WE ARE NEVER WITHOUT HOPE
Rev. David A. Fisher
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;…” - 1 Corinthians 13:13
Introduction: Hope in the language of the Sacred Scriptures
When examining a concept such as hope, that has such deep roots in the Sacred Scriptures, we must exercise due diligence in uncovering the biblical understanding of the term. It is necessary to discover how the word was used in Judaism and the Old Testament, then became transformed in the light of the Resurrection of Christ by the New Testament Church in its proclamation of salvation.
In the Hebrew Scriptures there were various words used to express the idea of hope. Usually, the idea was to hope in the one true God, the God of Israel, in the sense of trust. Here we see the close connection between hope and faith, which will be expressed also in the New Testament. Ancient Israel hoped for the fulfillment of the promises of God, and were not to place their hope in any other thing; be it armies, riches, or earthly powers.
In the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) which was the version of the Jewish Scriptures received by the New Testament Church, the term hupomeno - ?π?μεινα is used to express the notion of to wait, to be patient, or to endure.
In the Greek of the New Testament the word elpida - ελπ?δα is used for hoping in the promises of God (Romans 4:18), hope that leads to joy (Romans 12:12), and the sanctifying nature of hope (1 John 3:3).
Hebrews 3:6 in a sense summarizes the various Scriptural nuances of hope; “Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm to the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.”
II. The Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love
In The Catechism of the Catholic Church (part 3; sec. 1, chap. 1, art. 7), faith, hope, and love are discussed under the title of the The Theological Virtues. In the Catechism, drawing upon the Epistle to the Hebrews and Saint Paul’s Epistle to Titus hope is defined as: “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.’(Hebrews) ‘The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.’ (Titus)
The Catechism reminds us that all other human virtues are rooted in The Theological Virtues, they come from not within ourselves but are a gift of God. Faith, Hope, and Love are together the Grace of God, operative within our lives and our very being. In a sense they can be seen as the presence of salvific grace upon our trinitarian being. Jesus Christ has reveals to us the trinitarian nature of God, that the one true God is; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus also reveals to us the true nature of being human, that human beings are: body, spirit, and soul. Humanity is made in the image and likeness of God, like God we are trinitarian, but whereas the Triune God is uncreated, we are creatures. Being creatures we are in metaphysical need of overcoming the limitations of creatureliness; these limitations are which are exhibited in the failures of our striving for living lives of virtue, for as Saint Paul says in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.”
Faith, Hope, and Love are therefore living signs of the new man and the new woman, those for whom it is said in the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse of John) 7:14, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
III. Hope in the theology of the Syriac Fathers
Hope in the thought of the Syriac Fathers is intimately connected to their theology of salvation (soteriology). The long awaited hope of ancient Israel is realized in the Incarnation and birth of the Savior, Jesus. The hope of the Church is found in its faith in Christ. The hope of all humanity for eternal life, eternal meaning, and eternal peace and love finds its realization in the Kingdom of God, whose gates are opened by the Son of God.
Saint Ephrem the Syrian (died 373 A.D.), in hymn 23 of his Hymns On the Nativity, sees hope as the gift from God to all humanity:
Since human hope was shattered, hope was increased by Your birth.
The heavenly beings announced good hope to human beings.
The evil one, who cut off our hope, cut off his hope by his own hands
when he saw that hope increased. Your birth became for the hopeless
a spring gushing hope. Blessed is the hope that brought the Gospel!
(from, Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns, Paulist Press, 1989)
Saint Isaac of Nineveh (died c.700 A.D.), is within the minority group of Church Fathers (Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa) who believed in Universal Salvation. Saint Isaac certainly found some affirmation for this hope in salvation for all in a number of the Pauline texts of the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:22, “As all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” Romans 11:32, “God has imprisoned all in disobedience, that he may be merciful to all.” Also, in Romans 5:18, “Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” Possible the most positive text in terms of universal salvation is, 1 Corinthians 15:28, “God has put all things in subjection under his feet…And when all things are made subject to the Son, then the Son himself will also be made subject to the Father, who has subjected all things to him; and thus God will be all in all.”
In Ascetical Homilies 27, St. Isaac expresses his hope in Universal Salvation:
Let us not be in doubt, O fellow humanity, concerning the hope of our salvation, seeing that the One who bore sufferings for our sakes is very concerned about our salvation; God’s mercifulness is far more extensive than we can conceive, God’s grace is greater than what we ask for…Sin, Gehenna, and death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects (or acts), not substances. Sin is the fruit of the will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist. Gehenna is the fruit of sin. At some point in time, it received a beginning, but its end is not known. Death, however, is a dispensation of the wisdom of the Creator. It will have power over nature only for a time. Then it will be totally abolished. (from, Ascetical Homilies of St Isaac the Syrian - Holy Cross Monastery)
IV. Conclusion: We Are Never Without Hope
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Christians are never without hope, for our hope is grounded in Christ and his victory over sin and death. Hope springs forth from our faith, changing our lives, transforming our being, into beings constituted by love, the love of God. For the Christian, faith, hope, and love become ontological categories, that is to say, the very makeup of our life in Christ.
The hope that springs from our faith in the Resurrected Lord, shows us that love never dies, that love conquerors the grave, and therefore as Scripture says those who die in Christ, will rise with Him in a like resurrection. The hope of Israel is fulfilled in Christ, the hope of the Church which is celebrated in the Holy Mysteries, in Sacramental signs, is fulfilled in Lord’s Death and Resurrection; ushering in the “last days,” and the fullness of life, love, and hope, fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.