“As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
One of the most commonly known passages of the Bible is from the 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. You often hear it read at weddings due to its beautiful language of love. What I find interesting is that after twelve verses about love, Paul ends comparing love’s greatness against faith and hope.
Circumstances in my life over the last three years has caused me to reflect on hope. I think that in our dualistic, either/or society hope is not truly known nor understood. Non-dualistic, both/and thinking brings a deeper appreciation for hope in light of doubt.
Western society lifts up confidence and casts doubters as weak. We all, as humans, have doubts but rarely admit them because we tend to think of them as wrong. Many Christians avoid expressing doubt, particularly in context of religion, lest they be accused of having little faith.
I am convinced that hope requires doubt, without doubt what is it that we are hopeful for? To say you have hope without acknowledging doubt is to only give lip service to hope, you are not really hopeful.
I think that what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 13:13 is that what we get from following Jesus is to trust (faith) more than we have before, hope more than we have before, and love more than we have before. Yet, isn’t it odd that he writes so much about love in the prior verses and then seemingly throws in faith and hope in the final verse of the chapter?
It might be that Paul didn’t think he needed to spend so much on faith and hope to his audience because they already had a deeper appreciation of them. Living in Roman occupation gave his audience a good dose of anxiety, the opposite of faith, and doubt, the opposite of hope. It may be they better knew the benefits of faith and hope because both were exercised every day just to exist.
Our egos and society in general like the simplicity of an either/or world. We gain the illusion of control by laying claim between two options, as if one can simply decide to have faith and hope. Reality is not that simple, anxiety and doubt exist and are in fact necessary to how we function as humans.
Anxiety can drive us to action and doubt can constrain decisions, faith and hope are the antidote to being paralyzed by anxiety and doubt. To live fully in faith and hope requires recognizing our anxieties and doubts and living with them in love with Jesus.
Jesus never promised to eliminate our fears and doubts, but he does promise to help us more fully understand faith and hope by facing our fears and doubts. To know hope is to know doubt.
Many of us today have doubt about the world around us and what lies ahead. While there are many ways things could end badly, there is also the possibility that we begin to learn how to love the other, our neighbor, the human of a different economic status, different race, different ethnicity, different citizenship, different faith tradition, and different sexual orientation.
In a time in history not too unlike ours, in which many were anxious and doubted that the future would be better, Jesus proclaimed God was doing something new, God’s reign had begun, and implored us to turn towards that reign. Just around the corner of doubt lies hope, just waiting to be seen.
Beneath all our achievements, plans, travels, and conquests we have but life. When we drink water, when we silently watch children play, when we walk in the cold and feel cold, we are in life, one with it and hence one with God. And so no matter what we have it is always enough, for nothing is enough. No matter where we are we are no-where. No matter who we become we are nobody. For in the ground of our being we live Christ’s life. In the foundations of the heart, God is present in our simple presence to life.
The stirring of leaves in the wind makes the wind visible. Their stirring is the wind’s stirring, their whisper is the wind’s whisper. And so with love. Our actions of love make the invisible visible. Our actions of love make love present to ourselves and to others. And as we go out of ourselves in love, and become, as it were, lost in those we love, we discover a self-greater than our isolated ego. We discover the birth of that self born of the death to self-centeredness.
The love we speak of unites us not only with God but to our brothers and sisters as well. Indeed, the incarnation of Jesus teaches us that we must search for God’s love in human flesh and weakness.
For religious man, life is essentially a journey in which one sets out to quench a thirst, not simply to know that a God exists but to drink directly from God’s own life to which man is bonded (re-ligio) in the depths of his being. Religion is thus the intuitively known and symbolically expressed desire to become who we are in God. The fulfilling of this desire is the realization of the true self.
God is He Who Is and his world is the world that is. What are extraordinary are the ordinary, concrete realities of daily life. And it is our desire to be extraordinary that, in fact, makes us less than ordinary whenever such desires move us to pull away from, reject or even just ignore God manifesting himself to us in the next hot August afternoon or the cold wind of a winter evening.