[I]f anyone says, ‘After Auschwitz it is too late to go on hoping for the Messiah, who could come but who has not in fact come’—then, said Fackenheim, he would reply, ‘It is precisely because it is too late that we are commanded to hope… To hope after Auschwitz and Hiroshima is just this: don’t leave the future to hell because hell is always with us.
~ Moltmann, quoting Emile Fackenheim, in A Broad Place: An Autobiography.
I think that this quotation from Fackenheim does a fine job of expressing the sort of hope that I am pursuing. Journeying, as I do, with many who are considered hopeless, I am often confronted with the questions posited by the supposedly well-intentioned realism that pervades our culture:
“Why bother with all these people? After all, they will never get clean, they will die on the street, they will continue to break, and be broken by, others. Why remain in such a dark place? Why throw away your life, why surrender whatever talents you might have, on those who will not appreciate them? For these people, it is too late. Move on. Be free of them (doesn’t your Jesus offer you freedom?). Focus on those who are close to you, focus on those who will appreciate what you have to offer. Make the little difference that you can, but, for heaven’s sake, don’t get so caught up in all of this!”
Such realism is entirely hopeless. It is here — here in the places that are beyond hope, in the people that are beyond saving, in the broken who are beyond fixing — here that hope must truly come to exist. For hope should not be mistaken for the optimism that comes with experiencing privilege, nor should it be mistaken for the pale myth of progress that continues to cling to our culture. No, hope, the true hope of Christianity, must be born from the hells of our world. True Christian hope is precisely the sort of hope that arises from the (realistic but hopeless) observation that “it is too late.”
Why is this the case? Because Jesus is the perfect example of the ways in which our concepts of ‘lateness’ are displaced by God’s activity. By all accounts, after dying on the cross, and spending three days lying dead in a tomb, it was too late for Jesus to be anything but another failed messianic pretender. The imperial powers, coupled with the local religious and social elites, had definitively put an end to Jesus’s work — Jesus was dead, the game was up, all the disciples could do was flee for their lives. But then resurrection happened… and everything changed. New life, life that conquers death, occured, and is now a central part of the lordship of Jesus.
And so we know, when all the powers of death are united, when they are bearing down on us and telling us that it is too late for change, too late for this person, too late for that person, too late for hope — when know that there is a power greater than death. The power of God, acknowledged in the confession of Jesus’s Lordship, it is this that requires us to hold onto hope for everyone whom death tries to claim (and even does claim).
Too late? We know that it is not too late. It is early! The new day has only just begun to dawn.
Too late? We know that it is not too late. It is only too late for death and all the powers in the service of death. For the rest of us, there is hope.
Too late? We know that it is not too late. After Holy Saturday, all of our hells have been planted with hope, and even the most devestated places can be the foundation for fertility. Yes, it is not too late, this wilderness will yet rejoice, will blossom, will shout for joy.
Too late? We know that it is not too late. The eyes of the blind will see, the ears of the deaf will hear, the lame will leap like a deer, the dead will be raised to new life, “and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35).