Sunday, May 28, 2006

Faith, hope and love

Heard a sermon tonight from Gen 49-50 on Joseph's faith, love and hope (Barneys evening service sermons are available here). It got me thinking about the objects of these virtues. While we nearly always speak of our faith in God, our hope in God, when it comes to our love, we have a dual focus: God first, then neighbour. Can we think of faith and hope as having analogous double focii, or is love unique? Oliver O'Donovan has an interesting argument claiming that there is no competition between the two loves, that we do not love neighbour less in order to love God more (Resurrection and Moral Order, 232-36). The thrust of his point is that we recognise the difference between God and our neighbour and love each according to the manner apt for each. We love God as God, and neighbour as neighbour, recognising her as one of God's creatures and loved for his sake. Far from being in competition then, the former is the impetus towards the latter.

Could it be that the same is true for faith and hope? Might we trust our neighbour ('as ourselves'?) in a manner appropriate to fallible and fallen (and redeemed) humanity and in a way that is not in competition with our utter dependence upon God, but as its correlate? Is this not indeed the situation in which we find ourselves? At the very least, trusting God means trusting the human messengers who bring us God's gospel. Should our first stance towards the human other be trust (understood as conditioned by co-humanity, certainly, but trust nonetheless)? Is it going too far to say that we ever trust our enemies? Does this ignore Jesus' injunction to be 'shrewd as serpents'? Or is it that a unilateral first step of trust is the only way out of the cycle of betrayal? That a smile to a stranger is the first step to friendship? Risky? Sure, but so is love for neighbour, and if our trust, love and hope in God are all interconnected, the same holds for human relationships. This needn't be blind trust to the stranger or the enemy, but being one step closer to them than they are to me, being open for another step. And of course, just as we are to not 'love' the world (1 John 2.15), yet are nonetheless to love our neighbour, so we are not to put our ultimate trust 'in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help' (Psalm 146.3), and yet trusting God means trusting our neighour.

What about hope? Can we hope in our neighbour, or only for her? Our hope in God, in his resurrected Son, gives us hope for the redeemability of all things. We can never afford to write off a neighbour as 'hopeless'. If death is no barrier to God's transformative new creation, if the Spirit of the risen Christ has been loosed upon the world, then cynicism and despair are passé. Again, will we be disappointed? Sure. But better to be rejected, better to be betrayed, better to be disappointed than retreat to a hostile antipathy towards the world. If God loves the world, entrusts his salvation to frail messengers, and subjected the creation to futility in hope, who are we to do less?
Ten points for naming the location from which this picture was taken.

10 comments:

Patrik said...

Rahner has this idea that love of God, if it is real, can only be expressed as love of neighbour. If we try to love God separately we are creating an Idol, because God is always mystery.

byron said...

Amen (except I'd say that it is because we know God as Creator and incarnate redeemer that we'd better love and not idolise our neighbour). Do you have the Rahner reference?

Patrik said...

Sorry, no.. Rahners works is a nightmare when it comes to finding what you're looking for. I think you can find it in "Foundations of Christian Faith", but to understand a word of that you have to read it from cover to cover which will take you a month or so. It's well worth it though, it is a remarkable book.

You can also look through his collected works, there is bound to beseveral essayes on the subject.

byron said...

Thanks - I've just been reading some Rahner for a class (a few excerpts from the Theological Investigations).

Drew said...

I like your suggestion (exhortation?) - it pushes a positive point of view without triumphalism, and without reacting against secular trends, that nevertheless acts in the world in hope of redemption.

byron said...

Acting in the world in hope of redemption, but without arrogantly thinking that our work is redemption - that's the aim.

Martin Kemp said...

Empire state or the Chrysler building.

byron said...

Marty, it was indeed one of those buildings. I'll only give you five since you hedged your bet. Five more for the first to pick which of the two it is.

Martin Kemp said...

ESB

byron said...

Bingo - have another five to increase your lead.