Turn on the television news, look at your bank statement, listen to your friend’s woes. Faced with the basic problems of living who hasn’t despaired of things ever turning out okay? How are you to be delivered from all that is going wrong with the world – the hate and violence, crime, stress, family breakdown, business dishonesty? What power for good is going to make a real difference? In what can you turn to for confidence about things improving?
Hope in bodily pleasure
One answer is to rely on bodily pleasure. Who doesn’t look forward to escaping home at the end of a fraught day and crashing out. Some people get a bit tipsy after work trying to forget their troubles. Or indulge in comfort eating. Those who are bored with life perhaps look forward to the excitement of a new sexual thrill or dangerous sport. Others may take recreational drugs to enhance their mood.
Whatever your fix, you will know deep down that it can’t be relied upon to make things better other than on a temporary basis. Bodily indulgence is just a temporary distraction that never really solves anything.
Hope in technology
How about counting on technological invention to permanently make life very different? Given time, engineers, who designed vacuum cleaners and washing machines, will probably create other labour saving equipment in the home. The electronics industry will probably change your life as much as did computers and smart phones.
But do machines make you any more contented? Do they reduce work stress or just give us more emails to answer? Do they help us cope with personal relationships or just take away our privacy whilst using social media? Do they liberate human beings from mundane work or just make people redundant?
Hope in politics
You might be banking on politics to make a real difference to your life. The hope is that it may produce a better world to live in. National government can provide solutions to social and economic problems by ensuring good public services such as education and health care. Can politicians do all this and at the same time protect the environment, encourage commercial enterprise and pay for our security? Certainly, they are happy to appeal for votes with policies claimed to meet the country’s need for good housing, high rates of employment, a sense of social justice, and a level of socially cohesion that enables good community relations.
The trouble is there seems in Britain to be a widespread disenchantment with the main political parties. Can we really hope politicians will offer us salvation from our economic and social woes or will they just be too busy slagging off the other side creating falsehood, fear and smear? How can national policies expect to radically change the way human beings behave towards each other in the home, and in the workplace? What the government do cannot make us show more respect for others, give us a social conscience, and reduce our self-interest.
Hope in therapy
Perhaps you should be looking to some form of counselling to rid you of unpleasant feelings like anxiety and depression. Talking with a friend or with a professional therapist is for you when going through a bad time or when you have emotional problems you can’t sort out on your own. You can hope that life will be made easier if you look at your problems in a different way and learn new personal skills.
Critics, however, point out that with over a 25% drop out rate from professional therapy, what may count is how you and the other person get on. What is called the quality of the therapeutic relationship. But choosing who is best for you to work with in confidence is virtually impossible in advance. Also although therapists may be seen as the new high priests, they can’t actually solve the deeper issues of life – tissues to do with your sense of identity, the meaning you attach to being alive, your eventual death and an unknowable future. Nor can they alleviate the socially caused problems that beset you, over which you have no influence.
Hope in oneself
Many will feel that if you want a job doing well then do it yourself. In other words in the end one has to put one’s hope in one’s own solutions to difficulties. Don’t depend on others but become more self-reliant. Taking responsibility for dealing with the mess you find yourself in can be liberating. It can reduce the feeling of helpless dejection by giving a new sense of control. This self-confidence may seem to be a good idea for those who feel they are managing life’s difficulties.
But when you are in crisis being confronted by failure, and factors beyond your own influence then you will be brought up sharp by the burdens of reality and a sense of helplessness. The need is to turn to something that is stronger then yourself to effect change. Members of AA turn to a higher power to help them abstain from alcohol.
Hope in the transcendent
In my view, in rightly rejecting the punitive and judgmental ideas of traditional religion, many people today nevertheless believe in a life force that gives nature its vitality. Others recognize a universal spirit which inspires humane compassion and love; and a divine providence that provides us with the opportunities for learning life’s lessons so that we can become wiser and calmer in the face of adversity.
I happen to believe that what saves you, from all that is bad, is a humble acknowledgment that what is good ultimately does not come from the world or from yourself. For we humans are finite. Instead it originates in an infinite source of goodness itself, far beyond your or my own strength to create. A source of divine love and wisdom which is both mysteriously simultaneously transcendent beyond us and immanently present within us. To find a lasting sense of hope is to put one’s faith in this divine power. Perhaps that is why even in these secular times in Britain many people in crisis, who do not normally do so, pray to God when they are desperate for help.
Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems