Optimism in a Falling World- Faith, Hope, and Charity

Over these past few days I have considered the roles of faith, hope, and charity. Specifically I have considered how each of them is integral to being invested in this world, rather than stepping aside and letting it fall to ruin.

These three qualities are definitely linked to one another. We must first have hope in God and His purposes. We must have hope that He is able to reclaim our own soul from ruin, and then we can foster hope in His ability to reclaim the souls of our brothers and sisters as well. With that spark of hope we can then act in faith, investing in our communities and nations, trying to bring some good into them, even when we’re not sure how we will succeed. And integral to all this work is to have genuine charity for those we work with. We need to have an unconditional love, even for those who do not give us a reason to love them.

And it is important to note that none of these qualities can be taken for granted. It might be tempting for us to say “well I’m a Christian, of course I live with charity,” when in reality this is not a given. I called myself a “christian” for many years, and all the while had a hopeless outlook on my own soul. Having no hope, I was incapable of investing faith to care for myself. And as I was unable to give those kindnesses to myself, I certainly didn’t have the capacity for charity for my fellow-man. Having the label of a “baptized christian” meant absolutely nothing about me. It certainly did not mean that I was actually a Christian.

Possessing these qualities does not come cheaply. Perhaps some of us are more naturally inclined to one of them or the other, but I think it is fair to say that all of us have a great deal of work ahead if we mean to achieve all three. None of us are born a full and complete Christian, we have to work our way into it.

I also want to emphasize that if there are any of us who are giddy for the destruction of the wicked, then they we do not possess charity and are not true Christians. And if there are any of us who wish the world was better but are not willing to do the work to help it be so, then we do not possess faith and are not true Christians. And if there are any of us who have just given up on the world, then we do not possess hope and are not true Christians. Faith, hope, and charity are not things a Christian should have, they are things that a Christian must have, or they are not a true Christian.

And I do not mean any condemnation by that. I used to be devoid of these qualities as well. I was not a true Christian, but I was able to become one, and so can anyone else. In fact, even true Christians must continue striving to become ever more so.

Optimism in a Falling World- 1 Corinthians 13:3-7, 13

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

COMMENTARY

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity
As I contemplated what solutions the scriptures offer for the conundrum of cynicism, I had come to my mind the virtues of faith, hope and charity. And not only faith, hope, and charity towards God, but also towards His children. I will therefore be dedicating the next several posts to these topics, beginning with the matter of charity.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing
First of all I want to point out that charity is not just doing kind things to others. It is entirely possible to do one’s duty to their follow man and be wishing them ill the whole time. Consider the example we recently considered of Jonah, who preached to the people of Nineveh while hoping for their destruction.
As Paul suggests in this quoted verse, it doesn’t matter what you do towards the world if your heart has not been opened to charity. Charity is not about what you do, it is about why you do it.

Charity suffereth long, is kind, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil
I often hear of charity in terms of how spouses, parents and children, and members at church should treat one another. But today let us consider how charity applies to our relationship with the very people we believe are destroying the world. How should we behave to the people we want to change more than any other? Well, take a look at the descriptors I have selected for charity in this verse: longsuffering, not seeking its own, not easily provoked, and thinking no evil. How would those qualities look when applied to those we find hardest to love?
Well, speaking for myself, the image of brotherly kindness and love brought to mind is entirely impossible so long as I view these “others” as “others.” To apply such a patient understanding to my enemies I must first find a way to relabel them as my friends.

Our Own Reality- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Mark 7:21-23

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

COMMENTARY

Charity suffereth long, and is kind, rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, wickedness, deceit, all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
That which is within us comes out. If we are filled with defilement then we frame the world with evil thoughts and act in selfishness for our own gain. But if we are filled with charity then we frame the world with hope and act with kindness. If we are filled with corruption we will see all around us as corrupted. But if we are filled with love we will see all around us as beautiful.
In either case, the reality we perceive is merely the outward manifestation of who we are within. Thus the way we view the world says much more about ourselves than it does about the world.

The Family of God- Colossians 3:13-15, Ephesians 4:3

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

COMMENTARY

Put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace

From these verses we learn that charity is one of the bonds of unity, and twice we are told that the peace of God also calls us to one body. I wondered why, and after reading what others have written about these verses and mulling it over, I think I have at least a partial answer.
Being at peace does not necessarily mean that people are united, but being in conflict does necessarily mean that they are not. Therefore, peace is a prerequisite to unity because it establishes the climate where unity can be cultivated.
All this being said, I do believe that there is such a thing as “friendly disagreement,” and I don’t think we have to surrender our beliefs as a way to avoid contradicting others’ philosophies. But perhaps we can recognize that for all our differences, we still have more things in common. To be able to do that, to focus on the good in others and not the bad, is to have charity. Thus charity is essential for us to have peace, even with our differences.

And be ye thankful
Charity and peace are pleasant things, and we are meant to feel pleasure when we are in their presence. We can be very thankful in the moments that we enjoy them. But also we should remember that these blessings are given to us for for a reason. Yes, they make us feel soft and nice, but they are also tools, meant to be used to make the world a better place.

Commandments and Personal Revelation- Life Examples

I mentioned yesterday that even if we agree that a commandment is a commandment there still can be a variety of opinions on how exactly one should follow that commandment. Take for example the question of how to keep the Sabbath Day holy. I always believed that that meant not going to the store then, because that would make other people work during the Lord’s Day.
It was a nice and tidy solution, but then it became more muddled with the advent of online shopping. Is it wrong to make a computer algorithm process my purchase on the Sabbath? Is just accruing a charge on my credit card breaking the Sabbath?
And even if I decide to not make online purchases on the Sabbath, packages that I am waiting for are still going to be processed through packing facilities and transported on shipping containers on that day. It’s unavoidable.
Does keeping the Sabbath require that I just abstain from online shopping entirely? Or am I just overthinking things and shouldn’t even worry about it? Where should the line be drawn?

This brings me to a memory where I was attending a Sunday School lesson and a similar quandary emerged. We were discussing the commandment to give to the poor and the question was raised whether we should give money to panhandlers or not.
Some of those present said they refused to do that, because they feared their contribution would just be used to purchase drugs or alcohol. Their charity would actually be enabling harmful behavior. They suggested that people buy food for panhandlers instead.
Others said they tried buying food and had it rejected, in which case they had just wasted their money and no one was benefited at all. They suggested it was better to volunteer at halfway-homes and soup kitchens where one knew that the needy were receiving real nourishment.
Still others said it wasn’t for us to judge how the panhandlers were using our money. Just give to them, and whether they use it for good things or not is on their own heads.
There were so many different opinions, and all of them had valid points. As the class discussed this we slowly uncovered what I believe was a gospel truth. Our conclusion was that the commandment was to “Give to the Poor.” If Brother Jones examines his conscience and counsels with God and decides that means he should give money to panhandlers then that is fine. If Sister Stevens examines her conscience and counsels with God and decides she would rather volunteer at a soup kitchen then that is fine too.
So long as you are doing something and your conscience is truly content with it, then you are keeping the commandment. You do not need to be concerned that someone else’s method of commandment-keeping is different from your own, we all have our own song to sing.

This, then, is commandments combined with personal revelation, and this makes the commandment become more alive! The law has now been made personal, not general. Now you have your way of giving to the poor, and your way of keeping the Sabbath, and your way of nourishing your body. Now you have ownership of your own faithfulness.