The great stories resonate in our hearts and reveal truths in subtle, yet powerful ways. I have been re-reading The Lord of the Rings on my own, and I have just finished re-reading the Harry Potter series with Psalter. Both stories have a central theme of the foolishness of hope. In each story, the main character walks willingly to face death and destruction, because they have hope that by their sacrifice others will be saved, and they have hope that the end is not really the end. So Frodo and Sam struggle up Mount Doom to the cast the Ring into the fire, and Harry stands unarmed before Voldemort waiting to be struck down. Foolish fools indeed.
As Gandalf and Pippin wait for the final battle in the Lord of the Rings, Pippin wonders if there is any hope that Frodo is going to be able to destroy the Ring of Power, any hope that Sauron will be defeated.
He asks Gandalf, "Tell me, is there any hope? For Frodo, I mean; or at least mostly for Frodo." Gandalf put his hand on Pippin’s head and answers, "There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope, as I have been told."
But there is something in that "fool's hope" that resonates with us, isn't there? There is something true and beautiful about hope in the midst of fear and darkness, hope that good will overcome by humility and love. It's not the way that most of us live our day to day lives, because we eagerly opt for certainty and control over foolish hope. I am certainly in that camp. But in our heart there is a resonance with stories of hope in the face of overwhelming odds.
I think that resonance gets at the true heart of the gospel. Not the version of the gospel that is presented in cultural Christianity. That version of the gospel says that Jesus has come to make your life happy and easy; that when you meet Jesus, all darkness will go away; that you take the gospel like a magic pill which will make you right and powerful. It's a tempting offer. We long for control and power, to avoid humiliation and weakness.
That's why Paul's declaration of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 is so striking. Paul says that the message of the cross is foolishness, depending on how you look at it. It seems like a foolish method of saving the world, having the son of God lay down his life in humiliating fashion. It's a foolish message to ask people to believe, because in a world that craves to powerful and right, the cross invites you to admit your weakness and your wrongs. Nothing about the cross seems powerful, and yet Paul says it is the power of God for those who are being saved.
The gospel does not offer power or prestige, but it invites us to lay those things aside and to accept and proclaim the foolish message of a crucified king, hanging on a cross. And it says that all that the heart is longing for is found in Christ alone, which seems like a foolish thing to bet your life on. Can Christ truly be our wisdom from God, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption?
Paul believes that the answer is "Yes", and so he lives out the foolish gospel by setting aside his gifts of persuasion, of being clever, and all the privileges that he could take pride in. And he says that he has resolved to know nothing except Christ and him crucified. The world shouted, "Prove it! Show it!" And Paul simply points to Jesus and to the good news of His life, death, and resurrection, because the gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16).
Followers of Jesus are invited to a foolish life. To love our enemies, to walk with humility. Honestly, that is not the way I gravitate towards. I would rather win and be right and be in control. I would rather be able to argue my way out of any corner. But the hope I have been given is a fool's hope, that my faith and the faith of any who would come after me, might not rest on anything except Christ. And hope rightly placed does not disappoint.