What is the Role and Value of Christian Hope?

Hope and Human Flourishing

  • Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Epistemology

Principal Investigators

Mark Bernier
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Azusa Pacific University


Hope is said to be a virtue of the Christian life. My research aims to provide an account of hope in this light, as it relates to flourishing and well-being. Some of the questions that concern me have to do with understanding what hope is, and how it relates to the ends for which we live. Hope seems to be not only important, but essential; it is necessary for seeing the future in such a way that we do not fall victim to despair, and instead remain open to the good. This is especially the case for the Christian framework, which emphasizes the need for hope.

However, the disturbing truth is that many of our most important hopes do not seem to be justified according to evidence; and in fact, some of our hopes may even run contrary to evidence (as when we may hope for the health of a loved one who is terribly sick). Yet from another perspective, it seems we should hope for certain things, that we are better off for having hoped, even if it means that our hope goes against our rational beliefs – for without hope, we could cease to live, or succumb to despair. In such cases, the praiseworthy thing may be to hope, even if doing so requires us to undermine our rationally held beliefs.

I think that these sorts of issues show that hope should not be judged according to the same standards that we use to judge beliefs. Instead, the value of hope should be measured against questions of well-being, since hope aims at the good. To hope is to be open to happiness, as well as risk, for oneself and as others, for particular things or for unforeseen, even unknown goods – in all cases, hope involves adapting a perspective on the future, to see the possibility of the good rather than the possibility of evil or suffering or disappointment.

In itself, however, this does not indicate how hope contributes to the highest ends of life, or why it is important for achieving such ends. But after understanding the nature of hope, we can turn to seeing how it functions in the good life. When we begin to look at the role hope plays here, we can see that it is essential. It is through our hopes that we remain open to the good – and without this openness it is difficult to see how we can attempt to live for the highest ends of life. This becomes even more important on the Christian account, for Christianity teaches that we are to live for an afterlife. But then, this raises a tension between our hopes for this life, and our hope for the next. How we navigate this tension is precisely why an account of hope as a Christian virtue is important. Providing such an account is the aim of my research.