I know. The title of this article is a bit confusing. So, let me tell you what I mean. In the world of philosophy, epistemology deals with the nature, origin, and scope of knowledge. In other words, epistemology relates to how we construct and understand domains of knowledge. Therefore, I propose that in Christ’s resurrection, our most foundational framework of understanding about life and death is transcendentally transformed—introducing us to a new, bright world of hope. Easter reminds us that there is hope when science has reached its limits.
In a few short weeks, our congregations will read one of the biblical accounts of the events surrounding the women who found Christ’s empty tomb. I imagine this rearrangement of hope is what women experienced that first Easter morning when they entered Christ’s open tomb and found it empty. Just think about how the words spoken by these angelic beings challenged all their presuppositions: “He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:6a, NIV). As these words took hold, a new hope built up in the hearts of the first witnesses to the resurrection. A hope that opened a doorway to a new understanding of what Greg called God’s gift of life in the midst of death. A hope that rearranges our epistemological understanding of life’s ultimate realities.
More Than Wishful Thinking
Easter reminds us that hope is more than wishful thinking. Instead, hope is a heuristic (i.e., a technique that aids in learning, discovery, and problem-solving) that enables us to believe that there is a better future. Dr. Chan Hellman, director of the Hope Research Center at the University of Oklahoma, explains that the science of hope introduces us to three fundamental ideas: hope reveals our goals for the future, hope identifies a pathway to pursue these goals, and hope provides the motivational force to follow this new pathway. This framework means that hope is an active process that provides the foundation to set future goals, identify ways to accomplish those goals, and the strength to move forward, even in the face of adversity.
As we were learning to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Drew wrote about the friction introduced by this new reality and the need to choose to practice Easter Habits to counter its effects. I dare say that this idea is grounded in Snyder’s Hope Theory. When we choose hope, we become strong, build resiliency, and develop new pathways leading to positive outcomes. In other words, we gain the power of determining how to respond to internal and external stimuli. The women at the tomb could have dismissed the evidence before them. But instead, they decided on hope: they set out to proclaim the good news, chose a pathway of celebration, and found the strength to announce the first Easter.
In his book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!,” Dr. Seuss writes, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Dr. Casey Gwinn suggests that hope is about our choices. Moreover, he suggests that a person’s ability to choose hope is the best predictor of well-being and positive outcomes. Hope rearranges our epistemological approach to life and offers new domains of understanding where God’s action becomes possible.
. “The Science of Hope: An Interview with Shane Lopez” — Dr. Shane J. Lopez, senior scientist at Gallup, speaks about the science of hope and provides practical ways to improve life.
. “The Science of Hope” — Maya Shrikant shares research findings from Arizona State University’s Center for the Advanced Study and Practice of Hope.
. “Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life” — Dr. Casey Gwinn speaks about applying the science of hope in daily life to overcome trauma, adversity, and daily struggles.
. “How the Resurrection Gives us Hope” — Pastor Rick Warren, from Saddleback Church, shares six reasons why the resurrection gives us hope.
. “The Resurrection of Jesus: The Evidence” — Dr. Mike Licona, president of Risen Jesus, Inc., presents evidence for the hope we have in Jesus’ resurrection.
. Science for the Church on Hope — Visit our webpage for more resources around hope and optimism.
Hope When Science Has Reached Its Limits
On January 10, 2012, I noticed several missed calls on my cellphone. When I responded, an unknown voice delivered the most painful news: my dad had suffered a massive heart attack and died. When I heard the news, I was devastated and realized that, despite the best technology and cutting-edge medical knowledge, science had reached its limits. At the Cross, as Christ declares “it is finished” and gives up his spirit, the finality of death is demonstrated in full force (John 19:30). However, at the empty tomb, the light of hope shines brightly, pointing to a new world of possibilities.
Psychologist Dr. Margaret Nagib provocatively suggests that hope is like magic, in that it rearranges our epistemological perception of what is real and what is possible. It makes the impossible appear possible. But Dr. Nagib posits that hope is more than magic. Hope is the inner voice that whispers (or shouts) that anything is possible, even in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation. The biblical narrative shows that, at the Cross, Christ’s followers were faced with the hopeless finality of death. Their emotional state, stemming from Christ’s gruesome death, clouded any vestige of hope for a bright future. But God’s story does not end at the Cross.
The period of Tenebrae (the time of darkness observed during the three days preceding Easter) serves as a tangible reminder that, despite the finality of the crucifixion, Sunday is coming. In other words, Easter is an epistemological rearrangement of Christian hope. Furthermore, Easter reminds us that when science has reached its limits, faith and hope (i.e., the fulcrum of God’s transformative action) bring new light and direction to our lives. These ideas may seem counterintuitive, but I think they provide a fuller understanding of how faith and science work together to help us understand God’s revelatory impetus.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the angel declared that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, had “risen from the dead” and there is no need to be afraid (Matthew 28:5-10). This Easter, let us welcome this hope. Let us embrace the fact that there is a brighter future, that we can perceive the path God is plotting for us, and that we have the strength to follow him. He is Risen!
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science