Wednesday, February 14, 2007

How Is Hope Different than Faith?

While reading St. Augustine’s Enchiridion a couple years ago I came across the best explanation of the difference between faith and hope I’ve ever read (see especially chapter 5). I drew up this diagram to help me remember it.

The circle above represents every real event and every true statement that has ever been or ever will be. Place yourself at the center of the circle, everything to the right is future, everything to the left is past. Everything above is good, everything below is bad.

As I remember it, Augustine sees faith as a sure confidence in all that is true. In this sense faith has as its object all that is within the circle above. This means that faith can have as its object both past and future events as well as both good and bad events. We believe that Jesus came in the past and died on a cross and rose again. We also believe that he will return again someday in the future to judge the world.

Hope is a more specific application of faith. Like faith, hope is a sure confidence in what is true, but hope is different from faith in the following three ways:

1) It is only future oriented

2) It has only that which is good as its object

3) It is personal or reflexive

In this way we can say that we believe that when Jesus comes to judge the world that many will be found guilty and condemned to hell, but this is not our hope. Our hope is that we will be saved. Unlike faith, which can have as its object those things that do not pertain to us (like hell), hope is reflexive. That is, hope has as its object those good things that we believe will come to us in the future.

So here are a few implications of Augustine’s understanding. We don’t hope in the death of Jesus. He already died, we simply believe that. We don’t hope in our rebirth (if we have already been born again), even though it is personal. Our hope is that when he comes again he will save us from the wrath to come.

On the other hand, those who believe all that the Bible says concerning Jesus but do not believe that he died for their sins will find themselves in the bottom right quadrant, which we call despair. They are without hope, even though they believe. These individuals are close to suicide like Judas or they become extremely wicked like Satan.

However, this is also the best place to be if you have not yet been born again. It seems the Holy Spirit often convicts the heart of sin and judgment before applying the good news of the gospel.

Side note: It is through this hope, instilled by the Holy Spirit, that we receive the strength to live and love like Jesus today.

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