Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hope Burns Bright

Hope is a waking dream. -Aristotle (attributed)

[H]ope not only desires something good for the future; it expects it to happen. And it not only expects it to happen; it is confident that it will happen. There is a moral certainty that the good we expect and desire will be done. -John Piper

In the Green Lantern comic books, the Green Lantern Corps are essentially intergalactic cops, enforcing justice throughout the cosmos. They use a power ring fueled by the willpower of the universe; their rings can create green-light synthetic constructs based on the will of the user. Whatever a given Green Lantern can imagine and will to appear shall appear to help him or her combat evil. Yet within the past few years, the Green Lanterns discovered that they were not the only corps. Other ring-bearers have emerged from the corners of the universe to wage war on one another. Their rings are represented by different colors on the emotional spectrum. Some are good like the Greens, some are consistently evil like the rage-powered Red Lanterns, and some are neutral like the mysterious Indigo Tribe. As our true heroes who always come out on top, you might imagine that the Greens are the most powerful lanterns in the universe.

Wrong. The Blue Lantern Corps is the most powerful group in this war of light. Their rings are powered by the blue light of hope instead of the green light of will. Rather than responding to the creativity of the wielder, the blue rings create constructs based on the hopes of the target. For example, when the Blue Lantern Saint Walker is trying to escape from Green Lantern John Stewart, his blue ring projects into Stewart's mind images of him reunited with dead wife. He is left awe-struck as Walker escapes, filled with the confident hope that he will see his wife again. On another occasion, the Blue Lantern finds a world whose sun is dying. He tells the people of the world to put their hope in him; his ring is supercharged by their confidence in him and he is able to reignite the star and save the doomed world. Their rings can even supercharge a green power ring and completely drain a yellow ring (powered by fear).

Their fatal flaw? A blue ring is almost useless without a green one nearby.

The symbolism might strike as heavy-handed. Sometimes it's as though the writers are poking you with a stick saying, "Get it? Hope destroys fear. It inspires our wills. See? But without willpower, hope is useless. Didja get it? Huh? Huh? Didja?" And maybe that shouldn't surprise; it is a comic book, after all.

Still, this fits well our modern definition of hope. Hope is an exercise of the will. It is the decision to operate under the assumption that things are going to be better even if all evidence is to the contrary. And just like the blue and green rings' symbiosis, our hope empowers the will to accomplish more than it could alone. It's a loop, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a paradox--and really, an absurdity. By making the conscious decision to hope, the will is stronger. The hope isn't based on the certainty of the accomplishment, but in wishing it to be so. Ignoring the reality of a tough situation in order to overcome it.

But apart from its usefulness in self-delusion, what's the point? This version of hope is at the center of existentialism. Existentialism takes as a granted the reality of nihilism (which is the belief that nothing is really true; "truth" as a proposition is a combination of lies the powerful use to control the weak and the fantasies weak men need to function). Existentialism sees the abyss at the end of nihilism (madness in the face of everything being illusory and false), and consciously rejects through willpower and emotion what the mind knows to be true. "Truth is really a lie," says the nihilist. "Fair enough," replies the existentialist, "now let me invent a lie I can live with. Ignorance is bliss. I will make a truth that works for me." Hope then is an invention concocted by weak men to function.

Or is it? A further examination of hope will come next time.

In fearful day, in raging night,
With strong hearts full, our souls ignite,
When all seems lost in the War of Light,
Look to the stars-- For hope burns bright!
-Blue Lantern Oath


  1. You forgot to tag comic books in here. Good post! I'm interested in seeing where you go from here. And I think you nailed the definition of hope for many people. I feel like I functionally live this way fairly often, which is terrible. It's easy to fall into the trap of assuming that everything is fine and if I just keep doing what I'm doing I'll probably make it out okay. It's not very Christian, and it's certainly not very smart.

    Could you include some thoughts on Hebrews where (Abraham?) hoped against hope?

  2. Totally didn't see the GL reference coming, but you know I loved it! Good post, my friend. Looking forward to more on hope.