Faith and Hope
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Scripture: 1 Peter 1: 3-9, 21
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. 9 As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.
21 Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
These are troubled times. A strange virus has attacked us and we are taking extreme precautions with family, friends and neighbors to prevent the spreading of this unknown disease. Moreover, the virus has forced our government to shut down all non-critical commerce and has caused our economic system to come to a screeching halt. We are left in fear for our health and also our financial well-being. In what or whom can we have Faith and in what is our Hope?
In today’s scripture we read that Peter offers comfort to those of his time and we can draw from this letter comfort for our time as well. Peter speaks of a living Hope and a Faith more precious than gold.
But what is the source of this living Faith and this precious Hope? Where does it come from? Do we dig it up inside ourselves so that we must rely upon our own efforts to maintain it? Or is this some mystical wisdom obtained through chants and incantations?
In ancient times, and even today, people speak of a person of great faith or someone who is so optimistic that even in dire times they exude hope. Are these people like the Gnostics, (which is a word derived from the Greek “gnosis” meaning “knowledge”), who believe that one gains special wisdom by personal efforts, and through this special knowledge they attain a higher level of spiritual enlightenment and insight? Once achieved these people enjoy this special knowledge of transcendence arrived at by way of their internal, intuitive means. Simply stated: their faith is in human ingenuity and their hope is in human resolutions.
Perhaps if we were to view the Bible as something less than the inspired Word of God, then we might view the Gnostic approach as a satisfying solution to dealing with troublesome matters in our lives. But, if we consider the Holy Scripture to be God’s Word, which is His plan for reaching out to mankind and His plan to reconcile us to Himself, then our source for assurance in this life must lie within His Word. As He said in Leviticus 11:45, “….you shall therefore be Holy, for I am Holy.”
So, let’s dive into His Word and try to find His meaning for our Faith and our Hope.
My first stop for clarification is the Word itself;
Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The key words here are assurance and conviction, something upon which we can rely and know to be true.
Hope is expained in Romans 8:24 – “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?”
The key words are saved and seen. The Apostles saw the resurrected Jesus and therefore they had already seen what was to come, which is our resurrection just as He was resurrected. However, for us in the year 2020 because we have not seen the resurrection, we can only hope for it. But that Hope is not unsupported.
In Romans 8 Paul states:
“26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27 And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
So we see in these passages that it is God through His Holy Spirit who enables us to have assurance (Faith) that certain events will happen and since we cannot see those events, so we rely on Hope. A Hope, for which He gives us His Holy Spirit, to provide the assurance that those promised events will happen (this is our Hope).
My second stop is a look towards some of the theologians for additional insight into God’s promises of Faith and Hope. Two of my favorite theologians are C.S. Lewis and Karl Barth. Both have written on these subjects with Lewis perhaps being a bit more recognizable since his writings cover a wide variety of approaches to understanding God’s Word; i.e. through both fictional stories such as the Tales of Narnia and non-fictional expositions such as Mere Christianity.
In Mere Christianity Lewis speaks of Hope as one of the Theological Virtues which he defines as a continual looking forward to the eternal Word. He does not mean that Hope is a form of escapism or wishful thinking, rather he considers that Hope of God’s eternal kingdom should be our focus and in doing so we become valuable instruments in improving the physical world in which we live. For if we live for Him while we occupy earth, then the things we do will be done according to His Will. Life will not be perfect on earth but His love will shine through all we do, and people will see Him through us. For if while on earth we aim for heavenly goals, then we will surely improve our earthly home.
Faith on the other hand is the power and substance that drives us to strive for the heavenly realm. But where does that come from? Lewis lays out the human predicament by asking us to examine how well we do when we try to live the true Christian life. We all know that we fail; whether it is the little lie or mistruth we speak, the homeless person we pass by, or the needs we see that we do not fulfill. Lewis makes it clear that on our own we can’t measure up, because even when we are able to do something good, we are presumptuous enough to think we have done God a favor or that He is now in our debt.
The answer is Faith which is sparked by the Holy Spirit in us and therefore we seek Him using our reasoned thoughts recognizing it is His grace that enables us and assures us that His mercy will cover our inabilities.
Karl Barth also deals with Faith; he states that Faith is not a hypothetical nor is it a notion. Faith is a certain knowledge that does not rest on itself because Faith leads us to its object; but Faith itself is not the object. Faith is “in” the object, and in this case the object is God. When we trust Him we are renewed each day and we become a new person and we are able to understand His Word as the Holy Spirit dwells with us. So too then, Barth assures us that Faith is kindled by the Holy Spirit and enables us to strive to be the kind of human God intends for us to be.
And this brings us to Bart’s understanding of Hope. Simply stated, through our Faith in God the Holy Spirit illuminates for us God’s promise of salvation with Him in absolute clarity. God’s Holy Spirit does not force anything upon us but through Faith we are assured of the promises in which our Hope is focused.
Therefore, our Faith and Hope is given to us via the Holy Spirit as we pray, as we worship and as we live out His Will on earth, throughout all of the ups and downs, troubles and pandemics we experience in our lives; but we remain steadfast via His Holy Spirit in the knowledge that our reconciliation and salvation have been assured for us by the efforts of His son Jesus.
Amen, come Holy Spirit!
Prepared by Chuck Coreth