In the absence of transcendently based purpose and meaning, everything is a tumultuous sea of circumstance viewed through the prism of survival – survival being the value underpinning all other values. Within such a paradigm the concept of hope is relegated to a mere vacuous wishing for serendipitous events to intercede and alter circumstance . . . because there is nothing outside of circumstances in which to place hope. Hope is something that existentialism and nihilism disparage as a useless waste of time and energy – Which is no surprise, given that they are philosophical systems built entirely upon the need for human action and choice, as a means of controlling circumstance.
But the only guiding principle to all of this acting and choosing is whether or not it serves the pragmatism of survival. This is why such philosophies have fostered the existential relativism of “situational ethics” – where ethics are conformed circumstantially to whatever best serves the survival of the prevailing forces placed in crisis. And nihilism’s “will to power” mandate found in “the ends justify the means” – where actions are based on whatever best serves the survival of the agenda of the prevailing force’s will. In all cases survival is the value at the top of the heap – to be served at all cost . . . because it is survival that interprets all circumstances, then in turn, adjusts how all other existential values are to be accordingly held.
With theism, hope is the best way of describing how a theist relates to the transcendence of God, amid circumstance. In this paradigm, survival only has significance as it serves transcendent values – it doesn’t get to drive the car . . . because hope is the guiding principle. Therefore the theist acts and chooses in accordance with the transcendent values, believing that what is transcendent will prevail – this is why all hope is placed in God, the source of all transcendence. So no matter the circumstance, what is transcendent remains immutable . . . which is well beyond the purview of external efforts.
Again in contrast, where there is an absence of transcendence, survival is paramount. Therefore circumstances must relentlessly be kept out of the ditches, or from plummeting over the cliff – all presumably, by the finite external efforts of human intelligence. So even when the existentialist/nihilist has exhausted every avenue of human action and choice – ironically, he must still grudgingly rely on serendipitous hope . . . a hope placed in random chance, because he has left himself no alternative.
So I place my hope in God, not as an idle wishing, or as some sort of fallback position, but rather as a foundational cornerstone, a sustainable presuppositional context. It is a calibration of my heart and mind, allowing me to distinguish between what is merely superficial, from what has lasting value. As a Christian, I am called to a hope (Ephesians 1:18), a hope I am to give a reason for (1 Peter 3:15), a hope that ultimately defines everything about my life . . . so I place my hope in God.