The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Faith, hope and love, these three …

Posted by Ron George on September 27, 2009

Caligraphy by Michael Noyes

Calligraphy by Michael Noyes

Apostle Paul was hooked on love, which he called the greatest of three abiding virtues of Christian being in the world. The trilogy of faith, hope and love are understood in Christian tradition to be essential to Christian life. Without love, nothing I do is praiseworthy; indeed, without love, what I do can not rise above the hypocrisy of clashing cymbals and clanging bells. Without faith, I can not receive the love of God in Christ Jesus as pure gift, and so I am incapable of the kind of love that Paul calls the greatest of abiding virtues. Life without faith and love is hopeless, and I am left open to the devastating consequences of despair.

These virtues thus form a kind of trinity of interdependence that lodges within us when we take on the name of Jesus and dare call ourselves his disciples. In a sense, we’re driven by spiritual energy that comes from the interaction of these human virtues consecrated to the greater glory of God. We are, perhaps, most at peace when we are centered upon the synergy of faith, hope and love; and, perhaps, we are most vulnerable when the dynamism is skewed and we become less centered — less faithful, less hopeful and less loving.

I believe Paul thought of love as the greatest because it’s what we do with our faith. Love is patient and kind, he says, not in the sense of their being abstract virtues but discrete acts. Again, Paul writes, love is never arrogant, boastful or rude. Negatively, then, I may be found unloving — less centered, perhaps — not because these flaws dwell somewhere within me but when they are manifest as behavior. Love is an act and a disposition toward acting in particular ways. Love is faith put into play.

Faith is fundamentally a choice rooted in experience. It is a rational choice but not a philosophical proposition, something to be understood by reason alone. It can not be coerced but only embraced in response to love revealed in life. Like love, faith is a disposition manifested in discrete behavior, such as worship, prayer and acts committed to the glory of God. Faith may be lost, just as any love relationship may be sundered by experience that leads to mistrust. Often, faith is lost because it has been misplaced, but even well-founded faith may be challenged by life experience, such as the death of a loved one. God does not test our faith, we do. God loves us with or without our faithful response.

Christian hope is the character of human life lived by faith. It is not a form of optimism but confidence rooted in experiential knowledge of the love of God in Christ. Hope is a source of strength in overcoming adversity. It doesn’t promise victory but that God will be present regardless of outcome, so that even in defeat we are not diminished.  Hope is the foundation of missionary zeal to live our lives in such a way that Christ is revealed to all. Hope, too, may be lost as faith is challenged — but love can not be lost, and perhaps this is why Paul says it’s the greatest of these three.

The love not lost is the love of God in Christ Jesus that is patient and kind when I am not. It is the enduring and limitless possibility of redemption from myself when I am arrogant, boastful or rude. It is not an abstraction but as real as the cross of Christ revealing not only the love but the greater love of giving one’s life for one’s friends — and even for one’s enemies. This is the love than never ends, even when all else has passed away — even lost faith and lost hope.

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