Lesson 2: Past, Present, and Future

Last week I tried to make the case for faith, hope, and love being a very careful choice for summarizing the Christian life. I’d like to take a few weeks to examine the features that make the triad so important.

First, the three proclaim how Christians handle the very basic human activity of relating the past, present, and future. I came to appreciate how essential this is when preparing First and Second Graders for their First Communion. When I asked what they did at dinner, fully expecting “We eat”, I got instead “We talk”. And then without skipping a beat, they would go on to explain they talked about what they had been doing and what they planned to do. The response was the same year after year. So, too, we adults understand ourselves and identify our communities by remembering our histories and indicating our aspirations.

Christians do this in their own special way. They use scripture and tradition from the past to inform the present conversation as they make choices about what they will say and do in the future. They speak the mystery, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”.

Immediately you note the contrast with modern society. We are dealing with long term perspectives: meanings, values, and purposes acquired over millennia. Faith refers to the story of Jesus that goes back 2000 years, hope to the fulfillment of his promises that might be far off in the future, and love to how these play out in the present. Faith presumes we can not truly appreciate what is true, beautiful, and good by simply examining present opinion, hope that many ethical projects extend beyond our lifetimes, and love that many virtuous actions demand more than individual efforts.

Our modern technological society focuses only on the present and the short term, perhaps in an effort to escape meanings, values, and purposes. It promises to free us from the past that is now “no longer” and primarily examined in terms of opportunities lost. It promises to provide anything we want in the future that has become “not yet” and is primarily defined in terms of endless opportunities. However, in denying the past and pretending to control the future, the promises are empty. The society offers only what is “new”, not what is valuable. It flits from solving one immediate problem, often of its own making, to another.

One of the functions of faith, hope, and love is to proclaim the meanings, values, and purposes that come with a profound understanding of the past, present, and future. I am reminded of an article Lupe wrote in answer to a gentleman who predicted the crumbling of the Bolivian people in the face of modern industrial corruption. In essence her reply was, “You have no understanding of the Bolivian people. You can not predict their future, because you have no appreciation for their past.” So faith, hope, and love enable Christians to understand the present by appreciating the past and trusting in Jesus’ promises about the future.

Tages: Faith, Hope, Love, Past, Present, Future, Meaning, Value, Purpose, Dinner

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