2013-12-05

Faith and Hope and the Tightrope of Love


Love is dangerous, risky, and infinitely costly to the self. Precisely because it is the giving of self away to the Other, for the Other, in the Other. Why should we give ourselves away in this manner? Why is Love worth the risk? Why would it not be better to act in self-interest, rather than loose yourself in what may in the end be a futile effort?

Is there a good reason we should sing with the Song of Solomon:

"Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned." [Song 8.6-7]



Can we chant the Love Poem in First Corinthians and mean it:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self–seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." [1Corinthians 13.4–8]

If the self-sacrifice of Love is considered in the abstract, without reference to any other dimensions of Reality, then it would be hard to justify the costliness of complete self-gift. In fact, without reference to a more total vision of Reality, an ethic of selfishness and utilitarian calculation would probably be a more rational stance toward others. This type of calculation is actually what is the basis of many free-market moral systems that hypothesize that rational self-interest, in which people who use one another for gain, eventually build a society where all needs are met (at least for those who "matter" to the economic system). If self-gift is not rooted in a larger vision of Ultimate Reality that is Self-Gift, then the decision to sacrifice self for the fulfillment of others seems to be little more than a long term effort to commit suicide.

However, if human life is rooted in a larger Ultimate Reality that is beyond the self, and if the nature of that Reality is Self-Gift, then it makes sense to give oneself for each Other in Love. It makes sense because, by giving self away, one is then participating in the very nature of Reality, and working "with the grain of the Universe".

It is precisely this type of anchor that Faith and Hope provide, in order to allow us to fully give ourselves away in Love. All three are instances of the giving of ourselves in different modes of time. One way of viewing Faith (or Trust, or Confidence) is to see it as a self-giving to the past, to commit oneself to an event or an experience in the past as a foundation for how one lives on a daily basis. In this sense, a marriage is an ongoing act of faith, with two partners who give themselves to each other on the basis of their past experiences of faithfulness and relationship with each other. A marriage is possible because two people are able to Love one another on the basis of a series of events that elicit faith in one another. Thus, if we encounter faithful, dependable experiences, we are enabled to trust them as a basis for further decisions.

When people encounter the faithfulness of God in Christ, they are enabled to give themselves to God in trust. This trust presents itself to them primarily through meditating on God's past actions of faithfulness in the incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus (although many other "historic" acts may be added, including things such as creation and other actions of liberation in history). Many are also enabled to put their trust in Jesus through more personal experiences of God's faithfulness, as they have encountered the Risen Christ in spiritual experiences and life events. It is from this gift of self to the past faithfulness of God, that we are enabled to give ourselves in the present, in Love, for the good of others.

If Faith is the gift of self to the past, Hope is the gift of self to the unknown future. But this future aspect of self gift is not disconnected from the past, but rooted in it. For, if we have experienced steadfast faithfulness in the past, we can expect a continuation of that into the future. And this is especially true if we have faithful experiences with a person who promises faithfulness in the future. We may speak of a marriage again. If two people have been faithful to one another without wavering for the past 10, 20 or 30 years, and have exchanged vows and promises to remain faithful in the future, it is natural and logical to think that this behavior will extend into the future "until death do us part".

And so, when we consider what type of Ultimate Reality we are woven into, we find ourselves not only tethered by Faith to a God who has acted in Christ to sacrificially give God's Life to us. We are also anchored by a future Hope in the Promises of God to redeem, reconcile, and restore all things to the Father through the work of Christ the Son (cf. Col. 1; 1Co 15; Rom. 8). The same God who has acted faithfully in the past also promises to fulfill that faithfulness in the future, as we are drawn into the Infinity of God's Love, through the healing action of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So the life of Love (which is giving self NOW for the good of others) can only be successfully lived by being tethered to Faith (which is giving self to the PAST faithfulness of God) and being anchored to Hope (which is giving self to the FUTURE promises of God). This past tethering and future anchoring does not diminish the risk of Love in the present. Love is constantly risky and always costly. When we give ourselves for the good of someone else, we are never guaranteed that those who we give ourselves to will value, reciprocate, or even notice what we have done. In giving ourselves in Love, we may loose everything. Perhaps even our very lives. Jesus says that no one has greater Love than to give their lives up for their beloved (cf. John 15.13). In different ways, this truth is seen in the lives of martyrs, veterans, and parents across history.

And if there was no reasonable Faith or Hope to speak of, such a sacrifice of Love would be meaningless and empty. There would be no reason for it, and no hope that it would accomplish anything. But, with Faith and Hope anchored securely in the faithfulness of Christ, we know that sacrifice is not the end of the story. Rather, sacrifice is the downpayment that God will do something beautiful with the gift of self we have given, whether in time or eternity. Self-emptying becomes the seed that is sowed in the ground, in the sure and certain hope that Christ will raise it to new and transformed life as it bears fruit in eternity.

Thus, the risk of Love is a bit like walking a tightrope with Christ, tethered between Faith and Hope. When all else fails and fades, these three things remain. We will never get beyond Faith in our beloved faithful Lord who died and rose for us. We will eternally grow into the Infinity of his Love, and so there will always be Hope of an ever deeper union with God in this life and the next. And the process of that growth in Christlikeness, the process of traveling from Faith into Hope, is to give oneself in Love in the continual present. Love is the eternal challenge, day by day, minute by minute, second by second, to be present in each moment, and give oneself fully to each person and event that one encounters.

Let us then walk the tightrope of Love with Christ, aware of each step, present in each moment, giving ourselves to share in the light of God and the life of others. As we give our self to fulfill each other's potential, we will find that we fulfill our potential to be Godlike by reflecting Christ. By giving ourselves for others, as they give themselves for us, we will find that we are able to achieve potential outcomes that were would never by possible if we merely pursued our own self interest. This endless evolution Christward is only made possible by three modes of self-gift: Faith, Hope, and Love.

They are thus essential because to participate in them is to participate in the Triune God's very essence. God's essence is Love [1John 4]. And in time-- past, present, future-- we experience that Divine Love as Faith, Love, and Hope. But in eternity, outside of time and space, only the eternal present tense gift of self remains in God, as the Father gives himself to the Son in the Spirit, and the Son gives himself back to the Father in the same Spirit. And that is why, although Faith, Hope and Love forever remain for us, the greatest is Love. Because Love is the eternal present of God outside of our experience of time.
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.