Lesson 3: Dynamic Interaction

Bob has entered the discussion again with his usual critical thought, forcing me to clarify my ideas. He wrote, “I think there is a strong argument that faith, hope, and love endure as constant beacons for the Christian life. Yet for many of us these illuminating beacons do not reveal universal, unchanging answers to the complex problems of modern life. As always in highly complex situations, the devil is in the details.” He cites the way those who employ the triad have modified their positions on divorce over the years.

That is exactly the beauty of faith, hope, and love. They enable us responsibly to adapt Jesus’ Gospel to the needs of the present society. Traditionally Christians have defined them as virtues, i.e. general qualities like courage that take forms relevant to the situation. Sometimes courage means charge, sometimes try another risky tactic, sometimes stand and fight; sometimes turn the other check, and sometime flee.

As Bob maintains, making this work in our rapidly changing modern world is difficult. However, there is no easy way to overcome the present trend that pretends yesterday’s answers are eternal ones that must be used in response to today’s questions. This kind of pretending is only possible if we ignore the answers that we gave the day before yesterday. It has resulted in the cruelly intolerant type of Christianity that Lupe laments.

The hard work involves at least two understandings. The first is that values do not stand alone but rather interact. We can pretend faith is everything, but comprehensively describing it ends up including the characteristics of hope and love as well. James makes this point when he claims faith without love is dead, and John when he says we can not have faith in God if we do not love our neighbor. You just can not have one without the other.

This interaction is so dynamic and fluid that Paul can say faith and love spring from hope in Colossians, that love comes from faith in Galatians, and then offer different formulations in other letters. As soon as we associate faith with trust in the scripture and tradition of the past, we need to acknowledge it also involves trust that the Risen Lord is involved in the present conversation, and his promises will be fulfilled in the future.

The second is that faith, hope, and love have particular content. All reliable human knowledge involves not only today’s opinions but also the lessons we receive from the past and the purposes we pursue in the future. However, faith, hope, and love involve specific content.

Theologians have classically labeled them theological virtues in contrast to the moral virtues of justice, courage, prudence, and temperance. They describe them as infused grace, meaning they are not part of natural reason that can be taught but rather are responses to Jesus’ Gospel. We have heard enough Easter sermons that claim the Resurrection offers only some vague hope in the future. The task in the next few weeks will be to examine what the content is and how it helps us operate in our ever changing world.

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