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Faith, Hope, Love and Doubt

by on June 18, 2014

When I loose my faith, how can I find it again?

It was a year ago, right here at Mo Ranch in Hunt TX, that I had an insight while serving communion during a worship service. It was that after years of theological education and pastoral experience, after reading scores of books on Christian doctrine, historical theology, comparative religion, philosophy, and arguments for and against faith, that despite all my questions, doubts, reservations, skepticism, and evidence to the contrary, I could not deny the profound and personal connection that characterizes the moment when I say, “The bread of heaven; the cup of salvation” to people coming to the Lord’s Table.

I take it as confirmation of my phenomenological epistemology that, while I can argue myself into and out of the various answers to questions of Bible interpretation, Christian theology, and the role of religion, I can not deny the spiritual union of that moment when according to Christian theology God’s Spirit effects union with Christ and with one another. Since then, this has been my anchor: no matter what, there is the bread and the cup.

This year at Mo Ranch, I am having a new insight informed by the “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and love. When faith wavers, as mine often does, there may remain at least the hope of faith. When I don’t believe, I may at least hope that what I don’t believe may still be true. I may at least hope that someday I myself may once again believe that it is true. I don’t mean to reduce faith to belief, for faith is much more (trust, fidelity, orientation, and outlook, e.g.), but belief pervades faith in its many aspects. When my faith as belief wanes, falling back on the hope of belief allows me to trust, be faithful, orient my life around the presumption of God’s presence, and envision the world from that perspective.

But what about if hope fades? What about when the distance from faith is so great that it diminishes even the hope for faith? What if the doubts are so overwhelming, or circumstances so dark that they extinguish the light of faith and hope? In those circumstances, which I have not experienced myself but only heard about, I suspect that the third virtue of love is the Plan C, and that this is why Paul says, “Faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.” I suspect this is why Jesus unites the two greatest commandments into one, because when you can’t love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength because you can’t find God or even believe that God exists, you can find and love a neighbor. The greatest of faith, hope, and love is love because it alone is ubiquitous and eternal.

From this perspective, love is both the fruit of faith and hope, in that faith in God and hope in God’s kingdom lead one to love of neighbor. I think this is how most people hear the list; as a progression from faith, to hope, to love. But love can also be the root of faith, when faith and hope are gone and we have nothing left available to us but to love our neighbor.

Which brings me back to communion. We “do” communion in order to “remember” Christ. Remembering Christ means to remember that God loves us. As dinner guests receive invitations because their presence there is valued, so God invites us to the Lord’s Table, because God wants us there. Remembering Christ also means to remember that Jesus loved God. Out of love for God Jesus preached and lived God’s kingdom, leading to his execution on the cross.

But remembering Christ means also to remember that Jesus loved his neighbors. He welcomed social and religious outcasts into his circle. He embraced the untouchables. He fed the hungry and lived in solidarity with the poor. He proclaimed grace and forgiveness to alienated and guilt-ridden souls. He promised redemption to the lost, and paradise to the dying. He chastised religious leaders for their lack of love.

I pray I am less like those religious leaders, being one myself, who lacked love. I pray that when my faith is stable and my hope is strong, I will love also. But now I see that when my faith is weak or is suspended for a time, or should my hope for faith ever fail, I can still love another and in doing so, find my way back to God.

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