The most excellent way (part 10): Love, faith, and hope

faith hope loveIt’s hard to love when a relationship seems hopeless.  And it’s impossible to love in a hopeless relationship without faith.

In any believer’s life, the three “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and love must be held together.  And by the time Paul gets to the end of 1 Corinthians 13, he will not only say that love is greater than the spiritual gifts, but that it is greater than the other two virtues.  We’ll come back to that later.

For now, it’s worth realizing that he’s already brought these three together in verse 7, though the differences between translations raise interesting questions.  The Common English Bible reads, “Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”  The New Revised Standard has “Love… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  And the New International Version reads, “Love… always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Paul’s first verb basically means “to cover.”  The meaning can be extended to mean “to protect” (hence the NIV).  And that meaning can be stretched even further to suggest some kind of support.  If the latter reading is correct, it forms something of a matching bookend with the final verb, “endures” or “perseveres” (literally, “remains under” — we might say, “has staying power”).  Love, Paul teaches, should be able to put up with anything.

But we know how difficult that is in practice.  To love no matter what?  How is that possible?

Because of what Paul says between the bookends.  While all three versions give us the word “hope,” they vary in translating the other verb: is it “believes” or “trusts”?

The word is the verb form of the noun we translate as “faith.”  In English, unfortunately, we don’t have such a verb.  And our substitution of “believes” or “trusts” can run afoul of our tendency to divide mind and heart, reason and emotion.  But in the biblical understanding of faith, there is no such division.  To have faith is not only to believe something, but to believe in Someone.  For love to endure and persevere, we need deep trust.

And we need hope — but not just any hope, not just optimism or wishful thinking.  We need a robust and specifically Christian hope that stretches itself toward God’s promises of a future in which all things will be made new, finally and forever.

Here’s the question: can we love today in a way that points us toward that tomorrow?