Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Love: Hope's Wellspring

Faith is the soil in which hope takes root.
In yesterday's blog post, the Virtue of Hope, I discussed the need to cultivate hope and to tend its growth. The day before that, I teased at the answer to the reason why faith in God is such an important factor in cultivating hope with the image for that day. Today, I'm going to cover the relationship between faith, love, and hope.

A Natural Response to God's Love

Hope is a natural response to God’s love. If you believe that God loves you, you know that He may allow you to suffer but you also know that it will never be pointless. It will be allowed only if it is the best possible way to bring about the greatest possible good for you, just as you know that a loving parent does not submerge a child burning up with fever into the ice filled water that feels so painful to the child for no reason but to help cure a problem that may kill the child if left untreated.

You have confidence that suffering will not last forever, because you know that God does not delight in your suffering but wills for your good, because He loves you. You look for that good, and you find it, because you expect it to be there. After all, love is about seeking the highest possible good for the one you love.

Hope and Faith

Faith is the soil in which hope takes root. If you do not believe in God’s love for you because you do not believe in God, then the hope which is planted in your soul has no place to put down its roots and grow. Human love can help nurture hope for a time, like peat pot in a gardener’s shed, but eventually it will fail because human love is limited and prone to fault. 

Holding on to Hope

Hope is a natural response to God’s love, but we can become blind to that love through ingratitude or ignorance. If we don’t see God’s love or experience it, if we do not know how to spot it at work, hope becomes increasingly difficult to hold on to during the dark moments of life. That’s why it’s so important to cultivate a relationship with God so that we might allow hope’s seed to grow and flourish.

Testing the Relationship

If you are finding this chapter hard to believe, it’s understandable. It’s natural, and even a good thing, for you to question how you can know for sure that growing closer to God will improve your ability to hold on to hope. Even Scripture recommends that you test all things so that you may not be deceived but rest securely in the truth.

And that, friend, is the only way to be sure that what I am saying is true. You must test it. There are three ways to test anything for the truth: you may test by abstinence, by not doing the thing recommended to be done, and see what the results are; you may test by application, by doing what is recommended, and seeing what the results are; and you may test for the truth by observing the results of others who have tested to see what results they got.

Testing through application or abstinence can be dangerous. Imagine testing to see whether something was poison by tasting it! Or imagine trying to figure out whether shelter was truly necessary for your life by wandering into the wilderness without anything in hand. A lot of harm can be done in a very innocent way by testing without observing first.

The Research on Hope

In the nineties, scientists began to study hope. The first fruit of those studies was a book entitled The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here by C.S. Snyder. In that book, Snyder identified hope as a motivational construct. He said it was responsible for men’s ability to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies to achieve them, and muster the motivation to implement them.

Anthony Scioli is another hope researcher. Scioli spent years researching hope, and six of them developing his own Comprehensive Hope Scale, used to measure the level of hope an individual possesses. “Faith is the building block of hope,” he says.  

In an interview with PsychCentral’s assistant editor, Therese J. Borchard, Scioli stated that, “We need faith and a spiritual foundation to experience a full hope. Exposure to caring and trustworthy family and friends create a more open attitude for developing faith in others as well as the universe.” One of the strategies he recommends for those who want to increase in their hope is to make deliberate plans to grow in faith.

Hope and Love

This is just a small summary of the research that is out there on hope. But what it does tell you about hope is that it begins with the exposure to love as experienced by those around you. It is in this light of love that hope begins to grow. Experience of love leads you to grow in the hope that good things are going to happen to you, and the more that hope grows the more that you see of its fruits because you begin to look for them, and the more that you find those fruits the more that you have faith that you are loved and that there is a force which wills you to have these good things.

Drawing closer to God leads you to hope because drawing closer to God brings you closer to the very source of love, “for God is love” – John 4:8

You begin to believe when Scripture tells you:
"We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28
And with love comes the courage to try, and the hope that even if you fall God will help you up, and that even if you fail this time there will be a benefit to come from it, a lesson to learn, and you will get stronger for the next time you try. So you begin to lose your fear and your doubts and you begin to believe that you can. And believing, discover you can do more than you thought you could. You have faith that, as St. Paul said,
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philipians 4:13

Come Back Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I'll be talking about God's unshakeable, unwavering, and unchanging love for you. I'll discuss ways that you can know for sure He does love you and that His love is real. I will also talk about Hell, original sin, and the role those play in God's love for humanity. I hope you'll join me.

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