On von Balthasar's Hope

I’ve been thinking about von Balthasar’s “Dare We Hope” book. I think I understand the subtle mistake that he makes, or at least this his disciples make.

Fr. Neuhaus says: “We may come at our question in a different way by trying this thought experiment: Do you know anyone of whom you would not say that you hope he or she is saved? Imagine that you could know everyone who now lives, who has ever lived, or will ever live in the future. Of whom could you say that you hope they are eternally damned? Perhaps in a fit of anger–or in an act of presumption in which you identified your moral indignation with God’s perfect justice–you have said that you hope somebody is eternally damned, but you know you were wrong in saying or thinking that. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Is it possible to forgive someone and, at the same time, hope he goes to hell? I think not. After you have, in this thought experiment, said to absolutely everybody, “I hope you will be saved,” have you not declared your hope that all will be saved?”

Curiously, I had nearly this same thought experiment before I read Neuhaus and it is what made me see the problem of the “Dare We Hope” thesis.

Let me change the thought experiment slightly. Suppose I tell you that a building collapsed and 1 person died. Now I pull up an Excel spreadsheet with everyone who worked at the building. One of the columns in the spreadsheet says “Hope they survived?” Now we’ll go through the spreadsheet person by person and mark “Yes” or “No.” Just as in the previous thought experiment, no doubt we’ll get to the end of the list and it will be all “Yes.” In Neuhaus’ words, “have you not declared your hope that all will be saved?” Well, no. We do have a “reasonable” hope that each person survived, but we do not have a reasonable hope that all people survived. Why not? Because I told you that one of the people on the list is dead. How can you have a hope against something you know is impossible? That’s a hope that can’t possibly come true; it’s something that makes no sense to hope for. And yet, I fully expect that of each individual person that you would hope that that individual survived.

Put another way: I have no problem daring to hope that each person may be saved. That is, daring to hope that this man may be saved, e.g., Hitler, etc., but I do think it goes against the pretty clear words of Our Lord that not all will be.