Years ago, I read Island by Aldous Huxley which recounted a man shipwrecked on an imaginary island — Huxley’s Utopia (no-place) — on which birds words would call out, “Here and now, boys! Here and now.” At the time, being in college and easily amazed at the dopiest ideas, I thought Huxley quite brilliant.
The trouble with such a thought is that it is hopeless.
Hope necessarily orients one to the future. “For who hopes for what one sees?” (Romans 8:24). Now, it would be right to now longer hope when the perfect has come — but — and this is the great mistake I made in reading Huxley — the island of his story does exist. Like Thomas Moore’s Utopia, it is no place.
I was taken in by a novel of a place that did not — could not — exist.
I may live in the present — indeed I must. And I may love in the present. And, I will suffer in the present. But must I be bound in the present?
The oppressor’s greatest taunt is that the present will never change. Oppression demands the present, it lives on the present, it denies that the present will ever change. The trouble with the false messiahs and politicians and hucksters is that offer something which they cannot deliver: something beyond the present.
Death stands unalterably before us: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Between us and death there will often be pleasure and even joy — but they are made sick with the absolute knowledge they will be destroyed. Indeed, it is an unanswerable mystery how joy can be found anywhere within the space of death.
Did Huxley think an absurd denial of the future with his “Here and now” would somehow ward off sorrow?
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. 8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11. What can we do in the face of such a reality?
Certainly not “here and now.” Jim Morrison got that point right:
Five to one baby, one in five
No one here gets out alive.
No, the only exit is hope. But what would an exit be — it would necessarily be an exit from the entire aeon.
The Christward hope is that Jesus has overcome death — that his has undone the thief that makes a mockery of life. And, as a Christian, I must hang all my hope upon that point:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:12-19.
But Paul continues:
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Now there is a basis for hope because there has been an escape, or rather a rescue:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Galatians 1:3-5. I need not trust a here and now of no-place. Huxley gave me nothing to counter suffering. Christ has given me a means to overcome through suffering.
Here, Edward Polhill helps. For he notes that the sufferings of now cannot overcome hope:
Hope assures us, that the good things of the world to come do incomparably exceed the things of this world. If the things of this world were the better, no man would leave better for worse: nay, if they were but equal, no man would part with that in possession for that in expectation: but hope assures us that the good things of the world to come do far transcend those that are in this world. The mansions in glory are better than the houses of clay; the incorruptible inheritance exceeds a fading one; eternal life is much more precious than temporal; the crowns of immortality above outshine all the titles of honor here below;
Now one may deny that such hope is real — but that claim hangs upon the resurrection. And I dare say that the resurrection is a matter which can well stand the weight.
Polhill continues: not only does the substantial hope of something more overcome present suffering, “Hope assures our interest in the things of the world to come”. The salvation of The Lord does not hang upon our merit, but upon our hope — our faith for what God will do. Life is the gift of God, given to those who will receive it.
It takes not unreal work, no hocus pocus. It is a real, substantial thing. Thus hope which overcomes our suffering is a real, substantial thing. Hebrews calls it an “anchor” of the soul:
17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Now, one lovely effect of hope is that it transforms the one who hopes. The one who hopes becomes conformed to the object of hope. When I wedding day approached, my life became shaped by the coming wedding, because I hoped for that day. The hope of the Lord’s return conforms and transforms those who hope:
1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
1 John 3:1-3. Or as Paul writes:
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,
12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Titus 2:11-15. It is interesting how Paul ends the proclamation. In fact suffering will end in hope for the believer:
3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5. And hope works with patience to overcome present suffering:
Faith adheres to the promise, hope waits for the good things promised; both strengthen in a day of trial. It is the very nature of divine hope to wait for the good things to come: when the sun of prosperity shines, it waits in a way of obedience; “Lord, I have hoped for thy salvation, and do thy commandments,” saith David, (Ps. 119:166). He waited in a way of obedience to God’s commands. And when the storm of persecution comes, it waits in a way of patience. Hence the apostle speaks of the patience of hope, (1 Thess. 1:3). That hope, which in prosperity waited in a way of obedience, will in adversity wait in a way of patience: hope would have the christian to be always waiting for the upper world; but when the cross comes, it presseth upon him more vehemently, and will speak after this manner to him; What, hast thou waited for the great reward in heaven in duties and ordinances, and wilt thou not wait for it in sufferings, too? Heaven is the same still, and sufferings are not worthy to be compared with it: do but suffer a little, and thou shalt be there.
Edward Pohill, A Preparation for Suffering in an Evil Day, 347.