faith, hope, and love :: opposites

Thanks to Ken, Ryan, and Tim for their answers, here’s my poke at the question. Of course comments are still welcome; I can’t pretend to have the final word.

The opposite of faith is idolatry

There is no opposite to faith in the sense of an total absence of it (so says Ryan), but there is an opposite in the sense that faith can be, and often is, misplaced. “Idolatry” is a word both tired out by misuse and loaded with cultic connotations, so perhaps it’s not the best one for this context. But I use it advisedly to suggest that the opposite of faith is to put foundational trust in something other than God. Most often these days (as Tim and Ken suggest in different ways) that takes the form of placing foundational trust in my knowledge and my experience, so that in our context, another opposite for faith might be pride.

The opposite of hope is resignation…

…because hope is something active, something that dies when it is not practiced. The hope of salvation then, is not the reassurance that I’ve got a cloud with my name on it, but rather reconciliation between enemies, the inclusion of the marginalized, the provision of daily bread—the embodiment of Jesus Christ in the present. Resignation is the mark of someone subject to fate. Hope is the fruit that grows in someone who prays in God’s name.

The opposite of love is fear:

I was going to say indifference, but I think that Tim’s answer gets even more radically at the source of indifference. To love means to commit oneself and one’s resources in openness to another. We are often indifferent because we fear, and perhaps rightly so, for a lack of time, a lack of resources, a lack of energy. We are indifferent because we project scarcity. The word “love” in Christian circles is often conjoined to the modifier “self-giving” which of course calls to mind the most basic definition of love that Christians can know—the cross. And, precisely there in the cross, faith, hope, and love hold together.

7 Replies to “faith, hope, and love :: opposites”

  1. Thanks for these further thoughts. I only came across your answers after I had suggested my own.

    “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4.18) – yes. Although also “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5.36).

    Hope and fear is a little more complex. The two ideas are frequently linked positively when fear has the right object: “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love” (Ps 33.18).

  2. Couldn’t “idolatry” also express the opposite to all three virtues insofar as they have the wrong object?

    It seems there are three ways that each virtue can “go wrong”: misdirection; inversion; or absence. My answers on the earlier post were drawing on the distinction between the inversion of each (mistrust, despair, hate) and their absence (isolation, complacency/resignation, apathy/indifference). As for misdirection, I do not think we are to never trust, hope in or love things other than God, but that we find the centre of our trusting, hoping and loving in God in order to avoid the disintegration of idolatry.

  3. Oh gosh, no worries. These things don’t go stale—that’s why they sit here forever. I’m always thankful for folks who have something to contribute to a discussion.

    As I said, I’m thankful for your differentiation of the different kinds of opposites, (misdirection; inversion; or absence) because it ties the whole discussion together conceptually and brings everyone’s contributions into some alignment.

    As far as misdirection goes, I think that you are absolutely right, our day to day lives is filled with faith, hope, and love directed at all sorts of things and people other than God. It would be a paltry life indeed if someone were to try to reserve all their faith, hope, and love for God alone (thinking that this meant withholding it from everyone else!). Rather, I’d want to use something like Bonhoeffer’s concept of “mediation” from Discipleship, where he talks about Jesus standing between his disciples and everything else. When I relate to my wife or my enemy “through” Christ’s mediation (and in prayer) then my love for either finds it’s genuine shape.

    I think that Bonhoeffer might have been aiming at a less-Platonic version of Augustine’s notion of “rightly ordered” love. It’s not that we aren’t to love the things of the world at all, it’s just that we need to love them appropriately. For Augustine, concieving appropriateness meant picturing something of a hierarchy. For Bonhoeffer, it’s expressed in terms of personal relations.

    At any rate, thanks for your thoughts!

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