St. Paul instructs Christians that the greatest of the theological virtues is love; but it’s also true that the hardest of them is hope. “It’s hoping that is difficult,” confirms the French poet Charles Péguy. “And the easy path is to despair.”
Living through the past year certainly supports that judgment. Even those who took the most dire view of how Donald Trump’s ascension to high office might play out couldn’t have been fully prepared for the cumulative force of Trump’s incompetence and cruelty, how experiencing the Trump presidency, day after day, would feel. The combination of an unstable, wicked man in an office of vast powers inexorably generates dread and depression—aided, of course, by Twitter, Facebook, cable news, and all the other ways we are sometimes overwhelmed by what’s happening.
War with North Korea looms. The Democrats are in disarray. Every day something disturbing seems to unfold, pushing yesterday’s disturbing news out of the headlines and most of our minds. It all becomes a blur. But the present crisis goes far deeper than U.S. politics. Brave women have come forward in recent months to expose the sexual misconduct of powerful men, a long-overdue moment of reckoning surely unleashed, at least in part, by the fact that a man caught bragging about sexual assault now occupies the White House. The destruction of the planet continues apace; the increasingly obvious consequences of climate change are unfolding across the globe. The far right is ascendant in the United States and is gaining strength across Europe. And the church, which should provide an alternative to such troubles, too often reflects the divisions convulsing the broader culture.
If it feels like the End Times, it’s not. But it is apocalyptic, a season of unveiling and revelation, when what lurked in the darkness is brought into the light and what quietly festered becomes fully known. The precariousness of a decent life, the anxieties and fears of those on the margins of society are apparent in new and convicting ways.