Thursday, June 30, 2016

Snyder and Hope

How Should We Hope? Advice #2

            Immanuel Kant thought the central questions of human life revolved around knowledge (“What can I know?”), morality (“What ought I to do?”), and happiness (“For what may I hope?”).  I want to explore five responses to Kant’s question about hope, all from contemporary thinkers.  A central question in this series of essays rises when we compare and contrast the various advices.  To what degree can these disparate voices be understood as complementing each other?  To what degree are they contradictory?
The second advice comes from C.R. Snyder and his research associates.  Snyder, who died in 2006, was a leading proponent of “positive” psychology.  Positive psychology is a broad movement in late 20th century psychology that moves the focus of psychology from mental illness (fixing what is wrong) to the achievement of satisfactory life (pursuing and enjoying what is right or healthy).  Snyder invented “hope theory” and “hope therapy,” but many other psychologists on his research team at the University of Kansas contributed to the development of the theory.
The heart of Snyder’s theory is simple.  The core definition: Hope is the sum of perceived capabilities to produce routes to desired goals, along with the perceived motivation to use those routes.
Much of human life is teleological; that is, we pursue goals.  Snyder offers a simple diagram:

Protagonist (A) --> Goal (B). 

But we often encounter obstacles that keep us from reaching our goals.  This gives us a more complicated diagram. 

Protagonist (A) --> [Block] Goal (B). 

Two things are needed to reach life goals when obstacles get in the way, Snyder thought.  A person needs to be able to think up “pathways” around the obstacle that may enable her to reach the goal, and she needs to have “agentic motivation” to invent these pathways and put them into practice.

   (Motivation)    *
Protagonist (A) -->      [Block]   Goal (B). 

            Snyder’s advice for hope, then, is straightforward.  Ask yourself two questions: (1) Are you able to think of pathways to your goals? (2) Are you motivated to use the pathways to achieve your goals?  If your answer to both questions is yes, then you have hope.  On this theory, hope is entirely cognitive.  It consists in the two affirmations just mentioned.
            On the basis of this core theory, Snyder and his fellow researchers made several important claims, all of which they say are supported by empirical evidence.  (1) Hope can be measured by simple, yet effective “hope scales.”  The research team invented short (typically, 20 question) instruments that enabled them to evaluate individuals in different populations (children, adults, working people, etc.).  (2) People who score higher on hope scales fairly reliably report higher levels of positive affect.  Even though the theory defines hope as cognitive only, the higher the hope score, the better the patient feels. (3) Higher hope scores correlate with positive life outcomes, such as better relationships, success in school, and employment success. (4) Therapeutic interventions can fairly reliably increase hope scores, and with higher hope scores such interventions lead to positive life outcomes in relationships, education, and employment.
            Snyder went so far as to propose that hope theory explains one of the conundrums of modern clinical psychology.  Psychology is not a theoretically unified discipline.  Freudians, Jungians, behaviorists, rational-emotive therapists, and so on; the list of contemporary schools of psychology is long.  The various theories contradict each other; it’s not possible to affirm the central beliefs of each theory.  And yet, there is empirical evidence that clinical therapy based on each of these theories works.  Practitioners of each therapeutic modality can point to good evidence that their therapy improves the lives of patients.  Snyder proposed that theoretical differences matter less than the fact that the patient has entered therapy (of whatever sort).  By entering therapy, the patient has taken a step on a pathway that she thinks may lead to her goal.  In practice, clinical therapy, of whatever sort, increases a patient’s hope as defined by hope theory.
            Hope therapy aims to be intensely practical.  Snyder’s followers urge that therapists adopt or invent therapeutic interventions that help patients believe that they can invent pathways to their goals and that they are motivated to use those pathways.  By improving patients’ hope, therapists can reliably improve their lives.
            Let’s take a step back from Snyder’s theory for a moment.  It’s obvious, but needs to be said: the goals that clients aim at are things like gaining employment, winning a promotion, starting or improving a relationship, creating a work of art, or graduating from college.  The goals are all mundane, this-worldly goals.  Hope theory has little to say to someone whose goal is a better life in his next incarnation or someone who seeks God’s favor at the last judgment.  Transcendent goals are simply off the radar.  The hope theorist/therapist may be completely agnostic about such goals, except as desire for such goals limits or abets pursuit of mundane goals.
Further, in some cases the therapist may have to challenge a client to see that his goals are not realistic.  Hopes for levitation powers are going to be frustrated.  Winning the Nobel Prize or earning a billion dollars are so wildly improbable that aiming for them practically ensures frustration.  The therapist can help the client adopt realistic goals: recognition by one’s peers or earning enough to retire comfortably.
Hope theory aims at the mundane, and it pushes for reasonableness.  Its claims are fairly modest.  Therapy based on the hope theory model can fairly reliably help people achieve more of their goals and feel happier.
From a philosophical point of view, hope theory fits well into the analysis of hope we saw in Simon Critchley; i.e. that hope = desire + probability judgment.  Critchley’s advice says that we ought to abandon (almost) all hope; we ought to hope only for likely things.  So long as we obey that rule, Critchley would have no objection to Snyder’s theory, which merely gives practical advice about how to hope.
Next week I will complicate the matter by introducing a philosopher who disagrees with Critchley.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Not my normal post

Why I Quit the Republican Party

            I have been a lifelong Republican.  Today, June 23, 2016, after more than forty years, I changed my registration to “Independent.”  In good conscience I cannot be a member of a political party whose leaders have made common cause with Donald Trump.
            No political party is perfect.  I have never supported every idea endorsed in Republican Party platforms.  On the other hand, I’ve never been tempted to join the Democrats; on the whole Republican ideas make more sense.  Over the years, I have voted for Republicans, Independents, Democrats, and assorted minor party candidates.  I am not a policy purist quitting the Republican Party in protest over some minor detail.
            Donald Trump is not a minor detail.  Republican leaders in Congress, city governments and statehouses need to reckon carefully.  The election of 2016 presents their party with a moment of truth.  What does the Republican Party stand for?
            Trump is wrong on trade.  His protectionist ideas would greatly damage the U.S. economy.  He wants to return to policies of the 1920s that helped make the Great Depression.
            Trump is wrong—disastrously, mind-bogglingly wrong—on immigration.  Deport 11 million people?  This bizarre notion, if actually enacted, would provoke massive public resistance.  Force Mexico to pay for a “wall” on our border?  How?  By military threats?  Given the worldwide economic chaos resulting from Trump’s protectionism, economic threats would be idle.
            Trump is wrong on international law.  He openly said he would order U.S. military persons to “go after” the wives and families of suspected terrorists.  Such orders would violate international law, laws ratified by the U.S. in accordance with our Constitution.  Such orders would be completely immoral.
            Trump is wrong about “making America strong.”  Has he never seen the Statue of Liberty?  We have often failed to live up to our beliefs, but America is a country that welcomes strangers.  Excluding a whole class of people because of their religion and “profiling” people because of their religion—two ideas explicitly and repeatedly endorsed by Trump—are antithetical to American values.
            Most important (for me at least), Trump is wrong about Jesus.  Trump thinks that he can fool Christian Americans that he is a follower of Jesus, though Trump said he cannot remember ever repenting of sin.  Never repent—despite failed marriages, multiple bankruptcies, countless lawsuits, and a history of bragging (on radio!) about his marital infidelities.
            Don’t misunderstand me.  I don’t oppose Trump because he is not a Christian.  I have cheerfully voted for Muslims, Jews, atheists, and candidates whose religion I don’t know.  My objection is that Trump tries to sell himself as a Christian with apparently no recognition of the first theme in Jesus’ preaching: repentance.
            As far as I can tell, Donald Trump believes in nothing except Donald Trump.  According to him, he has the world’s greatest memory, one of the world’s best brains, a more than adequate penis, and an easy answer for every one of the nation’s problems.  What he obviously does not have is humility. 
The leaders of the party of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Mark Hatfield should be ashamed—not that Trump has won the party’s nomination; Trump won the nomination, given the nature of the process.  What is shameful is their willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with Trump in the hope of temporary electoral success.  There are greater principles at stake here.  Republican leaders must repudiate Trumpism; if the price is electoral defeat, so be it. 
Donald Trump is now the titular head of the Republican Party.  Therefore I cannot be a Republican.  I hope to someday return to the fold, but not until the party has repaired this disaster.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hope Advice

How Should We Hope? Advice #1

            Immanuel Kant thought the central questions of human life revolved around knowledge (“What can I know?”), morality (“What ought I to do?”), and happiness (“For what may I hope?”).  I want to explore five responses to Kant’s question about hope, all from contemporary thinkers.  A central question in this series of essays rises when we compare and contrast the various advices.  To what degree can these disparate voices be understood as complementing each other?  To what degree are they contradictory?
            The first advice is illustrated by Simon Critchley, philosophy professor at the New School for Social Research.  He wrote a New York Times opinion piece (April 19, 2014) entitled, “Abandon (Nearly) all Hope.”  The first paragraph:

With Easter upon us, powerful narratives of rebirth and resurrection are in the air and on the breeze. However, winter’s stubborn reluctance to leave to make way for the pleasing and hopeful season leads me to think not of cherry blossoms and Easter Bunnies but of Prometheus, Nietzsche, Barack Obama and the very roots of hope. Is hope always such a wonderful thing? Is it not rather a form of moral cowardice that allows us to escape from reality and prolong human suffering?

            Critchley reflects on Obama’s rise to prominence in 2004 and 2008, in particular on the theme of “audacious hope.”  Obama is not unusual among politicians, he says, who regularly urge voters to envision bright futures if they will only vote the right way.  He quotes Obama that audacious hope is “the best of the American spirit” and “the audacity to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary.”  But Critchley disagrees:

The problem here is with the way in which this audacious Promethean theological idea of hope has migrated into our national psyche to such an extent that it blinds us to the reality of the world that we inhabit and causes a sort of sentimental complacency that actually prevents us from seeing things aright and protesting against this administration’s moral and political lapses and those of other administrations.

            For Critchley the problem is not Barack Obama. The president merely illustrates a wrong idea.  Audacious hope is fundamentally unrealistic.  Critchley reminds us of the Melian story, reported in Thucydides.  The Athenian navy blockaded Melos, so that the Melian ally, Sparta, cannot help them.  Under truce, the Athenians demand Melos’s surrender.  The Melians had to choose between negotiated defeat and a siege with the desperate hope that the Spartans would save them.  The Melians chose hope, and when the Athenians triumphed, they slaughtered the men and made slaves of the women and children.  Audacious hope can lead to disaster.
            Courage is better than hope, Critchley says, courage to face life in a difficult world without consoling mythology.  Critchley approvingly quotes Nietzsche: “Hope is the evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.”
            Critchley doesn’t oppose all hope.  There are reasonable hopes, he says, the fuzzy vague hopes offered by philosophers like Richard Rorty.  But we will be much better off if we abandon “audacious” hopes.
            Let’s take a step back from Critchley’s essay.  His view is actually representative of a great many modern philosophers, not just Nietzsche.  The underlying analysis of hope says that hope is a combination of two things: a desire and an epistemic judgment.  To hope for a thing means to desire that thing while believing that it is possible.
(A)  We don’t call it hope if someone expects an outcome without desiring it.  Rather, we say that someone fears an outcome that she doesn’t want.
(B)  We don’t call it hope if someone expects something that is certain, even if she desires it.  We may hope that the check is coming, but we don’t hope for it to come when the check is in our hand.
(C)  We don’t call it hope if someone desires something impossible.  We might wish that our team had won last year’s pennant, but we cannot hope that they won it, since we know they didn’t.
So: hope = desire + probability judgment (where p<1 and p>0).

Adrienne Martin call this the “orthodox” view of hope among modern philosophers, finding it held by Hume and Hobbes and illustrated by recent authors such as J.P. Day and R.S. Downie.  Given this analysis of hope, it is easy to see why most modern philosophers have little to say about it.  It’s pretty obvious that if you hope for something that isn’t likely to happen, the odds are good that your hope will be disappointed.  So the “orthodox” advice is straightforward: don’t get your hopes up, lest you have them crushed. 
Now it may be merely quaint when people invest their hopes in sports teams.  Mariner fans suffer as a result of their misplaced hopes, but nothing greater hangs on it.  Critchley’s point is that when it comes to more important questions—politics and social policy—misplaced hopes are dangerous.  The Melians’ hope condemned their men to death and their wives and children to slavery.  Critchley pushes us to ask how our policy hopes might contribute to our disasters.  He urges us to build social and political policy on realism, not hope.  We have to ask what is likely to happen, not what we would like to happen.
In future essays I will compare and contrast Critchley’s advice with others.  It seems undeniable that there is wisdom in what he says.  We may at least say this: it is possible to act foolishly while acting under the aegis of hope.  If hope is a virtue, we need to understand it well.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Talk for Librarians

Wisdom and Librarians

I am invited to speak to an association of Christian librarians.  I am honored, but what should I say?  What should a philosopher say to librarians?  Consider a passage of scripture that ought to evoke thoughtful reflection among philosophers and librarians.

Proverbs 2:1-8 NIV:
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.  For the LORD gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.

            We imagine the school of wisdom in ancient Israel.  Boys and young men, probably from the prominent families of Jerusalem and Judah, learn proverbs from their elders.  Solomon himself, we are told, invented proverbs and encouraged wise men to collect them.  Almost certainly, the wise sayings preserved in the Bible were a small part of the collective wisdom of the elders.
            Let us imagine a youth in this school.  Call him Joseph, a fitting name from Israel’s sacred history.  Joseph memorizes hundreds of proverbs and is quick-witted enough to quote just the right maxim for this or that situation.  Joseph has a bit of poetry in his soul; he has invented some sayings of his own.  Some day, perhaps, Joseph will sit as one of the wise men of Jerusalem, adding his little bit to the collective store of wisdom.
            Ancient Jerusalem’s school of wisdom had no card catalog, no Internet access, not even a building labeled “library.”  (The great library of Alexandria was seven hundred years in the future.)  But I think you notice parallels between our imagined Joseph and 21st century students.  By necessity, education pulls students into the intellectual world of their elders.  There is a body of knowledge or insight or understanding or wisdom already collected in the maxims of the wise.  The student starts by learning some of it.  If she is talented and persistent, she may add to it.  She will become part of a living intellectual tradition.
            But notice another feature of the Jerusalem school.  According to the text, the elders promise that if the student genuinely applies himself to learning, wisdom will protect him.  The Lord will give “victory” to the upright student and will “guard the course” of the just.  Apparently, the wise men of Israel saw a deep connection between learning and morality.  In particular, if we read the rest of chapter 2, wisdom will guard the student against the temptations of wicked plotters (vv. 12-15) and the adulteress (vv. 16-19).
            Need I point out that that the seduction of the quick buck, earned at the expense of one’s neighbor or community, and the appeal of sexual thrills found outside of a marriage covenant are still current temptations?  Three thousand years separate us from the Jerusalem school of wisdom, but human beings still struggle to rightly handle money and sex.
            Wisdom, it is said, will guard the young student against such temptations.  Really?  Educators are forced to ask fundamental questions about their disciplines.  According to the biblical vision, real understanding, real insight has to touch the “heart.”  An education that promotes skills or techniques without commitment to truth is just sophistry; we read Socrates’ battle against it in Gorgias.  An education that consists only in facts and theories is just positivism; we read Ransom’s battle against it in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra.
            Does it surprise you that I step from scripture into books, either ancient or modern?  Of all people Christian librarians should not be surprised.
            A living intellectual tradition is one where ideas fight.  This is a major theme in Alasdair MacIntyre’s books.  The Bible itself contains not just Proverbs but also Ecclesiastes and Job; there is tension in the tradition.  In Gorgias, Socrates argues against sophism, but Callicles argues back, and Plato put both in his book.  It is entirely right for our libraries to hold texts by 20th century positivists, such as A.J. Ayer, as well as C.S. Lewis.  Your shelves of economic theory need to include Marxists as well as capitalists.  Julian of Norwich and Marquis de Sade.
            It is permissible, in fact, sometimes necessary, to take sides in intellectual fights.  Socrates is right; Callicles wrong.  Plato included both, not to make them equivalent, but to show the stakes in the debate and push readers to think.
            This is where teachers of philosophy and librarians come in.  We invite students into a living intellectual tradition.  If we are Christians, we invite them into a tradition that has to touch their heart.  Education is not just about theories or skills.  It is about being.
            When the student comes into her first philosophy class, she may feel overwhelmed.  When she enters the library, she feels lost. (Parenthetically, I say “library” intentionally.  With the Internet, by the end of the 21st century, the world’s libraries will number exactly one.)  Philosophy teachers and librarians are curators of wisdom.  We are guides into the treasures of the tradition.
            Obstacles abound.  At a beginning level, some students have absorbed the prejudice “philosophy bakes no bread” and have concluded it is useless.  Others have discovered Wikipedia, both a wonderful resource and a terrible temptation.  At a slightly more sophisticated level, some students enter with ideological blinders of one sort or another; at least they believe something, but they insist their education confirm what they already know.  And there are a few students who have imbibed enough philosophical skepticism to refrain from believing anything.
            A good curator must love the treasures of her museum.  Philosophy teachers and librarians must love the intellectual traditions of which we are stewards.  We’ve got to know our stuff—not in the way of the Renaissance man who was supposedly expert in everything, but in the way of the curator who knows where the experts are.  We should be enthusiastic about learning.  Sometimes, at least, we need to remind ourselves of the big picture, the tradition of wisdom stretching back to Jerusalem and other ancient places.
            We must also love the particular student who comes to us.  I confess this is hard.  I’d much rather focus on my lecture; I have so many fine things to say about MacIntyre, or Iris Murdoch, or Aquinas, or a surprising little logic proof I wrote…  By “love” I mean, “pay attention.”  On one hand we hold the intellectual tradition and all its wonders; on the other we have this particular student standing at my door or at your desk.  Paying attention may not take long, if the student only wants to know how to access a particular resource.  But if we pay attention, we will discover students who are open to more, students who are actually seeking wisdom.
            I encourage you, then, as librarians, to see yourselves as curators of wisdom, a wisdom that changes the heart.  Be well, and do good work.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Thoughts from Soren

Wishing and Hoping

            I met Mark Bernier at a philosophy conference.  Each of us read a paper about hope, so we naturally struck up conversation, and we agreed to trade copies of our most recent books.  I sent Mark my book, Why Faith is a Virtue, and he gave me his, The Task of Hope in Kierkegaard.
            Mark is a Kierkegaard scholar; I am not.  Parts of his book are given to arguing for his interpretations of Kierkegaard against other scholars.  Kierkegaard wrote many of his books under various pseudonyms, and in many cases the “authors” recount arguments made by fictional characters; it is an open question whether and to what degree the characters and pseudonyms speak for Kierkegaard himself.  It may be that Kierkegaard intended that his own views be hidden, that his real goal was to force readers to reflect for themselves.
            In any case, I’m not expert enough to adjudicate questions regarding the best interpretation of Kierkegaard.  My real interest in Mark’s book is not in technical scholarship but in the larger matter: hope.  Whether or not Mark’s interpretation of Kierkegaard best represents Kierkegaard’s actual thinking, does his reading of Kierkegaard offer insights into hope? 
            Consider the difference between a wish and a hope.  Both of these are what Bernier calls “pro-attitudes.”  That is, we desire the things we wish and hope for.  The difference between them is that we hope for things we think may happen, while wishing is not bound by possibility.  We can wish that past events had been different, but we cannot hope that past events were anything other than what they were.  Hope, as philosophers have often observed, implicitly contains an epistemic judgment that the thing hoped for is possible.
            Now, sometimes we hope for relatively unimportant things.  “I hope the Mariners win today’s game.”  “I hope we aren’t late for the wedding.”  “I hope the stock market goes up.”
            But some of our hopes are far more important.  They become central themes to our lives; they give meaning to our lives.  In Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne spends years planning and working to escape prison.  Kierkegaard asks readers to imagine a peasant boy who hopes to woo and marry a princess; the boy builds his whole life around this possibility.  Cortez burned his boats after arriving in Mexico; he hoped to conquer the Aztec empire, and he had no back-up plan.  We may call such hopes existentially crucial hopes.  (That’s not a term from Kierkegaard or Mark Bernier.  I made it up.  But it seems appropriate.)
            Existentially crucial hopes are not necessary ethical hopes.  Andy Dufresne’s hope to escape unjust punishment seems right, but Cortez’s hope to conquer the Aztecs was cruel and evil.  The embezzler’s hope that his crimes will gain him a life of ease and luxury is obviously immoral. 
            Hopes can be dashed.  I hope the Mariners will win tonight, and when they lose, I suffer.  Kierkegaard points out that this applies to existentially crucial hopes just as much as trivial hopes.  The peasant boy who has centered his life on his plan to woo the princess may one day realize that he will never succeed.  He is no longer a youth, the princess never noticed him; she has married a foreign noble, and she lives far away.  His hope is no longer a hope.  But, Kierkegaard says, it may remain a wish.  It is impossible that he will ever win the princess’s love, but he wishes that things had turned out otherwise.  In a sense, the peasant boy’s wish holds the remnants of his hope, and in those remnants the pain of his loss stays with him.
            Kierkegaard acknowledges that the boy may, as we say, “get over” his lost hope.  He may adopt other life plans.  It may be wise to do so, since by moving on he may lessen the pain of loss.  (I think that when a hope is existentially crucial, giving it up may be a crisis, akin to conversion.  In 1945, some Nazis committed suicide rather than live in a world without Hitler.   Their hope for a pure Aryan empire was gone.)
            Practically speaking, Kierkegaard says, it may be wise to surrender the wish.  But he advises against it.  The wish keeps the pain of lost hope alive.  If we use it rightly, the pain of lost hope will do us good.  Any hope that can be lost, thus transformed into a mere wish that things had gone differently, must be a hope directed at temporal things: escapes, marriages, empires, wealth, etc.  Therefore, a crushed hope may remind one—will remind one, if used rightly—that there is another kind of hope, a hope than cannot be crushed.
            True hope, which Kierkegaard calls “authentic hope,” is directed at “the eternal.”  By “the eternal” Kierkegaard means the God of Christianity, resurrection of the body, everlasting life, and enjoyment of God forever.  Mark Bernier, along with other philosophers, suggests that even if one does not identify the eternal in explicitly Christian terms, Kierkegaard’s advice may still be right.
            It’s interesting that Kierkegaard’s distinction between mundane hopes and authentic hope has a medieval parallel.  Thomas Aquinas distinguished between what he called the “natural passion” of hope and the “virtue” of hope.  Natural hopes aim at the goods of this world, while the virtue of hope, properly so called, aims at God and is infused in us by God.  As surprising as it might seem to us, it is possible that Kierkegaard never read Aquinas.  They may have come to remarkably similar notions of hope independently.
            Kierkegaard’s “authentic” hope and Aquinas’s “virtue” of hope direct us toward transcendent goods.  But this hope is hoped now.  The good that we long for is future, but the longing centers our lives in this world.  We build our lives around it, and it makes moral demands on us.
            The virtue of hope, “authentic” hope, cannot be an afterthought, a tag-on.  It must be, in the term I invented, existentially crucial.  Of course, this does not mean that many people today (and in Kierkegaard’s 19th century Denmark) won’t treat eternal hope as trivial.  People live their lives, ostensibly committed to Christian dogma, while actually aiming at escapes, marriages, empires, and wealth.  They hope for these things—and heaven too, as an afterthought.  We should count it a blessing, Kierkegaard would say, that our mundane hopes are so often crushed and made into wishes, because the pain of our wishes may push us toward real hope.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Weird Hope

In That Day

In that day you will say,
“I will praise you, O LORD.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
and you have comforted me…”
Isaiah 12:1

            The reader of this verse naturally asks, “What day? What is this ‘day’ the of which the prophet speaks?”  And: “Who is the ‘me’?  To whom is the prophecy addressed?”  The answers, as one would expect, are in the text proceeding, in chapter 11.  There, Isaiah prophesies of “a shoot from the stump of Jesse,” on whom the Spirit of God will rest.  The “shoot” or “Branch” will judge justly, slaying the wicked and delivering the poor.  The prophecy is aimed at a community, at Israel; the “me” is the whole nation.  But the promise is not for Israel only.  The whole creation will be redeemed:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them…
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as waters cover the sea. 
In that day, the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples…
Isaiah 11: 6, 9,10

            The “shoot,” the “Branch,” and the “Root” of Jesse are taken by Jews as titles for the messiah to come, and by Christians as titles of Jesus.  The “Day,” then, is the eschatological day of salvation.
            In the biblical worldview, history is moving toward an end, the “Day of the Lord.”  History is not just a random sequence of events, not just one damn thing after another.  Nor is it an endless repetition of reincarnation or cosmic cycles.  The Bible teaches that God will intervene to bring about justice and shalom.  Therefore, hope has always been a crucial virtue for biblical people.  The Day of the Lord has not yet come, so it is a fundamental feature of our lives as believers that we hope for it.
            It is important to see that this forward-looking, hopeful stance toward God’s work in the future predates the New Testament doctrine of resurrection.  Christians are sometimes troubled by the lack of explicit Old Testament teaching about an afterlife.  They have been taught that the whole Bible is God’s book, so they expect Christian doctrine to appear everywhere.  And Christian preachers often feed this expectation by finding prophecies of the messiah all over the Old Testament—and by reading Christian doctrines, such as the doctrine of the resurrection, into Bible passages that say nothing of them.  The fact of the matter is that the Old Testament is ambiguous when it comes to the idea of a personal afterlife.  The notions of individual resurrection and a personal afterlife gained widespread popularity among Jews in the Hellenistic period, roughly 300 BC and after.  In Jesus’ day, resurrection was a matter of theological debate.  The Sadducees, stickers for the actual words of the Torah, denied resurrection.  The Pharisees believed in it.  Jesus, for all his conflict with Pharisees on other matters, sided with them emphatically.
            My point is not to question the doctrine of resurrection.  Jesus’ teaching settles the question for Christians.  The point is that hope was fundamental to Israel’s religion even before belief in resurrection.
            Christians, when thinking about hope, often start with resurrection.  It is entirely appropriate that we do so.  Jesus’ resurrection is at the heart of Christian preaching.  Without the hope of resurrection, Paul says, Christians deserve to be pitied.
            But Christian thinking about hope must not stop with resurrection.  We must be especially careful not to reduce hope to a purely individual matter.  Christianity is not just “Jesus and me, a love story.”  Hope was an integral part of the biblical mindset before belief in individual, personal afterlife.
            Israel hoped—and therefore Christians should hope—for “that day.”  Jesus preached repentance because the “kingdom of God” was near.  Jesus’ term, “kingdom of God” (or “kingdom of heaven”), was rooted in Old Testament promises of the Day.  In Jesus’ ministry the kingdom of God was actually breaking into the world.  When Jesus preached to Palestinian peasants, time was bending; the future Day was present now to those who believed.
            (By Jesus’ “ministry” I mean to include his teaching, his miracles, his deliberate gathering of disciples in anticipation of a death he openly predicted, his crucifixion, and his resurrection.  New Testament theologians often speak of his “ministry” in this inclusive way.)
            What do we hope for, when we hope for “that day”?  First, social justice: a lifting up of the poor and punishment for powerful and rich people who have oppressed them.  This theme echoes in Mary’s prophecy about her son (Luke 1:52-54) and in Jesus’ own preaching (Luke 3:16-21).  It almost goes without saying that the “day” will be a time of righteousness; as Paul says, the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit.
            Isaiah’s prophecy widens our perspective.  “That day” will bring an earth restored; or better, an earth renewed: “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).  Isaiah envisions predators living in harmony with erstwhile prey, and children playing with wild creatures.  Shalom between people will parallel shalom in the creation.
            A mind-boggling vision, to say the least!  Would a leopard be a leopard if it weren’t a carnivore?  Isn’t meat-eating essential to the form of leopard?  Isaiah’s prophecy presses on our imagination.  How could these things be? 
            For many people, it is just as difficult to conceive of human beings living in peace with each other.  Isn’t egocentricity essential to our being?  We maintain ourselves as selves by excluding the other.  A superficial “peace” can be made by military force, so long as the superior power holds the lesser powers down.  But can there be real shalom?
            I am stressing the “weirdness” of Isaiah’s prophecy to emphasize the thoroughgoing nature of biblical hope.  Biblical hope looks forward to “that Day.”  It is, to use Jonathan Lear’s term, a “radical” hope.  We hardly know how to express it.  We cling to it even in dark times, when the earth seems broken by pollution and society torn by hate.