformation of our hearts that I think needs to be involved, that humans can reverse this, these problems that we’ve caused.

Hoogerwerf: 

So hope is not the only thing on the other side of suffering. There is joy. There is forgiveness, confession and repentance. But Norman went further.

Wirzba: 

I say to students don’t, don’t be looking for hope. Instead be asking, what do you love and how can you love better? Because love is really the animating power of hope. And so if you turn your attention more to the question of what can you love and how will you love it, that operationalizes and it puts in a certain kind of positionality the life that you might lead.

Stump: 

As Paul reminds us in First Corinthians, of faith, hope, and love, it is love, not hope, that is the most important. That doesn’t mean hope is not a worthy and appropriate thing to search for. But maybe we need to think differently about how we search for hope. If love is the animating power of hope, as Wirzba said, then we will find hope through love. And love is something that moves us to act not for ourselves, but for others. Love is what will drive our forgiveness and our repentance. 

Wirzba: 

When we shift the focus to love instead of do you have hope, right, that question that I get all the time, that I think takes the conversation in a much more fruitful and I would say hopeful directions.

Hoogerwerf: 

We so often want to bring hope to people when we talk about the environmental movement. We know it’s the most persuasive way to get people to act. And everyone wants to know, what can I do? And so what ends up happening is that we begin to list all the things that need to be changed. We say, here’s what you can do. You need to drive less, drive smaller cars, eat less meat, travel less, stop flying, buy less stuff, etc, etc. 

Stump: 

But when we put all that together we start to build a hope—if it is hope at all—that is animated not by love, but by fear. If we make the changes at all, we make them because we are afraid of the consequences of not changing. And when we put all those actions together we see a life that is filled with sacrifice. All those lifestyle changes take time and money and mean that we will have to give up a lot of things that give us pleasure. 

Hoogerwerf: 

It’s a really dim way to imagine the future, but I have to admit, I spend a lot of time doing exactly that. I think there’s another way to build a vision of the future that is animated by love. But it will require some imagination. The writer and environmental activist George Monbiot says, “Despair is the state we fall into when our imagination fails. When we have no story that explains the present and describes the future, hope evaporates.” 

Stump: 

We humans are storytellers. Story has shaped us from the very beginning of our species. But we have lost some of our storytelling imagination it seems. We have tried to replace story with argument or with facts and evidence. Here’s Patricia Bruininks

Bruininks: 

I just think overwhelming people with facts doesn’t work. You need a narrative to communicate. Stories help us help elicit emotions that then elicit behaviors.

Hoogerwerf: 

We need to reclaim our storytelling and begin to tell stories of a new future, one in which we struggle through conflict and emerge on the other side having been changed by our struggles. We need to tell a story that does not focus on what we will lose but on what we might gain.

Stump: 

And not only what we gain individually, but a future that is animated by love demands that we tell a story about what others will gain as well. 

Hoogerwerf: 

I’ve been thinking about this in regards to the food I eat and trying to imagine a future where I ask those questions that Wirzba suggests: What can I love and how will I love it? Well I really love meat, and for a long time I’ve known that reducing the amount of meat I eat would probably be a good thing for the world. And so I’ve been preparing myself for that eventuality, with a kind of dread. But recently, my family did experiment with eating less meat, and when we do eat meat, we try to have some connection to its source. And we found that there is a real joy in the experiment though we’re still working out what it means for the future of how we eat. And when I think about Norman’s question about how I can love, I think that we have loved animals in a different way, both the ones we eat and the ones we don’t, and we have loved the earth more fully as we grow more of our own food and we have loved the people who are raising our food and the people we sit at the table with when our food is made with intention. And it turns out that while I do love the taste of meat, what I really love are my children, and by reducing my meat eating I show love to them by attempting to make sure that the world they inherit is as fruitful and beautiful as they one I have known. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be vegetarian. And this experiment hasn’t been only joy and love, there’s still some dissonance. I still miss the convenience of our old diet and the taste of barbeque pork whenever I want it. But it turns out that what felt like a big sacrifice for my family and something that would suck a little more joy out of life, was really leading us to a deeper kind of love which has brought about some hope, in turn. 

Stump: 

And sometimes the reimagining comes pretty easily to us, but happens in the midst of others who don’t quite see things the same way.

Hoogerwerf: 

You have a story about that.

Stump: 

Yes, so my wife and I live in a small neighborhood that has a Home Owners Association. It’s not technically a retirement community, and we’re not the youngest people who live there… but it’s mostly a community of retired people. And since we moved here a couple of years ago, I’ve been trying to get solar panels installed on my roof. Because the HOA is responsible for the care and upkeep of the roof, it has been a long process that has included a lot of me trying to sell the vision of how great solar panels are today. How cool is it that I could generate all of the energy needed for my house and for an electric vehicle, just from the sunshine?! For me, I’ve fallen in love with the idea of this kind of energy production, that is good for the Earth, but I also think it’s just really cool. But many of my neighbors see it only in terms of a change to the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to. And that is hard for them.

Hoogerwerf: 

And it has been hard for you too, maybe not the idea of it, but the implementation of it. 

Stump: 

For sure. There has been a lot of time and effort I’ve put into making the case, and even some strained relationships. But the more I’ve learned about solar energy production, the more I’ve seen just how important this is, and maybe even an act of love. It is acting in the best interests of people who live next to coal-fired power plants, for sure. But maybe if done correctly, it can even be seen as an act of love toward my neighbors, in showing that this new and better way of living in relationship to our environment does not mean that our way of life is going away. We can even say that this is helping to preserve a way of life that is going to go away if we don’t make some drastic changes.

Hoogerwerf: 

Here’s April Cordero:

Cordero: 

And there are rewards just like the amount of time and energy and effort you put into a marriage, you put into your church, you put into relationship with God, and you put into your care and attention to the environment. It’s just got to become one of the many things that we value, like taking care of our marriage and taking care of people at our church. You know, we’ve got to add it to that list of priorities.

Hoogerwerf: 

Let’s see if we can bring this all together: 

Our planet may end up being a broken piece of pottery. In many ways it’s already in shards. It’s no good to try and rebuild the world exactly to the way it was, to try and make the wounds invisible, as if it were never broken. We need to rebuild it in a way that highlights the wounds, so that they become a part of our shared history and memory and in the restoration, the wounds might even become beautiful. 

Stump: 

And this building is an act of love. The love will require work. And the result just might be hope. 

Hoogerwerf: 

None of this should sound strange or new to those familiar with biblical teachings. Jesus says “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” 

Stump: 

And the psalmist says “Those who go out weeping, carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” 

Hoogerwerf: 

Paul says: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” 

Stump: 

May it be so. You get the last word.

Hoogerwerf: 

There is a great darkness around us. It is one I have tried and tried to ignore out of fear that it might consume me. But I believe that the darkness will not overcome. And because I believe that the darkness will not overcome, I step into it. And there I find a community of living things that is beautiful, even in its brokenness, loved by God and deserving of my own love. And so I work. And so I lament. And so I hope. 

Credits

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, the Fetzer Institute and by individual donors who contribute to BioLogos. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Nate Mulder is our assistant producer. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. 

BioLogos offices are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Grand River watershed. If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum or visit our website, biologos.org, where you  will find articles, videos and other resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening.


Featured guests

Patricia Bruininks

Patricia Bruininks

Patricia Bruininks is Professor of Psychology at Whitworth University. Her area of specialization is the study of hope and how different expressions of hope relate to different aspects of the emotion, as well as how hope differs from optimism. Her undergraduate degree is from Hope College and her doctorate is from the University of Oregon.

Richard Lindroth

Rick Lindroth (Ph.D., University of Illinois-Urbana) is a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Ecology and recent Associate Dean for Research at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. His research focuses on evolutionary ecology and global change ecology in forest ecosystems. He has been a Fulbright Fellow and is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Ecological Society of America, the Entomological Society of America, and the American Scientific Affiliation. Funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other agencies, Rick and his research group have published 250 journal articles and book chapters. He has served in numerous roles at his church, including many years on the governing board. He and his wife have two daughters and three grandchildren. For recreation, they enjoy road cycling, flyfishing and reading, though not necessarily in that order.
Steven Bouma-Prediger

Steven Bouma-Prediger

Steven Bouma-Prediger (PhD, University of Chicago) is Leonard and Marjorie Maas Professor of Reformed Theology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He also oversees the Environmental Studies minor and chairs the Campus Sustainability Advisory Committee. In addition, Bouma-Prediger is adjunct professor of theology and ethics at Western Theological Seminary. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including For the Beauty of the Earth, is a former board member of the Au Sable Institute, and regularly writes and speaks on environmental issues.

Willie James Jennings

Willie James Jennings is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale University. His book The Christian Imagination won the American Academy of Religion Award of Excellence in the Study of Religion and the Grawemeyer Award in Religion. He has also published the book After Whiteness. He is an ordained Baptist minister and served as interim pastor for several North Carolina churches. He received in undergraduate degree from Calvin University, his M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D in religion and ethics from Duke.
margaret miller

Margaret Miller

Margaret Miller is the Research Director for SECORE International, a conservation nonprofit dedicated to creating and sharing the tools and technologies to sustainably restore coral reefs worldwide. She has an undergraduate degree from Indiana University and a doctorate in marine ecology from UNC-Chapel Hill.
Praveen Sethupathy

Praveen Sethupathy

Praveen is a Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Director of the Center for Vertebrate Genomics at Cornell University, where he directs a research lab focused on genomic approaches to understand human health and disease. He received his BA degree from Cornell University and his PhD in Genomics from the University of Pennsylvania. After completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Human Genome Research Institute under the mentorship of Dr. Francis Collins, he moved in 2011 to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetics. The same year he was selected by Genome Technology as one of the nation's top 25 rising young investigators in genomics. In 2017, he returned to Cornell University as an Associate Professor. Praveen has authored over 95 peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals and has served as a reviewer for over 35 different journals. Recent honors include a faculty merit award for outstanding teaching and mentoring and the prestigious American Diabetes Association Pathway To Stop Diabetes Research Accelerator, which is awarded to only three people per year. Praveen has been an invited speaker for the Veritas Forum, has served on the advisory board for the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, and serves on the Board of Directors for BioLogos. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his wife and three children.

Norman Wirzba

Norman Wirzba is the Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School, and a Senior Fellow at Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics. He is the author of several books, including (most recently) This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World and Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land.
April Cordero

April Maskiewicz Cordero

April Maskiewicz Cordero, PhD, is a professor of biology and Dean at Point Loma Nazarene University. Her research focuses on developing more effective approaches for teaching ecology and evolution that enable students to develop not only factual knowledge, but biological ways of thinking and reasoning about the living world. As a Christian biologist trained in science education research, she is in a unique position to investigate science students’ perceptions of the relationship between scientific issues that evoke controversy (i.e. origins, evolution, human origins) and Christian faith. Dr. Maskiewicz Cordero gave a TEDx talk on evolution and faith and she was featured in “From the Dust,” a BioLogos sponsored documentary. She is also active in several professional development projects with schoolteachers as well as university biology faculty, is one of the six authors of the BioLogos Integrate curriculum, and was one of four professors coordinating the PLNU/BioLogos Biology by the Sea Christian school teacher program.

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