MANN TALK: Hope Without Heaven

by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann
A pastor asserts unequivocally: “If Jesus were dead and in a tomb, as the case with all other religious leaders who ever lived, this  world would be shrouded in hopelessness. Where the Christ is not known, there is little hope.”      

I cannot in good conscience respond to this assertion in the words that first crossed my mind upon reading it; for I would be unkind and I would later regret belittling a man’s faith. But such an egregiously erroneous exaggeration compels me to  reply that I don’t believe that Christ arose from the dead and I have hope and have hope abundantly; and so do many other people I know who believe as I do. And for that matter, countless souls  who lived before Christ undoubtedly had hope and so do  millions of others of  different faiths who live in this day. Does the good pastor really believe that the only people on this earth that have hope are  Christians? If so, he has sequestered himself in such theological confinement  that he knows little of the world  outside his cloister.             

 Or he believes that hope of life after death is the only basis for hope;  and if he believes that,  I  can comprehend his hopelessness only as it  regards  his profession; for preachers have a vested interest in a risen Christ and rightly so. They know that the pews would be empty were it not for the Resurrection and the hope of heaven. So they must do what St. Paul does in Corinthians I, Chapter 15 --- the  Scripture cited by the pastor--- and what the pastor does in his article: Convince himself and others that Christ arose from death,  left the tomb, appeared to his disciples and  ascended to heaven.            

 One can argue reasonably that to invest Christ with divinity is to minimize and degrade his life and words and to diminish the challenge of his example. In fact, to many of us, and certainly to me, it is an  abiding  inspiration  that Christ did not rise from the dead and   was not God’s child any more than any other being is God’s child,  and  that he undoubtedly was a man  unique in his  moral stature, who taught, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, a Unitarian, a “system or morality [that] was the most benevolent  and sublime ... ever taught.”                

Also one can complain: How can a mortal expect to be able to live in accordance with the moral code of a God? And thus take refuge in his mortality and justify his aberrant and deviant behavior, thereby. Moreover, he can through the mediations of the church wash away his sins and redeem himself through easy rites of belief and  baptism and the gift of grace, all of which ecclesiastical ministrations and divine gifts  require no moral sweat in the  doing and abiding thereof.                

What hope is there without belief in a risen Christ? There is always tomorrow,  which is -- to use street philosophy --  the first day of the rest of one’s life. Every day is as a thumb print: it is unique in some way. There is more often than not an unexpected joy and a chance to do some simple favor with no expectation of return and sometimes there is the consequences of some  past shortcoming  for which there comes a day to pay. There is the weather of that day and  always the weather is of interest to man and beast; for it has an effect that  cheers or depresses,  enhances or dampens the plans for the time. And so it is with seasons  with their drama and beauty and tranquility and terror.            

  There is work. Always there is work; and if one’s work is a union of one’s avocation with his vocation then he has heaven enough and hope sufficient. To be lost in one’s occupation, to feel what one is doing is needful, to have adequate reward for the doing of it and at the end of day to have need of rest and a keen appetite --- all of which conditions,   engender  a fervent wish to live another day.              

  There is love. That wonderful  feeling that pervades one in the presence of the other.  The parting and reunion. The planning and realizing. The anticipations and the consummations. And then that love that expects nothing in return. Love in all of its forms and expressions is conceived and nurtured by hope. To know love whether turbulent or tranquil is to have uplifting hope. In the back of the mind of everyone is the dream of enduring love; for no other state of the heart is so comforting.             

 There are children. In them is great hope. For therein is one’s future and his immortality. Children that achieve, that honor parents, that become productive,  responsible,  disciplined, empathetic and diligent adults and  do all  that bring beams to parents’ faces,  brighten the  todays and  tomorrows of their progenitors. Without another generation in the wing and  with all that is left of mankind,  moribund,  on the world’s stage, under such circumstances,  then,  the pastor could  with reason talk about hopelessness but  surely not  in any other circumstances,  even a buried Christ.             

   There is nature, God’s greatest gift. There is no deceit in it, no ambiguity, no bribery, no discrimination, no allotment of rain measured by virtue and sin; no preferences on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or any other; no politics; no mitigation of the wages of waywardness and no  stinting of rewards of faithfulness to its mandates. Then there is all of its miracles and glories: sunsets and sunrises,  the  moon and its phases,  fields and meadows, mountains and plains, skies and seas, flowers and birds and the whole of creation.              

 Finally, there is death. An advent that should be no surprise to one who has reached adulthood and an advent one should consider inevitable and necessary in nature’s plan. Man lives on life. Not a mouthful does he ingest but that some life has ended for his sustenance. It takes death to give life. Trees thrive on the leaves of yesteryears and on decayed parental trunks. So all of life lives on past generations. Thus, death is the final gift to  progeny, a gift that is a sine qua non of life.              

Why whine that without the prospect  of life eternal after  death  there is no hope, when hope is everywhere in spite of the death warrant that is concomitant with every birth notice?  One should face it: Death is the end.  But unless one has  been inordinately damned by fate and has been inconceivably denied  some measure of nature’s benevolence, he can in that final moment of consciousness look back on the unique peaks and pits of his life and be content with the miracle of it all.      

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Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He  was born in Charleston, WV in 1921. For a  David M. Kinchen review of "Mann & Nature," a collection of Perry Mann essays, click: 
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