reformamini in novitate sensus vestri

Faith & Hope

This article follows on from my earlier one on Faith, which would be useful background if you’ve not already read it.

Reading Romans 8, it occurred to me that it’s the conflation of the virtues of faith and hope that leads to the mistaken idea that Christian faith is blind. These virtues are closely related, yet subtly different.

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:20-25

Together with the famous passage from Hebrews 11, cited here more fully than in the aforementioned article on Faith, we can tease out the subtle but critical distinction between faith and hope which I have not previously considered.

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. … 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:1,6

As explained in the other article, the Christian virtue of faith is in the person of God (his reality and his benevolence towards us), and is supported by two lines of evidence; personal experience of his person and the historical evidence for Jesus and for the veracity of the biblical record (which is, after all, as much a history text as it is sacred scripture, so its historical claims can be, have been, and continue to be tested). It is this second line of evidence that makes important the endeavor of harmonizing scripture with the scientific and historical evidence from other sources.

Therefore it is hope which is the “blind” Christian virtue. Given faith in the person, we hope that his claims about creation, salvation, his physical return, and his promised eternal kingdom are true. That is we hope for the things which we have not seen, because the person who makes the claims has proven himself faithful and our faith in him is demonstrably reasonable; therefore, we have good reason to trust those claims he made even though we cannot empirically prove them.

It is for this reason that the grand discourse on love in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians concludes with these words:

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Cor 13:13

The three greatest and abiding Christian virtues include the two biblical foundations of belief; faith and hope, without which it is impossible to please God – since our faith in his person is the assurance that what he has revealed is true, because he is faithful, and therefore gives credible substance to our hope in what he has promised us, but which has not yet been received.