Faith and hope and (so) love

March 02, 2020

Faith and hope and (so) love

Andrew Sloane

We talk a lot about love. It’s fundamental to Christian and ‘secular’ discourse about issues as diverse as refugee policy, bioethics and marriage law.

But often faith is seen as the enemy of love, a source of bigotry and xenophobic violence, and hope is left out of the picture entirely. So, let me swim against this tide of opinion, and suggest that love needs faith to ground it, and hope to sustain it.

Faith is, of course, a rich and complex (and disputed) phenomenon. At its root is trust, a set of commitments to persons and their agenda, and the beliefs and values entailed in those commitments. For Christians, that trust is in the Trinitarian God of love. The Father, creator of all things; the Son who took on frail human flesh; the Spirit who gives us life, and new life. It is a faith that acknowledges that God’s love grounds and precedes all human love. It helps us see others as fellow creatures: vulnerable as we are; in need of love as we are. It is faith that grounds our love for others, irrespective of their social status or utility.[1] The emerging horrors of the Aged Care Royal Commission show how deep the need is for that kind of faith in the care—no, love—we owe vulnerable older people. True: there are many people with no faith who provide loving care, and others with an apparently deep faith who abuse and neglect vulnerable people in their care. Even so, faith both frames and enables the kind of love that vulnerable people need, and chastens its absence. Faith deepens our horror at the abuse of these people who, despite their diminished and diminishing capacities, are still deeply loved by God. And it calls us to repent and amend our evil, neglectful ways. Faith binds us together in love.

But we also need hope. Not optimism—that tissue-thin and fragile sense that things will get better, that all will be OK. For when optimism dies, as die it will, cynicism and despair will sprout like weeds, choking the fragile fronds of love. In contexts such as these, only hope can sustain love. For these are contexts of inevitable decline. The slow slide into senility, or the steady decay of physical or cognitive abilities. A slow walk into a darkness in which there is no beckoning light, just the inevitability of death, and the dark mirror of our own mortality in the faces of those we attempt to love. Hope allows us to recognise the horrible reality that there is no escape from this fate. That, while there may be good days, they will come to an end. To see that looming mortality and not flinch from it. To stare back at the face of death knowing that, inevitable as it is for those we love as indeed for ourselves, its sting has been drawn, its seeming victory vanquished. The hope we know in the good news of Jesus is resurrection hope. A resurrection from the dead that matches Christ’s own resurrection. It is a hope that transcends the possibilities of history and of human imagination. It is a hope that is not locked into the grim realities of mortality, but which points us to that glorious freedom of the children of God in a new heavens and a new earth. And that hope sustains the love we need to offer those who share our mortal frame as they face their own death. For we see in their faces, yes, the mirror of our mortality, but also a clouded window through which we see the hope of their transformation and ours. And so we need not despair, and abandon them to their dying. Nor do we need to dehumanise them so as to shield ourselves from our common fate. Hope frees us to love.

 

[1] See the excellent recent pieces by Mark Stephens https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-03/dominion-tom-holland-christianity-shaping-western-mind/11663018 and Laurel Moffatt https://www.spectator.com.au/2019/08/we-need-more-expressions-of-care-for-one-another-the-draft-nsw-abortion-laws-dont-fit-the-bill/ (accessed November 2019).



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