At the beginning of each new year I am always struck with a sense of hope. It is always interesting because really the first week of January is a lot like the final week of December. Very little has fundamentally changed in just a week’s time, but there is still something about the new year that gets me excited about the possibilities and the potential positive changes that are going to be coming down the line.
The funny thing about it though is that I don’t really know what possibilities might actually come to be in the year to come. There are plenty of things that I would like to happen. I would love to complete my dissertation by the end of the year. I would love to put some finishing touches on a book manuscript I wrote last year. I would love to see our power soccer team get to nationals and come home with some hardware. All of these are big goals, and some are more probable than others, but they are all things that definitely could happen. On the continuum of achievability, they are much closer to the good side than the bad side.
Then there are possibilities that I hope happen but are bit more fantastical if you will. I might complete my book, and I would love to get a huge book deal to go along with it. Possible? Well, it is not impossible. It could happen. Probable? Incredibly far away from probable.
I plan on completing my dissertation, and it could possibly cause people in positions of power to consider certain elements of distributism when developing economic policy. Possible? I guess someone could be really bored and pick up a Ph.D. dissertation for some light reading before bed. Probable? Something tells me it will probably not happen.
As you have been taking a look at some of these possibilities, I imagine that you might agree with my assessment. Some could happen, some might not happen, but some are definitely much more likely to happen than others. However, at this point in the year, I really don’t know which ones may or may not happen, so it is fun to think about any and all of them. It is fun to think about what might happen if my manuscript happens to have a great deal of success or if my dissertation became part of a larger intellectual conversation. It might not happen, and it is incredibly unlikely, but there is an element of dreaming that still hits me as we begin the new year.
What’s the point of hoping and dreaming though? Why do we do it? Realistically, our hope should rise with the probability of achievability. For example, I should be more hopeful in the fact that I am going to have food for dinner tonight than in the fact that I might be able to influence a national conversation about distributism. However, I don’t know if hope is quite the same thing. What I am talking about here seems more like an expectation. If that is all that hope means, then there is no doubt that the likelihood of me having dinner tonight is much greater than the likelihood of distributism going mainstream on account of my dissertation.
Hope is greater than just expectation. There has to be possibility, of course, or else there’s no point hoping. There is no use in me hoping that the sun will turn purple. That’s not going to happen ever. We need to hope for something that is possible, but probability doesn’t really seem to make much of a difference. I can hope for something that is probable or improbable, and I am still hoping.
From the outside this type of hope may seem to be founded or unfounded. I may think that you are crazy about hoping for something that is highly improbable. You may think I am crazy if I think that my book could possibly get published somewhere. You may think that my hope is well-founded if it is something that is probable.
To me though, when I am talking about my hope, probability doesn’t really seem to enter into the conversation because they are hopes. For you, when you think about your hopes, you don’t really take into account what I think about them. They are your hopes, and my hopes are mine.
I think that’s why I am always struck by hope at this time of the year. Because of the unknown and the fact that hope does not depend on probability, I can’t help but think about all of the good things that may actually happen. But why do I bother doing it? What is the point of hope?
C. S. Lewis once said that, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” There is something about hope that resonates with me. There’s something about hope that makes me want to look towards something better. The opposite of hope is fear. I look forward towards hopes that are good or fears that are not. I am looking forward at something, and like Lewis claims, I have this desire to look towards something that’s good. I want to have hopes. I don’t want to have to fears even though I do sometimes just like everyone else. Instead, I find these desires in me, and I want to find some kind of satisfaction for them.
Anyone who is familiar with the work of Lewis will understand that he is using this as an argument to point towards the existence of God. For some hopes like my dissertation, there is a way to satisfy that hope. I can finish my dissertation, and I will fulfill that desire to have my dissertation finished. The point that Lewis is making is that there are some things we desire but can’t find satisfaction here on earth. We desire pure love, but even our best friends and closest family members let us down at times. We desire justice, and our world seems to be a rather unjust place. Assuming that the universe is not just playing a prank on us, Lewis hypothesizes that there must be a way for these deeper desires to be fulfilled, and he grounds that in the person of God. When we are in God’s presence, we will find those deeper longings fulfilled.
If Lewis is right, we are people who want to hope. We are people who want to look for things to become better. Even if certain things are not probable, we have these desires. That applies to supernatural things. How probable is it that the God of the universe would die for the sins of His own creation? Not very probable, but it happened. It didn’t happen in the teachings of any other world religion. If they are right and Christianity is wrong, then this didn’t happen. How probable is it that there is something rather than nothing? Not very probable, but we are here. There are plenty of ways that nothing could have existed, but we find ourselves indisputably existing along with the world around us.
It amazes me when I think about this at the beginning of a new year. I find myself with a desire to hope for things to be good. If Lewis is right in the world is not some kind of cold place that gives me desires with no hope of fulfillment, then there must be a reason I desire this hope. I must be reason it comes back to me this time of year. I would suggest to you that no matter how improbable you might think the claims are Christianity are, it would be good for you to consider why you have hopes and dreams. Why do you bother thinking about the things you want to be better? I think it’s because we are designed with a knowledge that things can be better. We are designed with the understanding that there are things that may seem improbable and even ridiculous to the world around us, but they still can be true. I don’t think I’m the only one that has some hopes and dreams going into 2019, and I think that it is a good thing. My desire to have hopes point me towards a way to satisfy my hopes. It isn’t just the simple things that occupy my day-to-day life. It is about eternal hopes as well.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 136-137, Kindle Edition.