Grace Emerges

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Faith. Hope. Love.

by Brad Duncan

According to the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13, in the spiritual life of following Christ, three qualities rise above all others.  There are three things we should grab onto, aspire to, and prioritize above the others.  And one of these three is the greatest of the trio, the ultimate spiritual goal.

Faith.   Hope.

These three qualities replace religion, alleviate legalism, end elitism, and overcome barriers between people. These qualities put disciplines and practices into a lower category. They rise above even worship and righteousness.  They represent a higher calling.  They represent a quality life.  Living this quality life of Faith, Hope and Love acts to reduce evil, the sin and corruption in our own hearts, the selfish self-absorption we are so prone to, and the downward spiral of using self-gratification to reduce our own pain and emptiness.  So, this life gives us the best qualities to aspire to, while reducing our worst qualities.

So what is this quality life of Faith, Hope and Love?  Like all great concepts, they are hard to define.  I can't prescribe them for anyone else, but I can relate my experience.  If you've ever tried to define Love you probably ran into the same philosophical challenges, but you have no problem recognizing it.  It's the same with Faith and Hope.  You know it when you see it.  In fact, Jesus used vastly vague examples and explanations to help expand our ideas of what it means to have faith, how to place our hope in him, and how to live a life of love that rises above sin.  I think he was trying to help us see how to live a quality life.  Need some examples?  Think of "love your enemies", the parable of the good Samaritan, and the Greatest Commandment.  Think of how he criticized the religious elite.  Think of the Beatitudes.  Vague, right?

Paul at some point got the concept, maybe during those years stuck in prison.  And when writing his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote it down.  "I get it.  The other concepts and instructions I've written all boil down to this... Live a life of Faith, Hope and Love.  Especially Love".

So back to me.  Here's what I see these qualities to mean in my life ...

Faith -- this is about trust.  It is a facet of spirituality closely tied to prayer and to our concept of God.  It is about being confident in the God we believe in, enough to trust God in a tangible way.  This faith stands in opposition to much of the reality we see with our eyes.  In spite of pain and problems, in spite of our undeniable human condition, we trust in the God who created us.  We trust in God's character.  We trust that God loves us, and out of love will act in our lives.  Trust is the cornerstone of relationships, and in a relationship with God, we must trust.  We must also have faith in God's working for good in the hearts of others.  With that faith we can trust others and partner with them to be a community of God's children.  We can trust in God through building deeper relationships, investing in the lives of others, and exposing our own vulnerability to others.

Hope -- this is about change.  Hope is meaningless without the context of our current intense needs and pains.  Life changes, things change.  Hope sees the good in others.  Hope offers forgiveness to those that have wronged us.  Hope loves enemies. Why?  Because hope is intensely aware that with God's help everyone and anything can change, and that the future can become brighter.  Hope also compels us to do work - work that will bring about positive change in the lives of others.  We can see the future being brighter simply as a result of people caring and working together to make a difference.  Hope sees the reason why we are called to care for orphans and widows, to invest in children, to fight injustice, to stand up for equality, to believe in a future without so much poverty.  In contrast, if there were no such injustice, no needs, and no pain, hope would become obsolete.  It lives only as a vision of change, where corrupt things will eventually become good things.

Love -- this is our higher calling.  A pure life is a life of love.  It nurtures compassion.  It honors others before ourselves.  It unlocks unselfishness.  It thrives on the joy of others, bringing more joy to us than if we sought after our own satisfaction.  Love is a huge revolution against society, where society is defined by norms and laws that give each of us rights and space to pursue our own happiness at the expense of others.  Love is an inverted kingdom where those that serve and offer kindness are the greatest.  With love, sin in our own hearts is defeated.  Corruption is replaced by a passion for God's way of seeing others.  As intensely as God loves us, God loves ALL.  So if we can catch a glimpse of that love, it becomes contagious to our soul as well.  We love because God does.  Because love brings joy.  Because love is the very definition of God's character, and we long to be like God in that regard.  We are called to a higher standard of life, which is defined by our love.

These things may make me sound like a hopeless optimist or like I'm recklessly ignorant of life, like my faith and hope could come crumbling down the first time I face any real adversity.  But those of you that know me know that my life right now is a huge battle with a disease that is keeping my wife in bed many days, and causing her a lot of pain, not to mention the stress and uncertainty of the daily grind of taking care of medical needs.  Not to mention above that trying to keep focusing on our children and helping them have a happy and healthy childhood.  No, I'm not new to adversity.  That's why I have a right to speak about hope and faith.  They are tangible to me.  They are how I live in contrast to the hard things I see with my eyes.  The adversity my family has felt leads us to a higher calling, a life where love rules rather than pain.  If anything this perspective helps me see more clearly past the petty things in the world that cry for our attention.  It helps me see where the real quality in life lies.  Like Paul I am ready to declare that above all spiritual qualities, three things rise above the rest: Faith.  Hope.  And Love, the greatest of all.

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