Hope & Faith

 

 

“The doctrines of the Lord are three: hope of life, the beginning and end of our faith; righteous life, the beginning and end of judgment; love from joy and gladness, the witness of the works of a righteous life.” (Barnabas,1:6)

 

These words, attributed to St. Barnabas, the early missionary companion of St. Paul, but written by someone who probably lived about a century later, are, I think, notable not only for their succinct summary of what Christianity is all about, but especially by their understanding of the relationship of hope to faith. Normally, from a strictly rational or logical point of view, we think of faith as preceding hope; for example, faith in the resurrection of Christ giving us grounds to hope for life everlasting.

But from a psychological point of view, it is quite the opposite: without hope, the whole dynamism of faith is undercut.  This explains St. Paul’s seemingly backwards argument (some have credited it to his early rabbinical training) when he defended belief in our own resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 where he wrote that “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also in vain.”  In other words, where there is no hope for our own resurrection--at least taken as a metaphor of overcoming death--there is no point in believing in the resurrection of Christ as a sign or symbol of such a future life, either. 

Hope, then, from this psychological point of view, is more fundamental than faith, at least when the latter is viewed in the intellectual sense of believing this or that teaching or doctrine. We can see this even in the political and economic realm.  While poverty and oppression may at first drive the underprivileged to church (religion as “the opiate of the people” as Karl Marx saw it) in the end, the loss of belief that follows loss of hope, drives them to violence—a lesson that should be kept in mind by those who think that counter-violence (war) is the answer to terrorism.

Likewise, we should remember that faith, again when taken in the sense of belief, is always subject to doubt—indeed, belief can hardly mature except through the refining and tempering process that results from relentless questioning. But in this sense, faith too often remains merely a “head trip,” locked up in a kind of intellectual paralysis. Maybe this is why Rene Pascal, the foremost Catholic intellectual of his time, famously wrote that “The heart has reasons of its own”--in other words, it is hope alone that results in action.

In any case, I think that this “Barnabas,” whoever he was, had it right.  From hope comes not only the beginning and the whole purpose of faith, but also the right living and the love that is its proof and product. Without hope, on the other hand, we lose everything.

 

R W Kropf  11/27/09                                                                   Hope & Faith.doc   09-11-27.html