Wednesday, April 7, 2010

understanding faith, hope, charity & other concepts

I love when I hear people discuss the scripture, especially when they have a restored joy in their actual understanding. However, I am dismayed when a fundamental error continues to take place. So here is the error and how to avoid it.

The error: You correctly understand from the scriptures that God instructs that one must have faith, hope and charity. You get that part just fine. However, you then try to understand "how" to apply faith, hope, charity and etc. by looking at fellow human "role models." That is so fundamentally wrong.

For example, you look around you for people that you think have a "lot" of "good" faith, and or a "lot" of "good" hope, and or a "lot" of "good" charity, and then you try to copy them. There is a breakdown of both faith and reasoning when you do that. The first is that God is speaking of divine faith, hope and charity, not human based faith, hope and charity. So you misunderstand what God speaks of if you think human faith fully explains what God means by faith, that human hope fully explains what God means by hope, and or that human charity fully explains what God means by charity.

Quickly I will give examples of how in scriptures you know that is an error. Jesus points out the loudly praying Pharisee as a hypocrite (comparing him to the quietly humble publican who is praying for forgiveness). Yet in those times many people would have used that arrogant Pharisee as the "biblically accurate role model for faith." The odds are that if you are looking at someone who is highly visible in their faith that you are open to being misled inadvertently because you short circuit developing your own faith based directly on what the Bible instructs and speaks to your own heart, because you truncate your understanding by studying only a human who may or may not be actually a "role model of faith."

Second, "hope" means hope of being saved, not hoping for the things that humans "hope for," whether those are good things or not. I will hone in on helping you to understand that by writing more about it below. But to make the general first point Paul states that hope is for eternal life, and you need to notice that no one describes hope as being directed toward any earthly event or object, regardless how worthy it might be to hope for, in a human context. Biblical "hope" is reserved for salvation alone.

Third, "charity" is a highly individual concept, and cannot be viewed as "works," "acts" or some sort of heavenly accounting. How do we know that? Because if you read the Beatitudes you understand that tons of really poor people are in heaven, and if you think about that, how many poor people can really do "works" of charity? Most are lucky to feed their own children. Obviously middle class and wealthy people are very tempted to fall over the stumbling block of thinking that the more you "have" the more you can "give away in charity" and thus the more "works of merit" and "good deeds" you earn. Wrong! Remember Luke 16 where that rich guy ends up in hell not because he was not a worthy Jew and probably did all the right things, including charity, but he didn't help the ONE man that God wanted to help.

I'm going to copy a list from the index of my Bible of hope related passages. Sometimes reading an index or a table of contents really conveys the point succinctly and holistically. So here it is and then I will discuss some of the specifics. But I can well imagine that you will get my point after simply reading this index!

A gift of God 2 Thess 2 16
Saved by Rom 8 25
Should abound in Rom 15 13
Called "blessed" Titus 2 13
Inspires holiness 1 John 3 3
Helmet of salvation 1 Thess 5 8
Given by Scriptures Rom 15 4
A heavenly treature Col 1 5
For eternal life Titus 1 2
An abiding principle 1 Cor 13 13
Leads to patience Rom 8 25
Is not seen Rom 8 24
Of Christians, in death Prov 14 32
Deferred, makes the heart sick Prov 13 12
Prisoners of Zech 9 12
"Hope against hope" Rom 4 18
Maketh not ashamed Rom 5 5
Anchor of the soul Heb 6 19
Assures immortality Acts 24 15
Of wicked, shall perish Prov 11 7
Christians rejoice in Rom 12 12
Give a reason for 1 Pet 3 15
A triumphant Rom 8 38,39
A living 1 Pet 1 3
Amid trials 2 Cor 4 8

Here is the list for "hopelessness":

State of unbelievers Eph 2 12
Caused by apostasy Jer 2 25
Caused by affliction Job 17 15
The cure for Isa 49 13-16

You see the problem? None of these scriptures refer to either earthly hope (such as "hoping" that something will happen) or to role modeling people who seem "hopeful" aka optimistic, perky, uplifting, etc. People who are hopeful in an earthly sense are optimists about earthly things, and that may or may not be wise or appropriate, but teaches you nothing about God's concept of hope, which is only directed toward salvation and being close to God.

Ephesians 2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.

You see, Paul is explaining one thing you might wonder in the list of scriptures of "hope" that I provided from my bible above. Why are so few Old Testament scriptures about "hope?" Because when the people of Israel lived within a theocracy (a king appointed and anointed by God and the Jews lived entirely within God's instructions and word) then they "have God," they are not "without God in the world." That's by the way why there is few references to hell or heaven for that matter in the Old Testament. The Israelites were a people of God, saved, or fallen away, as a whole. That does not mean that individual people are not judged by God on death, of course (Luke 16). But when one lives in a nation founded by God and compliant to God's will, then one does not need hope per se because one is living within the hope that God established for them. Christians, however, had to find their own hope individually as they went out into the world from the safety of the Old Covenant and into the assured, but invisible, New Covenant with God.

So Paul is explaining here that someone who is foreign to (not native of, and thus the word "alien" which does not mean imaginary space visitors) God's community, which was previously Israel and the Jews, is new to the concept of hope and, indeed, had been living in ignorance without hope.

In the Old Testament, therefore, you can now understand that hopelessness is not a state as moderns think of being pessimistic, being depressed, losing expectations of gaining some earthly object or event, but of being estranged from God and or thus risking loss of salvation.

Jeremiah 2:25 Withhold thy foot from being unshod, and thy throat from thirst, but thou saidst, There is no hope: no, for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go.

When one abandons the true God for imaginary strange gods and concepts, then one loses hope through apostasy, whether one realizes it or not, or whether one goes through the motions of outward obedience or not.

Job 17:15 And where is now my hope? as for my hope, who shall see it?

Job has lost everything he had. But he is not hoping for restoration of his goods. He realizes that he had been blessed by God and now for some reason unknown to him (Satan) is unjustly estranged from God. So Job wonders where God is because God is his hope.

Isaiah 50:13-16

Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, the Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands thy walls are continually before me.

By the way, this passage about hope never mentions the word hope. This is one critical reason you must not rely on just looking up occurrences of certain words representing concepts you are researching in the Bible, because many times there is a wealth of information that is NOT actually mentioning the one word you are thinking about!!!!!!!!!! You learn about "hope" by reading the whole Bible (imagine that) rather than assuming hope is "discussed" or "explained" only where the translated word "hope" appears, like this is a legal text or a big old dictionary! The entire Bible is about "hope!"

God is saying that his people should rejoice in him, even in their misery of earth, because he has not forgotten them (unlike nursing mothers some of whom actually do neglect their children!) That is what is truly meant by God's hope.

Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

Notice Paul does two things that are crucial. He explains that hope is found in the scriptures, reading, studying and following the scriptures using patience and for comfort. But he also continues to role model as hope being a work in progress, not a slam dunk assurance that someone has in their pocket! This is why he phrases it as "we...might have hope." None of the Apostles, including with them Paul, ever misleads people into thinking that "hope" means anything but forward looking hopefulness, not something that once gotten is never lost and never needs to be continually worked upon.

1 Thessalonians 5:8

But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.

OK, how many of you in sports who use a helmet take your helmet off after wearing it once and saying "Hey, I wore the helmet once, and I own one, so I don't need to wear it every time I race." Um, that would be dumb. A helmet needs to be worn all the time, not just "owned" but put in a closet. Likewise hope is an ongoing condition where one wears it as a helmet, just as one covers the chest with the breast plate of faith and love.

Why does Paul use this imagery? Faith and love (charity) are matters of the heart (the chest). Hope is a matter for the head (the brain, for thinking and remembering through logic).

I hope this has helped and do read the other scriptures I've listed. Understand that this is how to understand holistically a singular concept such as hope.