In volume 18 of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, our heroes are being chased by two chimeras – people whose bodies have been merged into a dissimilar species’ body. They are defeated by our heroes and tied up. The chimeras then ask the heroes to kill them, noting they have no hope, no reason to live, and will be killed if caught. Al, our metal man whose soul is bound to a suit of armor, tells them to have hope and then he shows them the inside of his suit…which is empty. They are shocked saying, “How can you have hope to restore your body, you don’t even have one now?” What Al says surprises them. Al says, “I don’t believe in never. Hope keeps me going…no matter how many years it takes, I won’t give up.” He then asks them to not give up on restoration to their original bodies.
This display of hope changes the chimera’s hearts. They beg to live at this point and switch sides, joining the heroes. This hope changes their lives.
Hope is a powerful thing. In the case of the Elric boys, they are placing their hope in themselves and the belief that they will one day succeed in restoring their bodies. In the end, their hope is in themselves. Is it well founded hope? To a certain degree – yes. They are both some of the most powerful alchemists as teenagers in the entirety of Amestris. They are highly regarded, highly ranked, and well respected for their abilities. I can understand them having hope in themselves. In a world like that of Fullmetal Alchemist, where magic is science and religion is confined to hucksters and the fallen/slaughtered Ishvalan people, hope outside of themselves would seem archaic and possibly even silly to them. Yet, their hope in themselves is also unfounded – for they are each weak and fallible. Then entire reason they need to have this hope in themselves and their eventual ability to restore their bodies is because of something they did, due to their own failure.
In the secular world, we find different places to place our hope. Some place hope in a job or the prospect of a new job. The idea that this new job could provide for all their needs keeps them going. But, any job is temporary and will eventually fade. You can lose your job in a heartbeat as the economy turns. My wife and I learned that lesson too well when the steel mill she worked at shutdown permanently over four years ago, making her jobless for the first time since she finished graduate school. Relying on the income and finding ourselves without it was difficult. If our entire hope had been placed in our jobs, we would be crushed completely and feel hopeless. Many in the world are when they lose their jobs.
Some place their hope in a friend or a lover, but relationships fall aside, friends fail, and lovers will leave. One of the groomsmen in my wedding suddenly decided one day that he wasn’t going to talk to me anymore. Cut me off from all social media, entirely ignored me. He had been a close friend. I had not changed, but he had. If I had hope in that close friendship, my entire world would have been shattered.
Where we place our hope tells us a lot about ourselves and what we value. For me, my hope is in the Lord. In Deuteronomy 31:1-23, Moses exhorts Joshua, reminding him to be strong and courageous as he takes command of the Israelites. A lot is said in this passage, but at the crux of it Moses points out to Joshua that he can rely on the Lord. Why? The Lord has proven himself faithful time and time again. God will never fail, never falter, and never give up on us. He will continue to do His good work until the very end. As a Christian, I have hope here in the Lord. I have this hope in Christ Jesus who’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension continue to provide me with hope that nothing physically in this world can provide. Things of this world are temporary (Matthew 24:35, 1 Corinthians 7:31, 1 John 2:17), God is the only true permanent.
When we put our hope in these things, including ourselves, we are worshipping them. I’ve discussed this before (see here), but hope placed in anything other than God is idolatry. Whether it is money, a job, a friend, a lover, or ourselves like the Elric brothers – we are finding ourselves in a place of worship. Whether we acknowledge that’s what we’re doing or not is another story. But, we are placing our hope in a temporary being which can and will pass away eventually. I’ll leave my hope in the one who is called “I Am.” He has not failed me and He never will.