What is it that really enables a person to live, to keep going on with some reasonable promise of meaning and value? Why put one foot in front of the other one more time when a thousand steps in the past led to heartbreak?
The question of purpose or meaning occurs repeatedly to every thinking person. I discovered this question in my college days. It struck me each morning as I lay in bed trying to think of a reason to get out of bed other than the need to be on time for my eight o’clock class. What I really wondered was if going to a class in Physics or Medieval History was really worthwhile. Was putting my foot on the cold floor really necessary? Was living important at all?
You might think that being a person of faith now, though I wasn’t then, that the question has gone away.
It has not.
If answers are too easy they are suspicious to me. Besides, just saying that God or Yeshua is reason enough to live and be and make some mark on this world is too general. I look at the lives of religious people and the mark they are leaving on our society and I wonder if religion or faith alone guarantees a worthy view of the meaning of life.
We all know that religion or faith can be as shallow as non-faith. Some are living just to get by, mere survival until they capture the prize. For many Yeshua came to reward their small faith and in the meantime a little worship and a little adherence to a creed is sufficient for them. But many of us ask, “Is that all God put us here for?” I want specifics. I want to know how to live. How shall I live? How shall we live?
There are many aspects of meaning and purpose under the rule of God and Messiah. The water of life can be explained many ways.
Yet there is one expression of the way of living that seems to me to get at the heart of it. It is a triumvirate I admit to thinking for years was a little arbitrary. Speaking to a religious group whose reason for being had gotten skewed away from truth, Paul spoke of the greater way of love. And we can easily agree that love is at the heart of the true reason for being.
But then Paul expands the field and says, “faith, hope, love abide, these three” (1 Cor. 13:13).
Faith? Faith in what? I am currently reading and rereading John. In John 6:29, Yeshua declares that faith is the large part of our reason for being: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Faith is the work of God, the work we are to do for him. Our work is to wholeheartedly believe in Yeshua, that he is the Word of God, the Davidic Son, the Coming King.
What sort of God makes faith the large part of our reason for being? A hidden God, a God who made us and who has withdrawn and speaks to us through intermediaries and who does not come to us himself, except for a few instances in history.
It seems the faith we are called to is faith-in-spite-of, faith looking at the absence of God in a thousand instances of death and needless tragedy.
This is a hard calling. It is compounded by the next part of our reason for being: hope.
Hope, in this case a certain looking forward rather than a heedless optimism, is by nature a lack of present reward. Hope is future, not now. Without hope, faith is dead. Our hope is in a resurrection to come, in a World to Come, in a world where at last we see God’s purpose on every leaf and in every drop of water. Faith and hope go together, as Yeshua said: “Every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).
Like faith, hope is a hard calling. It means having very little now with the promise of much in days to come. Just as faith is a kind of absence longing for fulfillment, so is hope.
Faith and hope have something in common with the third part of our reason for being, which is love. All three are a looking away from self. Faith is looking to the hidden God and choosing to believe. Hope is looking away from the hopeless present and choosing to believe. Love is looking away from the self and choosing to care, to give, to appreciate the value of the other.
The triumvirate is incomplete if broken. Faith without hope is maddening. Hope without faith is vacuous, empty. Faith and hope without love can become narcissism, making self the center of the universe. We are not our own reason for being. Mere survival is not enough. My reason to go on cannot be self-attainment. My reason for being must be larger than myself. Yet faith and hope without love is a very present form of religion.
Love is not a passive thing. To love is to do, to give, to live differently. Without love, what is the value of our faith and hope. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I have not love, I am nothing.”
Some who deny God or at least close him out of their lives are able to live for mere survival, with only the hope of ceasing to be when the time of death comes. Some who call themselves God’s are not much better. They joy in a thousand benefits but go on merely for a different form of survival, looking for a great reward for their loveless lives whenever death may come.
Just as faith and hope are meaningless without love, so love is empty without faith and hope. If loving is merely a comfort on the way to purposeless oblivion, then it has no enduring value.
Yet the truth is, one day faith will be unnecessary, for God will no longer be hidden. Likewise hope will become moot when what we hoped for arrives. But love endures. It never ends. Every smallest particle of love will be remembered and will become tangible and beautiful when the reality comes.
That is reason for being. If we wonder how to live, we can do so by learning the meaning of these three: faith, hope, and love.