Tag Archives: hope

The Resurrection

We do not know whether or not Jesus was resurrected on the third day, but we do experience a more profound and much more common kind of resurrection, when out of every intransigent problem springs hope. Of course, we maintain many kinds of hope, but the most powerful is that which comes out of apparently lost situations, which are only a matter of despair because of the way we have been framing them. The resurrection stands for not only a reframing of death, but a reframing of all other human suffering.Piero resurrection

If, indeed, as the gospel narratives insist, Jesus was resurrected, it was an odd kind of resurrection. For the resurrected Jesus, it seemed, delighted in teasing people’s plodding certainties when resurrected even more than he did in life. Instead of confronting his disciples directly after his resurrection, he left them to discover an empty tomb and to be told the news by an angel[1]. When resurrected, he appears and disappears abruptly and unpredictably[2]. He is often not recognised at first, but only in retrospect or when he performs a characteristic gesture[3]. He can enter a room with a locked door[4]. He is at pains to point out that he is not a ghost, but a corporeal being who eats, can be touched, and bears the physical marks of the crucifixion[5], but in other respects he hardly follows the normal habits or limitations of an embodied person.

All of this suggests overwhelmingly that the resurrection of Christ is not a glorious certainty that we should believe in as a historical event, but rather a glorious uncertainty. When all seems lost in the old paradigm, when the paradigm shifts to a new way of understanding, we should only expect the unexpected. In amongst the possibilities remains the likelihood that all is lost, but there also remains grounds for hope – that even the most intractable conditions may yield when we are prepared to change our view of them. Incurable cancer may clear up. The certainties of Newtonian physics can give way to relativity. People separated by the entire mass of the earth can communicate instantaneously without leaving their bedrooms. A man from a race once enslaved can become president.

The new grounds of hope arise from the integration of energy associated with possibilities that were previously repressed. That means that, in archetypal terms, resurrection is created from the integration of the Shadow. That process of integration of the Shadow is represented in the non-scriptural Christian tradition of the harrowing of Hell. Between the crucifixion and resurrection, it is traditionally believed, Christ descended to Hell, bound Satan, and rescued the Old Testament prophets who had been damned purely due to original sin, regardless of their personal merits. One can see this, of course, as a medieval theological invention designed to explain away an awkward implication of atonement: that nobody who lived before Jesus could be saved, no matter how good or faithful. However, that development also has a positive symbolic function which we could perhaps interpret rather as removing the apparatus of original sin and damnation entirely: when we engage in the integrative mediation represented by Christ, we are freed from the Hell of the constricted ego.

For Jung, the harrowing of Hell has a close relationship with the psychological function of the resurrection:

The present is a time of God’s death and disappearance. The myth says he was not to be found where his body was laid. “Body” means the outward, visible form, the erstwhile but ephemeral setting for the highest value. The myth further says that the value rose again in a miraculous manner, transformed.  It looks like a miracle, for, when a value disappears, it always seems to be lost irretrievably. So it is quite unexpected that it should come back. The three days’ descent into hell during death describes the sinking of the vanished value into the unconscious, where, by conquering the power of darkness, it establishes a new order, and then rises up to heaven again, that is, attains supreme clarity of consciousness. The fact that only a few people see the Risen One means that no small difficulties stand in the way of finding and recognising the transformed value. [6]

The prime Christian virtues are faith, hope and love: but all of these are founded, not on absolutising beliefs, but on the recognition of uncertainty. Faith, in an experiential sense rather than the sense of absolute belief, depends on embodied confidence. ‘Doubting’ Thomas was not wrong to seek embodied experience as the basis of his faith, and Jesus treats his need with understanding[7]. We might be better to call him Faithful Thomas. Faith projects that confidence forward into what we have not experienced yet, but hope goes further in offering possibilities that we could not justify faith in. Love (or charity) depends on maintaining a flexible and rounded view of others, who are neither instruments nor obstacles to us, but rather persons. All three of these virtues, then, are dependent on provisionality, and none of them can be practised without the Middle Way. But hope is the most forward of them all, the most alive to mere possibility. Hope springs most of all from the flexibility of the imagination, and is constrained by the iron repression of belief. That is why it is so ironic that the resurrection, so much a symbol of hope, should have become an object of metaphysical belief and thus undermined hope.


The above is an extract from Robert M. Ellis’s forthcoming book ‘The Christian Middle Way: The case against Christian belief but for Christian faith’.

Picture: Resurrection by Piero della Francesca


[1] Mk 16:1-8; Mt 28:5-7

[2] Lk 24:31,36 & 51

[3] Lk 24:16; Jn 20:14; Jn 21:4

[4] Jn 20:26

[5] Lk 24:38-43; Jn 20:26-9

[6] Carl Jung (1958): Psychology and Religion, §149

[7] Jn 20:24-9

There is always hope

In the last few weeks and months, I have sometimes found hope in rather short supply. That’s not particularly due to personal events so much as events in the world at large, particularly those that can be summarised in two evocative words, ‘Brexit’ and ‘Trump’. These are a source of despair primarily because of the bad news they convey about the lack of critical thinking and wider awareness in a large section of the population of the UK and US, together with the apparently disastrous implications of Trump’s election for the already fragile international consensus to act effectively on climate change. Absolutisation appears to rule unchallenged so often in so many minds at crucial times, who are thus paralysed from responding to important conditions by an obsession with straw man targets such as ‘political correctness’, ‘liberal elites’, or the influence of foreign migrants, and apparently animated by an overwhelming nostalgia for past social certainties.

The effects of these obsessions are underlined by George Monbiot in an article called ‘The 13 impossible crises that humanity now faces’, which include not only Trump and climate change, but the possibility of a new financial crisis, the likely collapse of the EU, mass migration, mass unemployment due to automation, a looming food crisis, mass extinctions, (and, added in a comment) antibiotic resistance and the global pensions crisis. To address these kind of conditions, we need every sinew of balanced critical awareness we can gather, yet at the very moment we seem likely to need it most, it seems that the majority of the population is determined to stick its collective head in the sand.

Where is hope at a time like this? Strangely enough, hope always seems to be our default setting, regardless of such bad news. Iain McGilchrist points out that our dominant left hemispheres are subject to a general shallow optimism, ensuring that human beings will always tend to seek a new positive response to their conditions. The shock of bad news is short-lived, and it generally takes us little time before we start seeking alternative positive sides to it. As the Monty Python team memorably sings from their crosses, it’s always possible to ‘look on the bright side of life’.

But is there any justification for this default resurgence of hope? Is it just another aspect of the confirmation bias that makes us so prone to error in the first place? I would argue that there is. There is a shallow source of hope in this default setting, but there is also a deeper source of hope in the wider insights we find whenever we start to move beyond our delusions of the moment. Our embodied nature not only makes us continue to hope, but also helps us respond to frustration by reframing our perspective and gaining a better understanding. Darkness may be followed by a new dawn because, when we are at our most deluded, we are very likely to clash with conditions and be forced towards a more adequate perspective. We will not escape suffering, but we may learn from our suffering. The Middle Way is a way of talking about that capacity for finding new, more adequate perspectives in the face of uncertainty.hope-wojniakowski

Both optimism and pessimism, when adopted as all-encompassing interpretations of the situation, are deluded, and a more adequate position is likely to lie somewhere between them. George Monbiot alerts us to some pressing conditions, but his piece needs to be recognised as a selective interpretation of events. We also have much to be cheerful about. On a personal level, many of us still have enough to eat, comfortable houses, stimulating lives and supportive companions. Worldwide, violence continues to decline (as documented by Steven Pinker); moral attitudes in many countries have transformed so as to respect many groups that were previously oppressed on grounds of race, age, gender, sexuality; human lifespan continues to extend; extreme poverty continues to decline; numbers of people attending school and university worldwide continue to rise. If you raise these points, you may be accused of complacency, just as raising Monbiot’s points may lead to denial or your dismissal as a doom merchant. Nevertheless, questioning both the absolutes of optimism and pessimism remains a crucial aspect of the practice of the Middle Way.

People may associate hope with optimism, but if that optimism is dogmatic or built on little more than our ‘default setting’ it is fragile. A more sustainable hope comes from the Middle Way, because the Middle Way ensures that we are always working towards realism as well as optimism. The best hope is a grounded hope. Rather than being overwhelmed by the perspective of the present, reflection can also help us to take the long view. In the long view, even the impact of Adolf Hitler has eventually faded and been put into perspective, like that of Genghis Khan or the Emperor Nero before him. There is no guarantee that suffering or loss will clear the way for new advances, but mere reflection on the fact that they often do may help us to put things into perspective.

‘There is always hope’ thus seems like a helpful and justified generalisation of human experience. A string of proverbs and truisms (‘Hope springs eternal’ and so on) confirm that it has widely been seen to be so. Our times may be disastrous, but they are still not times for despair.


Picture: Allegory of Hope by Wojniakowski