“Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest.”
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man (1734)
“Every failure teaches a man something. For example, that he will probably fail again next time.”
H.L Mencken, A Little Book in C Major (1916).
Hope is the power to rise from defeat and suck courage from the bitter fruit of failure. In its mundane application, hope is a conviction that the past is not a guide to the future, that one hundred setbacks are just a setup for a big and glorious win.
In its theological application, hope is a belief that hope itself is grounds for hope, since God gives a man hope as an auspice of God’s future intention. According to the theology of St. Paul, I really do have hope if I am hopeful, because hope is my token of grace.
It is theological hope that Alexander Pope says springs eternal in the human breast. He does not mean in every breast or always, only that hope of heaven cannot vanish from the earth. In some catacomb or cubicle, someone, somewhere, will always hold that token of grace. Someone, somewhere, will always hope that ancient hope.
Mundane hopes springs again and again, but each time not so high as the last. And then one day, like the head of a dried brook, they spring not at all. Like everything else in the mundane world, mundane hopes dry up, go cold and run down. If not today, then perhaps tomorrow, there must be a defeat from which I do not rise, a bitter fruit from which I suck nothing but despair. Like every man in this mundane world, I must come to the grey wisdom that the past is a faultless guide to the future, that one hundred setbacks are just the setup for setback one hundred and one, and that for one hundred and two.
That grey wisdom waits for all of us. We can only hope that when it does, we will still be holding our tokens of grace, and that the hope that springs eternal is still springing eternal for us.