Of the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and love, hope generally runs a distant third in the minds of most Christians. Nevertheless, hope is the virtue that I have thought about a great deal lately. In the past six months, I have mourned the passing of a dear friend and of the parents of close friends.
Hope is a virtue that is brought out best in us when we are faced with death, our own or that of those we love, at least in those who have faith in God. For our hope lies in the resurrection of the dead. We have hope that we will join our Lord in the heavenly places. We hope to be reunited with the faithful in the life to come.
In this sense, hope is a virtue of the present that applies to the future. To have hope is to see the future differently than we would if we were without hope. This means that the virtue of hope should change the way we live in the present. We live not as those who have no future, but with anticipation of the joy that will be ours when we no longer see through a mirror dimly.
However, while our hope lies in participation in the kingdom of God, that does not mean that we will experience it only in the future. Our Lord said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). That is, it is here with us now. That which we have hope in can, in many ways, be ours for the present. In this sense, we have hope not just in the life to come, but in our participation in that life every day. We hope that we can draw closer to God, to become more like Jesus, and so learn to participate more in the life of the heavenly kingdom every day.
Death separates us from those we love. We truly mourn their passing because, for the time being, we cannot be with them in the way we once were and our lives become poorer without them physically present. Such is our punishment for Adam’s felix culpa. Hope is that which sustains us until that time when the tail of death tries to sting us. It is that virtue that keeps us looking forward, and inward, to the kingdom of Heaven.
As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews so elegantly wrote: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (10:23).
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
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“Springs Eternal” first appeared in the November 2004 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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