Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Expectation of God

Note: The context of this passage has been a discussion of the meaning of faith in the Letter to the Hebrews, and its relationship to hope.

We must continue with a brief consideration of two words pertinent to the discussion which can be found in the tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews. I refer to the words hypomone () and hypostole (). Hypomone is normally translated as “patience”—perseverance, constancy.
Knowing how to wait, while patiently enduring trials, is necessary for the believer to be able to “receive what is promised” (). In the religious context of ancient Judaism, this word was used expressly for the expectation of God which was characteristic of Israel, for their persevering faithfulness to God on the basis of the certainty of the Covenant in a world which contradicts God. Thus the word indicates a lived hope, a life based on the certainty of hope. In the New Testament this expectation of God, this standing with God, takes on a new significance: in Christ, God has revealed himself. He has already communicated to us the substance of things to come, and thus the expectation of God acquires a new certainty.

It is the expectation of things to come from the perspective of a present that is already given. It is a looking-forward in Christ's presence, with Christ who is present, to the perfecting of his Body, to his definitive coming. The word hypostole, on the other hand, means shrinking back through lack of courage to speak openly and frankly a truth that may be dangerous. Hiding through a spirit of fear leads to “destruction” (Heb ). “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control”—that, by contrast, is the beautiful way in which the Second Letter to Timothy (1:7) describes the fundamental attitude of the Christian.

Spe Salvi 9

Reflection – ‘A life based on the certainty of hope’ – that’s the central phrase in this passage. And this is the central matter in the encyclical itself—in some ways this paragraph is the key to the whole encyclical.

Faith, in the traditional scholastic definition, is a matter of the intellect—the mind assenting to divine truth with the assistance of grace. Hope and love are matters of the will—shaping our will to choose to live our lives in a certain way. Hope directs us precisely to this hypomone, this patience that comes from the assurance that God is faithful, that God is not going to allow our lives to fail, ultimately. And so we can be faithful to Him and His Gospel in the midst of what may look, feel, and smell like total failure, total destruction.

God is not going to fail us. This is the fundamental stance of hope, and so we will not be swerved from our path. The world—our little world—may fall apart. The Church may be in ruins. Secular society may indeed increase its hostility to us to the point of persecution. We may (well, at some point we certainly will) die. But we will not be moved. God is not going to fail us. Our lives, ultimately, will be glorious and beautiful. And this ultimate beauty and glory will last forever.

So, hope. Looking ahead to a future that is not here yet, but that our faith tells us in assured by the love and mercy and gracious gift of God in Christ. And it leads to fidelity to Him and His Gospel. Love is the fruit of this attitude. Hope gets us turned towards God at all times in expectation of his faithful deliverance; love follows from this as we come to realize that God is already with us, His life is already given to us, even now, and the beauty and glory we expect in fullness in heaven is already dawning on us. And so we can pour ourselves out in love, in gift, in service, in suffering, because God is truly living in us, the communion we desire already is granted us.

Faith, hope, and love. So central to our human Christian lives. So central to our constant prayer: “More faith, please! More hope! More love! Thank you, Jesus!” Let us turn to God and ask him for the graces we need to live faithful, hopeful lives of love in the world today.

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