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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Faith, hope, and love

     Faith does not mean that I assent to a proposition such as “God exists.” Somewhere in scripture it says “the demons know this and tremble.” Faith means that I know that God is good.

     To know that God is good is a gift. We don’t get that on our own. Others, and especially God, have to provide it for us. That is one reason that theologians call it a “theological” virtue. (There are three “theological” virtues: faith, hope, and love.)

     A virtue is a good habit, just as a vice is a bad habit. We acquire ordinary virtues, such as prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, by practicing the behaviors described by those words. When we have made those behaviors into a habit, we have those virtues. But we don’t acquire faith, hope, or love. These are “theological”--they are gifts of God.

     Theology also says that the theological virtues are the same as “sanctifying grace.” A grace is a gift, and sanctifying grace is a gift that makes one holy. Faith, hope, and love are gifts that make us holy.

     Theology even goes one step further and says that these gifts are the same as God’s gift of the Spirit. They are God’s Spirit indwelling in us. When God’s Spirit dwells in us, we know that God is good.

     When God’s Spirit dwells in me, I know that God is good for me. Now the goodness becomes personal. That is what hope is. Hope means that I know that God is good for me.

     Hope, too, is a gift. It is a sanctifying gift, one that makes me holy. When I have hope, I can live my life in a quite different way than I can when I don’t have it. But I don’t just get hope because I decide one day that I would like to have some. Someone has to give it to me.

     Love is vulnerable, faithful involvement. The habit of being involved with others vulnerably and faithfully is a gift. It too is sanctifying. It too means that in some way God’s Spirit is dwelling in me. We don’t just wake up one day and decide to love. In order for us to love, we first have to be loved. When someone else is involved with me vulnerably and faithfully, God is already in that involvement.

     Our culture is so oriented to economics and profit that we have gotten away from appreciating gifts. Christmas has turned into a business. The essence of a gift is that you can’t depend on it. When we let gifts become business, we start to think that people owe us the gifts. Gifts become entitlements.

     When we lose the ability to appreciate gifts, we can’t experience faith, hope, or love. That is our U.S. problem.

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