“The person who claims to be full of hope but fails to lead a life of prayer is a liar. Prayer is the sole ‘reason’ for hope, at the same time that it is its means and expression. Prayer is the referral to God’s decision, on which we are counting. Without that referral there can be no hope, because we would have nothing to hope for. Prayer is the assurance of the possibility of God’s intervention, without which there is no hope. Prayers is the means given by God for the dialogue with him, that is to day, it is the very junction of the future with eternity, where we have seen that our hope is located. In its dialogue it embraces the past presented for pardon, the future defined by cooperation between the praying person and God, and eternity, which prayer lays hold of through the sighs uttered by the Holy Spirit.
“Without such prayer we can piece together a few false hopes to give the appearance of hope, but all that, even when arranged theologically, can only be illusory. That is why it is quite right to recall that hope is based on God’s promise constantly fulfilled and renewed. But how can we forget that, throughout the Bible, this promise is linked with the ceaseless outcry of prayer? It is man’s prayer which demands the fulfillment, and it is again his prayer which demands its renewal and its ongoing. Without prayer, the promise and its fulfillment are forces just as indifferent and blind as Moira (fate) and Ananke (necessity).”
~ Jacques Elull, Hope in a Time of Abandonment, 272-3.
“Hope is not confidence in the virtues of history, any more than it is confidence in the virtue of the noble savage or of man’s nature. To the extent it reduces itself to that, it means nothing. Whoever nurtures that kind of belief is merely an idealist, and hope is, in that case, a vague, pleasent feeling.
“Hope is the act whereby a person becomes aware of the distance of the Kingdom, and it clings to apocalyptic thinking. If the Kingdom is there, within easy reach, if the Kingdom is quite naturally within us, there is no need for hope. The latter is the measure of our distance from the Kingdom. Certainly the saying which attests that the Kingdom is at hand, that the Kingdom is in our midst, is truthful, but it is truthful as a saying of hope. It is not the report of an observable, measurable reality, complete with tangible consequences. It is an affirmation of a counter-reality. Humanly speaking, it is not true that the Kingdom of God is present. . . .
“The Apocalypse is tied to the thought of a God who intervenes in history, who makes his own decisions and acts as sovereign, creating the world he wants through his almighty Word, whose fiery approach melts mountains and causes man and his works to collapse. It is to take the living God seriously. Now hope is that work which incites this God to come and reveal himself, no ling in his discreetness, weakness, and humiliation, but also in his glory. If one doesn’t hope in the glory of God, of which the Apocalypse is a translation, there is no hope. There is only human progress and the hatred of those who obstruct it.”
~ Jacques Ellul, Hope in a Time of Abandonment, 206-7, 209.
Jacques Ellul’s provocative book, The Humiliation of the Word is not likely to get too warm of a reception in the contemporary theological climate. Mainly because Ellul’s argument is a full-bore assault on the theological attraction to the visual. The specifics of Ellul’s argument is too complex for me to exposit just yet. Here, however is a quote from the book that raises some questions:
Jesus declares us happy if we did not know him according to the flesh, during his lifetime, in his reality, because he requires of us the absolute leap: the risk of faith that is the only guarantee that we love him. We are blessed if we did not see him resurrected, if we did not place our hands in the scars of his wounds, if the Resurrection remains outside that reality for us. This is so because he asks us to enter the folly of this Resurrection that can be only received by faith; it ceases to be folly if it can be verified. And we are always trying to rationalize it (by saying that the Resurrection is the Church, or the poor, etc.) in order to stop the scandal — that is, we always try to come back to sight. (p. 244)
While this is just one quote, Elull’s book as a whole raises some interesting questions about how we understand the theological significance of the visual. If we walk by faith and not by sight, how are we to understand the theological significance of the visual medium in our faith? What might this mean for the ever-popular quest for theologies of art today?
“This, then, is the revolutionary situation: to be revolutionary is to judge the world by its present state, by actual facts, in the name of a truth which does not yet exist (but which is coming) — and it is to do so because we believe this truth to be more genuine and more real than the reality which surrounds us. Consequently it means bringing the future into the present as an explosive force. It meas believing that future events are more important and more true than present events; it means understanding the present in light of the future, dominating it by the future, in the same way as the historian dominates the past. Henceforth the revolutionary act forms part of history: it is going to create history, by inflecting it towards this future…”
– Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 38-39.