Friday, June 9, 2023

Hope and Faith in the New Testament and Modern Science

Hope is not just a small township in Arkansas.1 It turns out to be the primary anchor that makes religious faith possible: Hope is the slender thread by which believers are anchored to the bedrock of their faith.2 Hope for the future and religious faith are attitudes reflecting certain expectations. Yet all of us share hopeful expectations that have no religious associations; basically, it turns out, hope is a secular attitude with secular and existential expectations. Hope is also an essential aspect of religious faith, a necessary complement to religious belief.

Hope is “a feeling that what is wanted is likely to happen, a desire accompanied by expectation”; or stated differently, hope is an attitude that what is desired could come to pass. Faith, as exercised in Christian faith, “is an unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.” As I understand these hopeful attitudes, they are similar but not the same. In First Peter (1:21) and 1 Corinthians (13:13) they are stated as different attitudes. They are both attitudes but they differ in the degree of confidence in which one holds the expectation that what one hopes-for could actually come to pass. Nevertheless, hope is a secular attitude utilized by religious believers in their faith. In its secular form hope is an attitude one holds toward what might be possible (not probable) in the future.3 As expressed in its secular form, hope is not necessarily oriented toward God or a particular God (for example, Acts 24:26; 27:20; Rom 5:4;1 Cor 9:10; 13:13; 2 Cor 10:15).

The word faith is also used in the New Testament to designate a body of religious belief to which one gives mental assent. Hence, in the New Testament faith is both an attitude (for example, Matt 8:10; Mark 5:34; Luke 8:48; Rom 3:28; 4:5, 19-20; 2 Cor 5:7; Gal 3:23-24) and the particular system of religious belief to which one ascribes (for example, Gal 1:23; 6:10; Eph 4:5; 4:13; Col 2:7; 1 Tim 1:2; 3:9; 4:1, 6).

There is a certain arrogance on the part of some writers of the New Testament who completely discount hope apart from that as exercised in their own sectarian faith (for example, Rom 1:21; 1:28-32; Eph 2: 11-12; 4:17-18; 1 Thess 4:13; 1 Pet 1:14). Nevertheless, “in Philebus 39e,” Plato “shows how human existence is determined not merely by the perception (αισθησις) which accepts the present but also by the recollection (μνημη) of the past and the expectation of the future.”4 In other words, hope for the future is a natural aspect or corollary of being human. Human beings are born with the capacity to hope. They are endowed by their “creator” with the inalienable right of having future expectations, as best it seems to each one. Someone who shares no religious faith might be led to express the following secular hope for continuity beyond the mortal field:

I hope that the considerable powers of the universe will not consign my personal consciousness to oblivion.

Such a hope would neither be directed toward a supernatural divine entity, nor would it be expressed confidently and unwaveringly. There is no certain proof or evidence to support such a secular hope. Yet, a glimmer of hope is encouraged in the fact that death is the great waster of consciousness in the universe and, to judge from life cycles on earth, the universe resists waste. Countless millions spend their lifetimes developing unique complex personalities that apparently disappear in the moment of death. Such universal waste and the tendency of nature to resist waste might lead someone to hope, in spite of the odds against hope, that something more may yet lie in our future. In earth’s ecosystem of life nothing material is wasted, but all is recycled; even some energy is transformed and reclaimed at each level of the food chain in earth’s ecosystem.5 This tendency of nature not even to waste nonmaterial energy encourages the slim hope that something more may yet lie before us. Such a hope is at least as certain as Abraham’s “hope against hope” (Rom 4:18; that is, continuing to have hope even though it appears baseless). Under the second law of thermodynamics, however, every energy transfer reduces the amount of usable energy in the universe and eventually no usable energy will be available. Thus, even this slender thread of hope is a hope against hope.6

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Other unincorporated areas and tiny villages in the U.S. also bear the name Hope.

2I posted an essay of the subject on hope on July 16, 2018: See Hedrick. “What lies behind Gospel Music.”

3Kierkegaard: “Hope, as a form of expectation, is an attitude towards the possible.”

4Rudolf Bultmann, “Ελπις: The Greek Concept of Hope,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Gerhard Kittel, ed.; Geoffrey Bromiley, trans.; Eerdmans, 1964), 2.517-18.


6Stephen Leacock, “Theory and Common Sense,” pp. 369-70 in Louise B. Young, Exploring the Universe (Oxford, 1971) and

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