The Abiding Graces

And now these three remain: faith hope and love. ~1 Corinthians 13:13

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most well known chapters in the bible that most people associate with its inspiring definition of love.  It is often used at weddings and many people, including our family, have it as a plaque on a wall. It is beautiful in its ideals and in its poetry. Perhaps that is why it always escaped my attention that in this chapter Paul tells us that faith, hope, and love will last beyond this life and into the eternal kingdom. That love would exist throughout eternity seems perfectly natural, but faith and hope?!  Not so much.

The ramifications of what Paul was saying never occurred to me until I was reading Gifts of the Spirit by J.W. MacGorman which inspired me to do a little more research on the matter of why we would still need faith and hope while living in paradise with God in person. I'm flattered to be joined in my puzzlement on this issue by John Calvin and Matthew Henry. Both of these theological giants however, dismiss the notion that faith and hope will remain forever yet the apostle Paul seems pretty clear that they will persist. In fact he builds up to this declaration in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.  Paul says that prophesy, tongues, and knowledge will all pass away. He illustrated that when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.  When you are an adult, you put away childish things and that now we see dimly as if viewing ourselves in a dirty and cracked mirror, but then we will see as clearly as if face to face with ourselves.  Now we know in part but then we shall understand fully.  It seems clear that many of the gifts of the Spirit are to help us in this troubled world, but the gifts of faith, hope, and love abide forever.

I've heard faith described as belief in what we can't see. The author of the book of Hebrews defines faith this way: "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1At this present time we exercise our faith to claim the existence and active working of God. In Heaven that will be indisputable! We will walk, talk, and eat with Jesus. The glory of God the Father will shine so brightly that we will have constant daylight. Our faith will no longer be tied to belief in the power of God, or the fulfillment of his promises to his children but will be based in physical relationship with God in person.

Faith is strongly tied to trust.  We have faith that we are important to God. We trust that He has a plan that will work out for the good of those who believe in Him. In Heaven we will not be omniscient and therefore we will still have to trust God. He will always be in control in ways that are beyond our comprehension. The focus of our faith will change, but I can see that there will be a call for faith throughout eternity.

What role can hope play in paradise?  This one seems rather counter-intuitive. Hope implies a desire for a better future and is, in some ways, the antithesis of contentment. When Paul said in Philippians 4:11 "I have learned to be content with whatever I have" it was clear that his contentment was on Earth and his hope was for Heaven. At the end of all things; after the resurrection of our glorified bodies, death and sickness are no more and, best of all, we are freed from the burden of sin, what do we hope for then? The answer, I think, is that for all eternity we will never stop growing, learning, and stretching the limits of our capabilities. Even in our glorified bodies we will still be finite and will never lose our God-given desire, drive, and need to improve ourselves.

I imagine that we will live each day with the knowledge and hope that the next day will be even better. We will have billions of people to get to know, to teach, and to learn from. We will have the ability to explore and to learn about every aspect of all art, science, philosophy, and music without the hindrance of our current minds weakened by sin. We will be able to explore sports and physical activities without the hindrance of our current bodies weakened by sin. We will be able to explore the vastness of an unending universe and explore the richness of all that our infinite and unending God has created with He Himself as our personal guide and teacher all to the richness of His glory. With each day and with each new thing that we experience, our hopeful expectation for the future will only increase as we joyfully praise and worship God for all that He has done.

As for the details of how faith and hope will play out in eternity, now we can only speculate, then we will know for sure.  In the meantime, as Paul exhorts us:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  ~Romans 12:12

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