Between Faith and Charity: Some Thoughts on Hope
In his monumental and beautiful discourse on charity in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, Paul makes rather cryptic reference to three eternal principles: “and now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three.” (1 Cor. 13:13.) He goes on to describe charity as “the greatest of these,” with no explanation of why faith and hope are mentioned in that context, or if there is any special relationship between these virtues.
Interestingly, Mormon makes the same connection between faith, hope and charity in Moroni chapter 10. He goes much further, however, in developing their interrelationship:
“Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
“And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.” (Moro. 10: 20–21.)
Mormon makes it clear that faith, hope, and charity are not associated by chance. They are not only interrelated; they are, indeed, interdependent. Faith is a necessary foundation for hope, which in turn is prerequisite to the development of charity.
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a subject that receives frequent attention in sacrament meeting talks and Church classrooms. We also hear a good deal about charity, defined by Mormon as the pure love of Christ. But the central virtue, hope, gets little direct attention despite its pivotal position between the other two—a position identifying it as an outgrowth of faith and a prelude to charity.
Indeed, current popular usage portrays hope as a singularly weak and pallid word, not at all an appropriate companion to those mighty virtues, faith and charity. It is worn to banal impotence in daily conversation, where “I hope” (I hope I pass that exam; I hope it doesn’t rain) usually expresses a feeble with overshadowed by a strongly implied doubt. What does a word like “hope” have to do with faith, or charity—or anything at all but wishful thinking?
By consulting a good dictionary, we find that the problem is partially one of misuse, or at least misunderstanding. In spite of the way we are accustomed to using it, a primary definition of the word connotes, not a wish, but an expectation of things to come. This emphasis on expectation harks back through centuries of English usage to New Testament Greek. And it is this sense of expectation, as opposed to wishing, that makes all the difference when “hope” appears in a scriptural context.
Believers in Jesus Christ in all ages have had good cause to hope. “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord,” says David. (Ps. 31:24.) Courage to attempt any undertaking comes from the belief and expectation that it can be done. Hope generated by the promises of the Lord to the righteous has been the motivator for many mighty works by servants of God. And power to do anything with the help of the Lord quite literally depends upon the degree to which we are willing to hope for, and to expect, that help. “Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us according as we hope in thee.” (Ps. 33:22, italics added.)
Faith in Jesus Christ and the power of his atonement to save all who follow him is the central element of Christian hope. Paul spoke of having “hope toward God, … that there shall be a resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 24:15.) To the Thessalonians he wrote; “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (1 Thes. 2:19.) When Mormon writes, “Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal” (Moro. 7:41), he is telling us that we can expect to be resurrected, and that we can so live as to merit eternal life.
As a very little girl I remember hearing a talk in which the speaker made it clear that he did not think he was worthy of the celestial kingdom, doubtless from the desire to seem decently modest. The statement left me with the vivid impression, which I carried for a long time, that eternal life was a rarity which ordinary people like myself (and almost everyone else I knew) had neither right to, nor hope of, achieving.
Such “modesty” has no place in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having faith in the Lord, we must then have hope that through him we can enjoy the blessings of eternal life with our Father in Heaven. Elder Bruce R. McConkie has said:
“There is no equivocation, no doubt, no uncertainty in our minds. Those who have been true and faithful in this life will not fall by the wayside in the life to come. If they keep their covenants here and now and depart this life firm and true in the testimony of our blessed Lord, they shall come forth with an inheritance of eternal life.
“We do not mean to say that those who die in the Lord, and who are true and faithful in this life, must be perfect in all things when they go into the next sphere of existence. There was only one perfect man—the Lord Jesus whose Father was God. …
“But what we are saying is that when the saints of God chart a course of righteousness, when they gain sure testimonies of the truth and divinity of the Lord’s work, when they keep the commandments, when they overcome the world, when they put first in their lives the things of God’s kingdom: when they do all these things, and then depart this life—though they have not yet become perfect—they shall nonetheless gain eternal life in our Father’s kingdom; and eventually they shall be perfect as God their Father and Christ His Son are perfect.” (Ensign, Nov. 1976, p. 107.)
It should be pointed out here that this hope, or expectation, of salvation is firmly based on principles of righteousness, as is every aspect of the gospel. We believe falsely if we do not follow our expressions of faith with good works. And our hope is false if it is not based on active, living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “When ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” the Lord tells us. (D&C 82:10.) As Mormon writes, “If ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.” (Moro. 10:22.)
This leads us to another aspect of hope. John touched on it when he wrote,
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” (1 Jn. 3:2–3.)
We teach our children to sing “I am a child of God,” but sometimes we allow our sins to drag us down into the “despair of iniquity.” Some, weighted down by a serious transgression, may give up the search for personal perfection in a frenzy of self-depreciation. This despair is very different from constructive self-criticism, which Alma describes as the “trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.” (Alma 42:29.) Despair is potentially one of the most destructive aspects of human experience.
I was educated in this difference after I bore my testimony one Sunday to the effect that I believed in the gospel and in Jesus Christ, doubting only that I personally was capable and worthy of achieving eternal life. My stake president later pointed out to me that I had no right to say that. If I truly believed the Lord could save me, I would believe that I had the capacity to take advantage of his atonement. He told me that I must have faith both in the Lord and in myself.
Faith in ourselves? Hope in ourselves? Yes, imperatively! In reaching for the promises we have been given we must look beyond weaknesses, sins, and fears, believing that all is possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and that our honest efforts will bear fruit. It is necessary to separate the sin from the self. We must hope even as we fail, and repent—and then strive not to fail again. As John Donne wrote in one stanza of “A Hymne to God the Father:”
I have a sinne of fears, that when I have spunne
My last thred, I shall perish on the shore; Sweare by thy selfe, that at my death thy sonne
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore; And, having done that, Thou haste done,
I feare no more.
(The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne and the Complete Poetry of William Blake, The Modern Library, New York: Random House, Inc., 1941, p. 272.)
Donne called the failure of hope “a sinne of feare.” Certainly it is a serious block to spiritual progress. Because of the veil it is impossible to fully know, and hence appreciate, oneself. We enjoyed a timeless span of experiences before this life which we cannot now remember. However, the fact that we are here at all indicates that we were good. We must believe in, and act on, the fact that we are literally the children of our Father in Heaven. Consider again the words of John:
“Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” (1 Jn. 3:2.)
Hope grows out of our faith that we are the sons and daughters of God and that we can be like him. What great expectations that hope will build in us! What motivation and power it will give us to do the things we know are right. As Paul said, “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor. 13:12.) Hope gives us the ability to expect that, when we see as we are seen and know as we are known, what we are will be good. Hope of this eventual perfection gives us strength to repent of small and serious weaknesses alike.
This increased ability to appreciate our own possibilities—improved spiritual eyesight, as it were—carries over to our relationships with other people. It does not require great intellectual insight to recognize that what holds true for us also holds true for every other human being. Nothing prompts charity as rapidly as the realization that our neighbors, our friends, our family, and even people we don’t know (or don’t like) are the children of our Father in Heaven, and are perfectly capable of becoming like him.
When we are afraid, we are protecting our weaknesses, real or imagined. We may hurt others to keep from being hurt ourselves. When we fear humiliation or pain or the criticism of others, we are forgetting who we are and what we can become. Moreover, under these conditions we are not capable of charity toward others: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.” (1 Jn. 4:18.) Only by hope founded in faith in Jesus Christ can we develop the capacity to love.
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three.” (1 Cor. 13:13.) May we be found with all of these on the final day, when we stand before our Savior.