• David McNitzky

The Thing with Feathers

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

This week I listened to a podcast about hope featuring the brilliant Yale theologian, Miroslav Volf. Not surprisingly he referenced Paul’s words in Romans 5:4-5 and in Romans 8:20-25. But to my surprise, he also quoted Emily Dickinson’s words from more than 150 years ago:

“Hope is the thing with feathers.

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all.”

Volf reminds us that what makes this singing hope and not expectation is that we do not know the words but we sing the tune anyway. How true this is of our current time, when we do not know exactly where things are going in our turbulent world and we are not exactly sure what God, working with us, may yet make of our situation. Nevertheless, we hope. We continue to hum the tune without the words. Remember that according to Hebrews 11:1, faith involves hope in what we do not see. I had always thought that this meant that we have a specific vision of a preferred future, but though we do not see it yet we have confidence in that vision. Now I wonder if what this really means is that we have confidence even though we do not have a specific vision of how things ought to turn out. If I am right, then our confidence is placed in the character of God and not in our calculations and extrapolations. In my experience my disappointments in life have mostly come from my unmet expectations of God and others. Now I realize that I need to approach God and others with an openness to allow them to shape a future that may not be according to my calculations. Likely, as Paul said in Ephesians 3:20, this future from God will be “far more than we can ask or imagine.”

So I approach God with open hands, releasing the death grip of my own expectations of the future. I hope. And I sing the tune of God’s constant love and faithfulness.


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