Today is Loyal Thursday, and during these 12 Days of Trust — celebrating the virtue of Faith — it is important to remember the fallibility of Hope. Faith is the complement of Hope, and its antidote when Hope becomes false:
Faith, rather than meaning credulous obedience to dogmatic authority, is simply what we modern Americans would call “stick-to-it-iveness”: a confidence that is not shaken by contest and competition, or lured away by fleeting temptations. It is the same faith as that found in a “faithful” husband or wife, the same faith in the military oath “to bear true faith and allegiance.”
Faith is a virtue in marriage and the military not because one’s spouse is the best partner on Earth or because every battle can be won but because, without faith, the reality supported by that faith crumbles to dust. Faith is the virtue of focus … Hope is the virtue of open-mindedness.
Without Faith focusing on the nitty-gritty particulars … Hope becomes mere naïveté.
In order to to act as virtues rather than vices, clear-minded Faith and open-minded Hope must be reconciled with each other.
The Dangers of Blind Hope
Turning a blind eye to what we know to be true transforms Hope from a virtuous way to get through difficult times to a way to avoid difficult decisions and struggles. Given the choice between a very bad outcome and an outcome that is less-than-optimal or would take a lot of hard work, people often choose Plan C : a perfect outcome that has negligible chance of coming true.
Some would call this having Hope, but it is a false hope in denial of the “nitty-gritty particulars” of life, and in denial of God’s will, which is “understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Paul’s Letter to the Romans 1:20) Turning away from the clear facts of our situation is not the virtue of Hope. It is the oblivion to consequence that characterizes the licentious sins symbolized by Babylon.
Driving drunk in the “hope” that you won’t hit anyone is not the virtue of Hope, because it is in denial of the clear facts in Creation, “what has been made.” Hope is only a virtue when it helps us through terrain where no solution presents itself.
When we turn to Hope simply because we don’t want to do the hard work necessary, we are being unfaithful to what we know about the world. Hope becomes a way to avoid being faithful to what we know is true, and the responsibility that this knowledge carries with it. Hope becomes indulgence in fantasy.
Choosing Plan C
The limitations on Hope imposed by knowledge of the “nitty-gritty particulars” of life can exist at many levels: physical, biological, psychological, sociological. For example, given the choice between (A) death by a horrendous ailment and (B) a long and painful treatment, some will choose (C) pseudo-scientific remedies like homeopathy and prayer circles.
In these sorts of A-B-C choices, “hopefully” choosing Plan C is actually the same as choosing Plan A: death.
Some might object that prayer is always part of the solution, if not the only solution, for religious people. However, prayer is not merely a request to be excused from difficulties, like some divine Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card or a God-given cheat code. Creation is neither a board game nor a video game.
Gospel example: When Jesus prayed at Gethsemane, he prayed God to “take this cup” away, but followed that with “Nevertheless, Your will be done.” He asked for Plan C, but accepted the painful necessity of Plan B to avoid the abject failure of Plan A: allowing militants (for example, Sicarii zealots like Judas) from hijacking and corrupting his message.
We pray with our entire being, and God answers with the entire Creation. When faced with one of these A-B-C decisions, God has already offered a solution in Plan B. Returning to Paul’s Letter quoted above, God’s mysterious will can be “understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
There’s a humorous story about a religious man whose home was being flooded, and who refuses to get on board a rescue jeep, rescue boat, and rescue helicopter as the flood waters force him higher and higher, eventually onto his roof. “God will save me,” is the man’s excuse, but eventually he ends up drowned and in Heaven where he confronts God for not fulfilling his hope of divine rescue.
God calmly replies, “Didn’t you get the jeep, boat, and helicopter I sent?”
When we see the solution plain before our eyes in the facts of Creation, that’s God answering our prayers and we are “without excuse.” Turning to Plan C — even when Plan C is prayer and “hope” that God will intervene — means rejecting God’s help, not seeking it. Hope then becomes corrupted from a virtue into a “fleeting temptation” to avoid the necessities of life.
Faith Supports Realistic Solutions
Some think of Faith as something that creates “reality” by denying the facts in Creation and believing instead in legacy ideas transmitted, translated, and transformed by human beings. However, just like false counterfactual “hope” described above, this sort of “faith” is a rejection of God’s will, which is “understood from what has been made.” Rather than being a virtue, this false counterfactual “faith” is a prideful vice that prioritizes the individual’s or group’s conception of reality above the reality created by God.
But, in one sense Faith does create reality, when understood as fidelity to an endeavor. Without this sort of faithfulness, no coherent and consistent effort is possible.
Faith is a virtue in marriage and the military not because one’s spouse is the best partner on Earth or because every battle can be won but because, without faith, the reality supported by that faith crumbles to dust.
Without military fidelity, winning battles is impossible. Without marital fidelity, domestic bliss is impossible. Faith understood this way is a recognition of the real-world consequences of faithlessness, not a denial of the real-world dangers of war or the real-world flaws in one’s spouse. Faith is not about pretending Plan B is perfect (because nothing in Creation is perfect) but that Plan B is better than suffering Plan A: losing the battle, or living a life of sexual solitude or shallow and meaningless serial partnering.
As the balance of Hope, Faith is a virtue when we choose the difficult Plan B over the false “hope” of Plan C not because Plan B is the best option imaginable, but because if we reject the discipline necessary for Plan B in favor of the fantasy of Plan C we are effectively choosing the tragedies of Plan A.
Understanding What Has Been Made
Reason, the organizing principle of the Logos through which the Creation itself exists, must help us understand whether our Hope is a virtue helping us get through difficulties when no solution is apparent, or a “Plan C” vice tempting us to avoid difficult choices when the Plan B solution is clear but undesirable.
Hope and Faith reconcile in the highest virtue of agape, often translated in English as Love, which can be better understood as an expression of the Logos than by analogy to particular creaturely loves of philia (familial love) and eros (sexual love). Logical love is expressed through impartiality, loving others as oneself — even loving one’s enemies — the Christ-like love of Jesus who manifested the Logos, also called the “Son of God.”
Jesus tells us explicitly (Gospel of Matthew 5:44-45) that, in order to become Children of God like himself, we must be like our Father who “makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Rational attention to “what has been made” in Creation, whether we find it desirable or not, is key to the agape which reconciles Faith and Hope, keeping them from degenerating into vice.
Having “eyes to see and ears to hear” means being open to information from the outside world. When we avoid denying the clear facts, we can distinguish between the Plan B and Plan C options in our lives.
Because, in reality there is no Plan C. Hoping for the unreal is the same as choosing defeat and tragedy.