Choosing Hope

Published January 21, 2022

I believe with a steadfast faith that there can be never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless . . . To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that in time, the storm will pass.—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who served as the Bishop of Johannesburg and the Archbishop of Cape Town during the oppressive years of Apartheid in South Africa, died the day after Christmas. I mourn him. When I was a teenager, I remember planting myself before the television news and scouring the newspapers to hear his wisdom and take on the government’s violent repression of black South Africans. I was blown away by how he spoke forcefully and prophetically against violence and injustice during the worst atrocities without ever shedding his loving, peaceful countenance. I would learn years later, from his conversations with His Holiness the Dalai Lama published in The Book of Joy, that his faith and his deep, unshakeable hope steadied him in those moments of death and despair.

This faith and hope were not theoretical for Archbishop Tutu. Bishop Peter Storey, who served alongside Tutu in leading the South African Council of Churches during Apartheid, tells of the time when the security police menaced him and Archbishop Tutu after they attempted to visit a group of detained Lutheran priests. The security police ran them down as they drove through the bush toward Johannesburg, pulling them over, yelling at them, pointing guns, and threatening to kill them. Storey says Archbishop Tutu never stopped praying. Eventually, the police released them. As Tutu was driving away, Storey could hear him praying still. Looking over at him, Storey noticed that Tutu was driving down the national road with his eyes closed. Storey grabbed the steering wheel while Tutu was praying, concluding, “I drove the car as he talked to God.” I suspect that was Archbishop Tutu’s usual comportment when confronting violence and oppression: choosing hope and talking to God.

Recently, the theologian Miguel De La Torre wrote a book lamenting the abuse of hope that invites the oppressed into inaction. Specifically, he worried about a hope that is illusory and serves to divert people from the task of resisting oppression. Real hope should not lull the vulnerable into justifying injustice and atrocities now, believing that justice awaits them in the afterlife. De La Torre posits that, without the comforting dream that it will all work out in the end, people would respond to injustice with liberating imagination and action rather than a vain, inactive hope. Tutu did not live, serve, or fight with illusory, unimaginative hope. He did not shrink from the prophetic challenge to the violence and injustice of Apartheid. He never allowed resignation and cynicism to extinguish hope. He stepped firmly into the vortex. He chose hope because he knew the storm would pass. Choose hope.

DeWayne L. Davis