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Born Helpless, Why humans come wired for hope
by Jim Barringer
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A collaboration by Jim Barringer, Andrea Ramirez, and Robert Gordon.

In the aftermath of our talks about object permanence and the reasons that humans come wired for faith in God, Robert asked, "Is there any similar explanation for hope?" Hope, much like faith, is universal across humanity. Even people who don't have faith in God have some vague, undirected (and unfounded) hope that tomorrow will be better than today, that bad things cannot stay bad forever. There's really no explanation, biochemical or evolutionary, for this insistence on hope.

I think the reasons for it go back to the way we're born: helpless. Human babies are born at a much more primitive state of development than any other creature. Baby deer, for instance, can stand and walk within about fifteen minutes of being born. Human babies are completely helpless for at least the first year or so, until they learn to walk, and are dependent on their parents almost entirely until age five at the minimum. It takes us eighteen years to reach physical maturity, and that long if not longer to reach emotional maturity. If we were halfway down the food chain rather than apex predators on it, our babies would be pretty much doomed, because it would be nearly impossible to protect them until they had the ability to fend for themselves.

This has to do with our brains, specifically how huge they are. Even at birth, they're massive, and a baby's head is far and away the largest part of its body. If we were born later, with more developed brains, they would be larger and it would be almost impossible for the mother to pass our heads out of the birth canal. As a result, we're born into a state of helplessness, totally unable to meet our own needs, totally reliant on our parents to provide everything.

That is a poignant spiritual commentary in its own right, but I want to go even deeper. I'm imagining myself as a five-year-old right now, putting myself back in the mindset I had when I was that age, and the first thing I notice is that it feels really good to have parents who care for me that way. I come home from kindergarten and I know mom has a snack laid out for me, and she's planning dinner, something she knows that I like and will eat. If I fall and scrape my knee on the way home, I know that she will be there with a band-aid and some soothing words. I know that if I need to go somewhere, she'll put me in the van and drive me there herself. She cares for literally all of my needs.

And the thing is, I like the way that feels. When I get older and I enter a world that is harsher, people stop caring for my needs, I end up having to do everything for myself, and I don't like that feeling the way I liked the other feeling. Over time, people get used to the mental strain of living in a world where all the burdens fall on them - all the bills, getting everywhere on time, filling the body with enough of the right kinds of food, and all these things that they never had to worry about when they were younger. We may get used to all that, but we still wish it didn't have to be the case, wish we could take some time off from all the stress and worry. I think, whether we realize it or not, we all have a profound desire in us to do away with those things and go back to the easy life. Author Donald Miller, in his book "Searching for God Knows What," refers to this as "a yearning for Eden." We get so busy doing things that we don't have much time to simply sit back and enjoy life, the way we could when we were younger.

This word, "enjoy," is really what it all comes down to. God did not intend for our lives to be eaten up by responsibility, ping-ponging from one "must-do" to another, constantly carrying out our obligations and sacrificing time that we could be spending with friends, experiencing nature, or simply relaxing. Yet that is what life ends up being. That's why we find this earthly life so incredibly unsatisfying. That's why we can't handle it, and that's why we all, regardless of gender, race, or religion, have a primal craving for a life where these things don't have to be the case.

If you look at the Bible, you'll see that all the descriptions of heaven match exactly what we're looking for. We will enjoy an existence where we do not depend on food, sleep, or money; all those sources of stress are gone and we can simply experience the greatness of life. God provides us with a city in which to live, the New Jerusalem, which descends already-made, just waiting for us to live in and enjoy it. None of the burdens are on us; God provides everything. Every time he speaks of heaven, he says, "They will be my people, and I will be their God." That's a parental statement. In saying that he will be our God, he is saying that he will give us everything, care for us in every way, shepherd us, cradle us in his arms, satisfy us, give us enjoyment and peace. We understand those feelings because we lived in that arrangement with our parents for the first several years of our lives, and we have a deep-set need to believe we can have it again.

By allowing us to be born so helpless, and by making it so that we are forced to experience this carefree and easy life, God plants the seeds in us for a hope that we might some day return to that kind of life. If we were born self-sufficient, we would never know what it was like to have someone else meet our every need. The hope of heaven would be too marvelous for us; we would be unable to understand the thought of a life so easy. But by allowing us to experience something rather similar to heaven for several years, God teases us with a craving for more of it, a craving which will lead us right back to the hope of eternal life that he promises us in the Bible.

It's brilliant, on God's part. He designs us so that we enter this life helpless, so that we get to experience the feeling of someone else providing us everything, and then he plays on this very same feeling in order to draw us to himself. Even before we're old enough to know what's going on, he's teaching us the basic lessons about faith in him. I wonder if that's also what he means when he says that he is pleased when people have faith like a child - a hopeful, eager faith that is content to sit back and allow God to simply provide. He says in the Bible that he is our father and we are his children, and our experiences in the first few years of our lives give us the ability to understand what he is talking about. That is his goal, not just for this life but for eternity, and that is what our hearts crave, which is why this hope for eternity is so deep-set in every human heart.

This is a great example of God being the Lord over everything, even science. He uses the process of human growth and development for his own glory and for our spiritual maturation, often without us being aware that it's happening. Probing the depths of this topic has given me a newfound appreciation for God's majesty and sovereignty, and in addition to reinforcing my own hope for the future, has given me cause to praise him even more.

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Member Comments
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Vicki L Sullivan 19 Sep 2009
excellent article and surprising for a South Western Seminary student - it is clear, thoughtful, and proves many Christians are more Muslim than are Muslims. My recommendation: Put it on AssociatedContent.com


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