|42 - Faith, Hope and Love|
As you listened to our reading from Romans this morning, did you catch St Paul’s famous triad of “faith, hope and love?” We are justified by faith, he says, which gives us access to God. Through faith, we rejoice in hope that comes from the Glory of God, and in our hope we are not disappointed because the love of God is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that was given to us through faith in our baptism. The love of God is what faith hopes for; and this hope of faith is not disappointed because through Our Lord Jesus Christ, faith receives what it hoped for: the love of God. It is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Do you see that faith is not a blind leap of the mind? Faith accompanies hope and love. Faith is superior to knowledge, as St Isaac of Syria says, because it is the beginning of love. You don’t really know someone until you love them; and when you love them, you know them in an immediate and intimate way. Faith originates from the heart, not the mind, so if we are made righteous by faith, then we are made righteous by love. In love, faith draws near to God not just with the lips, not just with the mind in some blind, stubborn attachment to an un-provable belief that leaves the heart untouched. Instead, love draws near to God filled with hope in the heart, in the secret heart that is beyond the mind – as the prophet Jeremiah says: “The heart is deep beyond all things, and it (not the mind) is the man.” And we know from the OT that this is what God has desired from the beginning. Indeed, to love the Lord God with all one’s heart and mind is the first and greatest commandment.
Now, there is something else to know about this term “righteous”. It can also mean “life”, which makes more sense in the case of Abraham when he believed in God and God counted it to him for righteousness. At the time, Abraham had no children and since he and his wife, Sarai, were long past the age of child-bearing, they were as good as dead. The issue for Abraham, then, was life, i.e. descendants. So, if God was counting Abraham as righteous, he was counting him as living, and it was a sure thing that Abraham would have descendants.
So how did “righteousness” become a forensic term, associated with law? In the OT, the Law of God is not just a set of precepts one is supposed to follow to make God happy. The Law of God is life-giving. It is the very shape of the life that God brings into existence. And so, Moses says to Israel, do this Law God has given you and you will live. Indeed, Christ Himself is the Law, for He is the fulfillment of the Law; He is the Life and the Resurrection; and so, if you are righteous according to the Law of God you are truly alive, and if you are alive in God, you are righteous according to the Law.
Where this vital connection between the Law of God and life has been lost sight of, faith and salvation are set in strictly legal terms, and the Life of God’s Spirit as a higher life that we seek to acquire is lost from view. Faith becomes understood as accepting certain religious propositions that reason can’t prove, including the proposition that Jesus died for your sins; and if you agree to these propositions, God won’t count your sins against you and instead of sending you to jail in hell, he’ll let you go free into heaven. But does not this notion of faith lose God to an impersonal religious idea that one either believes or doesn’t believe? Does it not reduce faith itself to a strictly rational activity? And so it reduces the Christian Faith to just another philosophy, and an irrational philosophy at that; and so, since the time of the Reformation when this notion of faith was put forth, more and more reasonable people have very reasonably rejected faith as intellectually irresponsible, but they have rejected the Christian Faith along with it, which is most unreasonable, because they are rejecting the eternal Life of God.
The Scriptures tell us that God is not an idea; He is not a philosophical or religious abstraction. God is love. He is love because He is personal; He is personal because He is a Trinity of Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This, by the way, is why man’s efforts to find God or to demonstrate His existence through logic or different kinds of scientific proofs will always fail. These methods of inquiry, whether rational or empirical, are all impersonal. God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveals the highest reality to be not some impersonal energy or force-field but a communion of Persons. The personal cannot be “measured” or known by impersonal methods of inquiry whether rational or scientific. The personal can be known, it can be “measured” only by the “methods” of personal love. This method is given in Scripture as “keeping Christ’s commandments,” i.e. doing what he tells us to do, which is to love Him; not reducing Him to a rational and impersonal idea one can prove or disprove.
Surely it is Good News that we are saved by faith because it means we are saved by love. God is love, say the Scriptures, and God created the world in love: “O Thou who in the greatness of Thy mercy didst bring all things from non-existence into being,” we pray in the Divine Liturgy of St Chrysostom. Love goes beyond our sins into our heart as it was in its original creation, before sin. Love doesn’t require us first to be perfect or “good enough” before it will receive us. Love requires only that we turn away from our sin in sincere confession and descend into our heart to find the love in which we were created, and in that love, to love as we have been loved. Love is profoundly natural to us. Love cleanses sin away and it heals us in soul and body because in love, we have found our heart beneath our sin, and it is in the faith, the love that proceeds from the heart, that we confess our sins and turn away from them, which we want to do once we have seen with the “lamp of the body” the depths of God’s love and mercy. Once we have found our heart and taken up the way of faith, the way of hope and love, then we become perfect as we learn to love as we have been loved by God.
God’s purpose in creating the world, the purpose of His election of Israel, His purpose in baptizing you is given in His word to Moses: “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” The OT shows God working in the world to prepare for Himself a particular people in whom He could come out of Himself and become flesh and dwell among us so that He could “pour out His love into our hearts through His Holy Spirit” and raise the whole of mankind beyond nature and into the mystery of His own divine personal communion that is most natural to us.
This is why we so honor the Theotokos. She is the personal sanctuary who received God in love and gave to Him our flesh so that He could clothe Himself with us that we might clothe ourselves with Him and receive His Holy Spirit poured out into our heart in the love of faith and become partakers of His divine nature in the transcending communion of personal love.
In this theological vision of the Bible, when I hear Jesus saying to us this morning, “The Lamp of the Body is the eye,” I think of Eve looking on the forbidden tree with her eye, and falling in love with it; and so I understand by eye the desire of our heart. If our desire is to be delivered from the impersonal love of the passions that enslave us and devour us, and to be raised up into the living freedom of the personal love of God, then our eye is illumined for we have seen into the mystery of God’s world and have ascended already to faith that knows in one’s heart the love of God as the principle of our existence. In faith, we “see” that we are more than raiment, more than food and drink – i.e., more than impersonal instances of an impersonal nature, destined to be dissolved back into an impersonal One. We “see” that we are beloved of the personal God, called to become lovers of God in the communion of personal love. Turning away from the riches of the world, which are also impersonal, to seek after the personal love of God in repentance is the beginning of this way of divine love that God has poured out into our hearts through His Holy Spirit.
In the hope of faith, we begin to love the Robe of Light given to us in our baptism over the fancy clothes given us by the trendy fashionistas of the world, for the Robe of Light is the personal mystery of God’s glory. We begin to love the food and drink of the Church, for it is the Living Bread and the Living Cup that come down from Heaven, the precious and most holy body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ who saves us. In faith, we begin to know because we see with the illumined eye of our body, the eye of our heart, that our life is no longer centered in death. Our life is hidden with Christ in God, centered in the divine love of God the Father unto life eternal that has been poured out into our hearts in the mystery of Christ through the Holy Spirit.
We have been given all of this in our baptism. But our salvation is still incomplete in that there is one thing only we can do in response to the love that God has given to us in His Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. We must turn the eye of our body, our desire, towards the Tree of Life and of our own free will resolve to take up the cross of repentance and seek first the Kingdom of God by keeping the commandments of Christ. This and not the cold, impersonal dialectic of philosophical rationalism or scientific inquiry is the work proper to faith. This work of faith is driven by the hope of ascending beyond our nature into the realm of the personal love of God. It is therefore the work of cultivating love of God and our neighbor in the hope of becoming persons who live in the love of God both in this world and in the world to come. Amen.