In a timely article last month, professor N. T. Wright addressed our collective anxiety as Christians living during the coronavirus pandemic by assuring us our faith offers no answers. At least not the answers we want. He asserts that our quest for reasons results from Christianity’s faulty reliance on rationalism. “Rationalists (including Christian rationalists) want explanations; Romantics (including Christian romantics) want to be given a sigh of relief.” But what do we do when God gives us neither explanations nor relief? Wright says we lament.

Citing T. S. Eliot (in “East Coker,” the second of Eliot’s Four Quartets), Wright speaks about “hoping for the wrong thing.”

I asked Wright how might we better think about hope.

Wright: The point is that we all too quickly hope for “our heart’s desire” without thinking that perhaps we need to let God do quite a job of reordering our hearts. In my tradition we have an old prayer which asks that God would so enable us “to love what you command, and desire what you promise.” Far too much of modernity, including would-be Christian modernity, is wanting God to command what we already love, and promise what we already desire. Eliot, (echoing St. John of the Cross) is challenging that and suggesting we might have to wait on God’s fresh leading before we know what we should really be hoping for.

I’ve experienced deep personal sorrow myself this past year, and I’ve seen lament and grief as gateways to a deeper, though more ambiguous and even mysterious, faith. Is this a kind of “unknowing”, as some Christian traditions would teach?

Wright: Lament and grief open all sorts of doorways into ...

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