The Bible is littered with ethereal ideas like belief, love and joy. Paramount among them is hope and faith. If you grew up in church, these terms are drizzled in conversation like salt on McDonald’s fries. We toss them out without much thought. So as I was preparing a Sunday lesson recently I felt I needed to pause and examine hope and faith. Are they the same thing? Are they interchangeable?
The English language is one of the most complicated in the world. We have words for every nuanced thing, idea or tense. So finding the separation between hope and faith can feel like delicate surgery. There are definitely fine tissues connecting the two. But they are two distinct organs within our spirit. And they both are intangible, which makes identifying them even more difficult.
Whenever we see “faith” used in the Bible, it usually lives in the present tense. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). “Your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:29). “O woman, great is your faith” (Matthew 15:21). So it stands to reason that faith is something we experience—possess, even—in the present. Faith is knowing something exists or is happening without having observed knowledge of it.
In 1935, noted physicist Erwin Schrodinger created a thought experiment where a cat was placed in a box with a vial of poison set to break open at a random time killing the cat. Since the box was closed, the outside world would not know if the cat was dead or alive until the box was opened. Schrodinger postulated that in the world of physics more than one reality can exist simultaneously. Therefore, the cat could be considered dead and alive at the same time. It’s not until the box is opened that the state of the cat can be determined. If faith were applied to this, the cat would be either dead or alive before the box was opened. Faith would inform us which reality we occupy. And, if your faith is in the author of reality, you don’t have to peek inside the box to know.
So, can having faith in God steer your reality? Some people believe so. Jesus definitely pointed to people’s faith as the source of their healing? And He admonished His own disciples for not having faith amidst literal storms. But whatever you believe about such things, it seems clear that faith is for the now.
Hope on the other hand is always forward looking. Every mention of it in the Bible points to something in the future. It’s almost as if hope is the future tense of faith.
We all have dreams or expectations about the future. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes those dreams find fulfillment. Other times God steers us down another path. Hope, when used properly, is holding onto the steering wheel of our future loosely. Kind of like one of those cars that parallel parks itself: You let go of the wheel and let the car do its thing because it knows best how to get into the best spot. God also knows how to get you in the best spot.
If you’re like me, you need something to look forward to. An exciting project. The next Star Wars movie. A family event. If none of those things is on the horizon, life can feel hopeless. This is perfectly illustrated in The Shawshank Redemption when Red rejects Andy’s appeal to hope.
“Let me tell you something my friend, hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
But Andy later encourages Red, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
I recently heard someone who was battling depression say their spouse regularly reminded them “Something good is coming.” I think we all need to hear that. Something good is coming. It’s there in your future. It will come to you when you are ready, when you need it.
Remember when the Israelites were wandering in the desert? God provided for their needs through manna every morning. He instructed them to gather only what they needed for that day and to not stockpile for tomorrow. Faith is today’s manna. Hope is tomorrow’s.
Faith and hope are both important. But Paul taught us that greater than both of them is love. And love is very present. We need both faith and hope. We have to live in the present and the future, not neglecting either. As Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn instructed his young padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi to be mindful of the future, “but not at the expense of the present moment.” So we are to love those in front of us right now, where we are. Love, you see, is a delivery devise for faith and hope. When we love, it gives faith to someone who has none. And that gives them hope for tomorrow.
I hope you have both faith and hope in your life. If you don’t, ask God who will give generously. Pray to Him and listen intently. I’m sure you will hear Him say “Something good is coming.” I wrote that on a post-it note at my work as a daily encouragement. Then, the other day, as I thought about faith, I crossed out “coming” and wrote “here!” “Something good is here!” I had gone from hope to faith. Because I realized I needed to focus on loving others in the present. I can do that because I have faith in the one who has my life. I have hope in the one who has my future.
Phil Baker is a writer and a creative living in Nashville.