Related topics: Faith and Charity ; Grace ; Justification ; Election ; Whom do we Worship? ; Opposition in all things ; Justification and Salvation ; Faith, certainty, and doubt
In an earlier post I worked out a model for attaining faith which is: belief, hope, faith. First we believe, or desire to believe, or have a particle of faith. We then act on our belief. After investing ourselves in our beliefs we then hope for something connected to our efforts and beliefs. When the Holy Ghost affirms those hopes we have attained faith. Faith is that assurance that comes from the witness of the Holy Ghost. Once we have attained unto faith, its assurance strengthens our hope and reinforces our belief. Thus, we cannot attain unto faith without hope, but without faith our hope cannot endure and grow.
I realized I didn’t go into much detail about hope. So this post brings a little more precision to the ideas I sketched out in my Faith and Charity post.
Hope can refer to a wish or intention, such as, “I hope to see you soon.” It can also indicate a strong desire to obtain something: “I hope to win the race.” Moreover, we don’t hope for things we already have: “hope that is seen is not hope” (Rom. 8:24-25). Also, despair is the total absence of hope: “if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair” (Moroni 10:22). So hope is an intermediate thing. “We hope for what we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Rom. 8:24-25). If the chance of success is zero there is no hope; rather, there is despair. If the perceived chance of success is 100% then there are no grounds for hope; instead, we rejoice. Hope exists between despair and having.
Hope can also come in kinds, or degrees. There is a “sufficient hope” (Moroni 7:3) and there is a “firm hope” (Heb. 3:6; Alma 34:41). There is also the kind of hope that is barely hanging on: Abraham, “against hope believed in hope” (Rom. 4:18). There is also a “lively hope” (1 Pet. 1:3) and we can also “abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13). There is even a “better hope” (Heb. 7:19). As the hymn More Holiness Give Me says, “More hope in his word.”
But the kind of hope I’m interested in is not the generic kind, such as “I hope this is a good movie.” The kind I’m interested in connects to faith and charity. This could be called gospel hope, serious hope, or as Elder Neil A. Maxwell put it, “ultimate hope” (Hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Ensign, Nov. 1998).
But first, there is something more basic than hope, belief. You can’t hope for something without first believing in the possibility of success, and this entails having beliefs about the possibility of success. Hope cannot exist unless certain things are possible, things we desire to see happen, or to obtain.
But what kind of beliefs lead to hope? The belief might be related to a question: Is the Book of Mormon true? Is Jesus Christ the Son of God? Have I been forgiven? Did Joseph Smith see God the Father and Jesus Christ? But the question is the Book of Mormon true? isn’t a belief. However the Book of Mormon might be true is. For example, the King of the Lamanites prayed, “if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me” (Alma 22:18). At any rate, if you’re asking those questions then you already believe they might be the case. What ever the belief is, it is strong enough to prompt investigation. As the missionaries would say, “Read, ponder, and pray.”
Also, serious hope cannot exist without effort. A missionary might believe she can find a golden investigator, and hopes that she can. But if she never leaves her apartment her hope is no different from “I hope to win the race” without ever competing. So we must first believe something is obtainable and act on that belief, but then we must also continue the effort. Hope can exist while we are running the race, but not if we give up. So, not only does serious hope exist between despair and certainty, it also requires continual effort.
At different stages during our spiritual progression we hope for different things. An investigator probably desires to know if the Book of Mormon is true and prays for a witness of its truthfulness; he believes it might be true, reads it, prays about it, hopes for an answer, then prays some more. Another person might be feeling despair over her sins and hopes for a spiritual confirmation that she is forgiven. A parent might hope their children will gain a strong testimony of the Gospel. A missionary hopes to find investigators. A bishop has hopes for the members of his ward. These kinds of hopes are related to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But ultimately we “hope that [we] shall receive eternal life” (Alma 13:29) and one day hear, “well done, good and faithful servant...enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:23). There is “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27; Jacob 4:11; Alma 22:14; Moroni 9:25); “hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8); “hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2; 3:7); “hope of a glorious resurrection” (D&C 42:45; 138:14). These are “the hope[s] of the gospel” (Coll. 1:23).
Here is one way the process could work. An investigator believes the Book of Mormon might be true and that perhaps the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s restored Church. Consequently she takes the lessons from the missionaries and prays and ponders the claims of Mormonism. She hopes for an answer because she desires to know if she should continue with it. She then gets a confirmation from the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true church. Because of that assurance, she has faith. Her belief is no longer it might be true, she now believes it is true and gets baptized. Her beliefs changed. So what does she hope for next? She currently believes in Jesus Christ and the Atonement. She believes the church is true. She believes it’s possible to stay on the strait and narrow path and obtain eternal life. She probably hopes for a firmer testimony; greater knowledge of the Gospel; overcoming sins and other weaknesses; making temple covenants; doing temple work for her ancestors; continued spiritual progression; bringing the gospel to others. But ultimately, she hopes for eternal life for herself and for those she loves. Her hopes are rooted in the belief that through the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ those things are possible. The Holy Ghost assures her that her hopes are not in vain. This assurance is the gift of faith and thus faith strengthens her hope and reifies her beliefs. As Elder Uchtdorf pointed out, “Each time a hope is fulfilled, it creates confidence and leads to greater hope” (The Infinite Power of Hope).
Like the example of the investigator, we start off believing that something might be true. After a spiritual witness that it is true we have attained faith. Our hopes are now rooted in the Gospel. Now that we have obtained hope we are motivated to do the works of the Gospel. This in turn leads us to the “work of faith, and labour of love” (1 Thess. 1:3) and a closer relationship with the Comforter which leads us back to a greater “assurance of things hoped for” (faith), which then leads to a stronger hope, etc. “The brighter our hope, the greater our faith” (E. Uchtdorf). It is through “witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken” (Jacob 4:6). Those witnesses are the surety of our hope. “Whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world” (Ether 12:4, emphasis added). Serious hope may be thought of as faith directed toward the future, anticipating something yet to be. Faith may be thought of as the confidence in our hopes that comes from witness of the Holy Ghost.
A tale to two hopes
But as Elder Uchtdorf points out, there are two kinds of hope: “The things we hope for lead us to faith, while the things we hope in lead us to charity” (italics original). Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; if we have faith we hope for things that are true.
But what does it mean to have hope in something? And how does that produce charity? We can have hope in God’s mercy, hope in the Lord, and hope in Jesus Christ, hope in his judgments, and hope in his word. To hope in someone is to rely on him, to trust him completely. In fact, the word “hope” is sometimes translated as “trust.” When Paul quotes Isaiah, “in him shall the Gentiles trust” (Rom 15:12), most modern translations render this as, “in him shall the Gentiles hope.” The same is true for Paul’s letter to Titus. “We trust in the living God” is rendered as “hope on the living God” in the NASB. Sometimes passages about hope are translated as “hope on,” sometimes they are translated as “hope in.” The sense of usage I get is that hope in Christ implies both trust and reliance. Our hopes are on Christ because we rely on him. They are in Christ because we have complete trust in him. “Hope is trust in God’s promises” (James E. Faust, Hope, an Anchor of the Soul, Ensign, Nov 1999), and hope is “the abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promise to us” (E. Uchtdorf).
To hope in Christ also includes a desire to emulate him. He is our divine prototype. “Every man that hath this hope in him[, Christ,] purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:3). The scriptures tell us that “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:16). Therefore, to have a genuine hope in Christ we must love God and our neighbors, for “He that loveth not knoweth not God” (1 Jn. 4:8). It also seems possible that a person could hope for a future reward in heaven and therefore have faith, and at the same time not have a hope in Christ. Those who prophesy, do great works, and cast out devils do not necessarily have a reward in heaven (Matt. 7:22-23). Hope in Christ is greater than hope for a heavenly reward. In other words, charity more excellent than faith. Hope in Christ is tightly bound to our love of God and charity towards others. We are told that once we have attained a hope in Christ our desires will be granted: “Ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them” (Jacob 2:19).
But gospel hope is a confidence and a feeling with a basis in belief and faith. It is a peace in believing granted by the Holy Ghost. But feelings can vacillate and change. What if one falls into serious sin? What if one goes through a period of depression or a series of very difficult disappointments? A person might be shaken when they find out Joseph Smith was a polygamist, which might go contrary to things they believe about the church. Severe depression can also strongly affect feelings of hope. I suppose that even suffering from a paranoid delusion can affect belief, faith, and hope. Mood swings, disappointment, tragedy, sorrow, all these strongly influence feelings of hope, which can in turn affect belief and faith. Our beliefs, hopes, and assurances are so intimately connected to others things in life that there are times when it’s a struggle to maintain them.
The pull away from hope can lead us sin. “And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart” (Jer 18:12)—the ASV reads, “But they say, It is in vain...” Their lack of hope caused them to rely on their own effort and they rejected placing their faith in God. “Just as doubt, despair, and desensitization go together, so do faith, hope, charity, and patience” (E. Maxwell). If there is no hope in the resurrection then we might as well “eat and drink; for to morrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32).
But ultimately, if we have charity we have hope in Christ.
Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen. (Moroni 7:47-48)