On Hope

It is an often-discussed state of affairs that Mormons usually emphasize knowledge to the exclusion of faith, at least at a rhetorical level. This move has, of course, distanced us from many passages in the scriptures that emphasize the imperfection of mortal vision and the lack of full knowledge about eternal things that is a characteristic of this life. Most of us walk by faith, even if we bear testimony of knowledge.

Yet a deeper and sadder aspect of our emphasis on knowledge is that we have mostly lost sight of the gift of the spirit that is hope. If faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things, hope is still further removed from knowledge. Hope is a combination of expectation and desire. It is a belief that something may be true, and that it would be a good thing if it were true. Far from condemning a stance of hope with respect to God, Jesus, and the gospel, the scriptures consistently describe hope as a gift from God and as a necessary step toward faith.

Paul is the first great source on hope in our canon. In one of his many passages on hope, Romans 8, Paul describes hope as a powerful force:

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8: 24-25)

Hope, it seems, can save. Paul is also careful to distinguish here between hope and knowledge. This distinction is reinforced in Alma’s famous discussion of experimenting on the Word as planting a seed:

Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (Alma 32:26-27)

Here, Alma talks about our primary contribution to the experiment of accepting the gospel as desiring to believe. This phrase is, it seems to me, a very close synonym for hope. Alma clearly distinguishes between having a perfect knowledge and having hope, or a desire to believe. Yet in spite of this distinction, Alma in no way condemns those who have hope but not yet faith or knowledge. Indeed, Alma assigns only two tasks to us in his seed experiment: we must have hope enough to plant the seed, and we must choose not to cast the seed out of us when it begins to grow (see verse 28). Everything else happens to us, and is not under our control. Obviously, no moral blame can attach for a failure to do something not under one’s control. So also no moral blame can attach for possession of hope but not yet faith, belief, or knowledge.

So if we have hope that God lives, that God is good, that Jesus is the Christ, that there is life after death… Such hope, even without the faith to say belief or knowledge, is a gift from God and is to be treasured. The scriptures say that, “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.” (D&C 46:13) This gift of knowledge is evidently not universal. But there is still more; to others it is given to believe those who know, and to some (I think) it is given to persist in hope.


  1. It is a belief that something may be true, and that it would be a good thing if it were true. Far from condemning a stance of hope with respect to God, Jesus, and the gospel, the scriptures consistently describe hope as a gift from God and as a necessary step toward faith.

    I wonder if hope is sometimes used in the scriptures in a different sense than this one.

    For instance, Ether 12:4–

    “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”

    And Moroni 7:42–

    “Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.

    Additionally, in Christ And The New Covenant, Jeffrey Holland interprets this latter scripture’s assertion that “if a man have faith he must needs have hope” as meaning that if a man has faith, he will then have hope as a result of his faith.

    I believe that hope is used in varying senses in the scriptures. At least in one sense, it may be seen as the fruit of faith, rather than a predecessor to it.

  2. Aaron Brown says:

    Great post. It has me thinking of Levi Peterson’s essay “A Christian By Yearning.” This passage, in particular:

    “I am a Christian by yearning. Opposed to my doubt and perversity is a longing that the gospel be true. Christians are made, said the apostle Paul, of faith, hope, and charity. Though I have little charity and less faith, perhaps I have hope in some abundance. Often when I recognize how intensely I yearn for eternal life, I find myself elevated and encouraged. I find that my yearning has transformed itself into hope and I find myself responding to the sacrament as a ceremony of hope. On many Sundays while I participate in this solemn ritual, I ponder the possibility that Christ will one day resurrect me, and I am filled with gratitude that such a thing might come to pass…”

    The whole piece is worth a read. I can only seem to find it here: http://sunstoneblog.com/?p=205.

    Aaron B

  3. Steve Evans says:

    Very inspiring, Jay. Hope is the missing ingredient, I find, when I start to feel despair. The expression “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief” strikes me as the embodiment of hope.

  4. Good stuff, Jay.

    I recently came to the view that in the absence of knowledge (and really, who knows anything in this strange world?), one could choose to believe or not to believe. Given the rather pleasing hope that flows from belief in the gospel, I find belief to be the better path.

    Thanks for reminding us of this virtue.

  5. I’m not sure if we can choose to believe, but I think we can choose to hope. And agreed it is a wonderful virtue and quite important.

  6. I appreciate this, JN-S. We probably hear 10 sermons and lessons on Charity or Faith for every one we have about Hope, and I don’t understand why.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree that hope is a worthy gift of God.

    Paul sometimes uses an interesting rhetorical device, called climax (from Greek klimax “ladder”), in which items are repeated in an ascending pattern. An example is Romans 5.3-5:

    And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that

    tribulation worketh patience;

    And patience, experience;

    and experience, hope:

    And hope maketh not ashamed;

    because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

    The pattern is to A, B, to B, C, to C, D, to D, E, and so forth. The last item of one sequence becomes the first of the next, and you work your way up the ladder in this fashion.

    In this case, the ladder goes in ascending order as follows:


    The point I am making in unpacking this rhetorical device is that Paul in this case puts hope at the top of the ladder, which indicates that he had a very healthy regard for its value and importance.

  8. Steve M., it seems to me that you’re probably right in saying that our sacred texts do not only refer to one meaning of hope. In particular, it seems that the distinction between faith and hope is often approximate. While some passages clearly see hope as a weaker thing than belief, others like Ether 12:4 speak of things like being able to hope “with surety.” That modifier seems important; the Ether passage is speaking of some kind of enhanced, extra-strong hope which comes after the development of robust faith.

    Note that the Alma passage I quoted above characterizes hope as “a particle of faith” — i.e., sort of the same stuff as faith but perhaps less robust. In that light, the Moroni 7:42 passage seems less than informative: without faith, there cannot be a particle of faith.

    Nonetheless, I would agree with any kind of general claim that those with stronger faith are probably often also gifted with stronger hope. However, I think it’s worth emphasizing that the scriptures also offer hope of salvation to those whose faith is limited to hope.

    Aaron, thanks for the link. I think it might be fair to call Levi Peterson the Mormon patron saint of hope.

    Steve, thanks for your comment. It seems to me that there’s hope also in the words of those who would instead pray, “Lord, I don’t believe; help thou my unbelief.”

    Ronan and J., I’m not sure, either, if belief can generally be chosen. Sometimes, it clearly can, but other times it seems as if it’s something that happens to us rather than something we do for ourselves. But choosing to stick with the gospel in spite of doubt or even a lack of belief is, I think, an expression of faith. Alma doesn’t ask us to choose to believe; instead, he asks us to want to believe. And God will judge us, they say, by the desires of our hearts — perhaps more than by the contents of our belief systems?

  9. JNS,

    You seem to be putting hope before faith. I think hope actually comes after faith as it is situated in the common trio faith, hope, and charity. As Mormon says, “without faith there cannot be any hope” (Moroni 7:42).

    The trick, I think, is that the word hope has taken on a modern connotation which is different than what it was anciently, so we tend to mistake hope for wish. This is not generally how the scriptures use the word, however. I posted some thoughts on this last year.

    I am not at home, so I will just use the Holman Bible Dictionary which is online to back this up a bit. It says hope is a: “Trustful expectation, particularly with reference to the fulfillment of God’s promises.” (emphasis mine). This goes well with the thesis of my post which was that hope is our faith in a promise from God. This may also be helpful:

    Words for Hope In the Old Testament the words which are most often used to connote “hope” are tigwa (“to look for something with eager expectation”), batach (“to rely on something reliable”), and yachal (“trust”). In the New Testament “hope” is the proper translation for the verb elpizein and the noun elpis. Other words which belong to the vocabulary of hope are pepoithenai (“to trust”), hupomenein (“to endure”), and prosdokan (“to expect” or “to await”). (Holman Bible Dictionary)

  10. rjh, i agree. i think belief really does center on choice in many respects. cs lewis argued that the actual test of faith is not intellectual assent or claim of knowledge but the choice to modify one’s life in accordance with what one believes.
    nice post. i hope.

  11. One of my all time favorite Dialogue articles is called “Give me That Old Time Testimony Meeting” by Glen J. Hettinger Vol 32 #4 (Winter 1999) p. 159-165.

    It is (for me at least) a very inspiring piece that contrasts Heb 11:1 with Alma 32:21 and has always reminded me why faith and hope are such worthy gifts to be sought- not just stopping points on the way to perfect knowledge.

  12. I love this quote on hope.

    “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world . . . Either we have hope or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.

    Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons . . .

    Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is.

    Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

    Vaclav Havel

  13. Aaron Brown says:

    Aaron L.,

    Agreed that Hettinger’s article was great. I’ve loaned it out a number of times. Don’t tell Louis Midgeley though; Hettinger’s other claim to fame is his fawning over Fawn Brodie, for which Lou brought out the big guns …

    Aaron B

  14. At the end of the first argument in I Cor. 15, Paul says the following:

    vs.19 – “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” I don’t really care which interpretation of hope we discuss (the precursor to faith or the result of faith), as long as we recognize that we don’t strive for that which does not fill us with hope for what we yet don’t understand – and there are things each and every one of us don’t understand yet.

    I wrote the following paragraph on a different forum that addresses how I choose to construct my views based on my hope – what I want to believe about what I don’t understand:

    “I know I am able to construct just about any intellectual justification I desire that will warrant just about any theological / philosophical / doctrinal construct I choose to accept. Given my ability to adapt a solid intellectual argument for whatever I desire to believe, I exercise my agency by focusing on what I desire to believe – what my heart and soul tells me it wants to believe – what I hope – what brings me joy. I consider the options and make my choice. Again, since my brain is capable of justifying whatever choice I make, I pick my course (what kind of life I want to live), then I construct / adopt / assimilate the perspective that I feel will lead best to the end of that course and the result for which I hope.”

    I believe that if you want to alter someone’s perspective or belief system, you shouldn’t try to convince them logically of a different perspective or belief system; you should help them recognize something new for which to hope. If they gain new hope, they will construct the logic to support that hope.

  15. Good post, I agree this is something that is rarely touched on in lessons and talks, and I think it’s because it’s a bit confusing. There are several ways to define hope as the current thread already suggests. I have always interpreted it the way Steve suggests above; i.e. faith precedes hope, and the hope we talk of is not necessarily “I hope it’s true”, but more that “I have hope that better things are on the way as a result of my newfound faith.”

  16. J/J,
    I can’t quite explain it, but for me, it does indeed feel like belief is a choice.

  17. Jacob J., I agree that hope can have multiple meanings in the scriptures. However, I think the reading that puts hope in general temporally and logically after faith is quite unlikely.

    The “faith, hope, and charity” trio actually isn’t as rigid as is sometimes imagined. Consider, for instance, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, where the ordering is faith, charity, hope. The other ordering is pretty uniform in the Joseph Smith revelations, but the bible provides the counterpoint of variety here. Since there is variety, and since the texts don’t ever place much emphasis on the order as a point of theology, it seems unwise for us to place too much weight on this point.

    Your “trustful expectation” definition is pretty close to a synonym for the main modern meaning, which (according to the OED) is a combination of expectation and desire. The point here is that neither definition specifies belief as a definitional trait — instead, it’s desire plus a forward-looking orientation of possibility.

    Furthermore, the Alma passage makes clear, without even directly using the word, that our modern usage of hope as pure irrational desire for belief is a gospel virtue and indeed nearly the only one asked of us. Even if we wish for some reason to disassociate this idea from the gift of the spirit that is hope, it nonetheless remains true that there is clear, almost unambiguous evidence that a modern meaning of hope does indeed stand at the center of the gospel.

    Furthermore, assigning some other kind of meaning to “hope” tends to marginalize it entirely as a gift of the spirit. Either it becomes “super-faith” or the positive feelings associated with faith. Allowing such a powerful idea to become needlessly redundant seems theologically somewhat misguided, especially given the existence of substantial scriptural evidence that expectant desire toward God and Christ even in the absence of greater knowledge or conviction is a virtue and, indeed, at least a major step on the road to salvation.

    Ronan and Sam, some beliefs certainly are chosen, one way or the other. But consider the not-so-rare pain of the individual who sincerely longs to believe the gospel but finds herself unable to do so. For these people, belief is not experienced as a choice.

    I know there have been moments in my life when I’ve chosen to believe one thing or another. Yet I also know that, for example, I don’t have the option of choosing to believe in alien abduction. I do have the option of feigning belief, but given my current knowledge and personality, genuine belief is unavailable. I don’t think it’s helpful to claim that belief is in general either exogenous or chosen. It seems to me that casual empiricism confirms the claim that it’s sometimes one and sometimes the other.

  18. Writing as someone who’s struggled with my fair share of hopelessness, thank you for this post. We don’t talk enough about the role hope plays in our salvation.

  19. Terryl Givens addressed this issue when he delivered his quite superb ‘Lighting Out of Heaven’ address at BYU a couple of years ago. The whole speech is worth reading but the end in particular spaeks about faith/belief/hope as a choice. Here is just some of it:

    “The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and to have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing them to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice—and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. The option to believe must appear on our personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.”

  20. gomez, I am familiar with that speech by Givens. I don’t find it credible. Certainly I believe Givens when he says that he experiences belief as a choice. But he has no obvious reason to think that everyone experiences this the same way he does. It’s a fallacy of generalization, I think.

  21. At the risk of saying nothing more than, “Amen, JNS,” I will add only that I have the same reaction whenever someone tries to promise someone else that they will feel a burning in the bosom confirming truth. Just because it worked that way for Oliver doesn’t mean it works that way for everyone.

  22. JNS, I’m not saying everyone chooses to believe/hope, what I’m saying is that for some people belief is a choice. For myself, for example, after some length of time wrestling with the idea of the existence of God I gave up on the idea of ever ‘knowing’ one way or the other. At that point I made the choice to hope that what I had been taught was true. Of course I still have doubts but for me it really feels that my belief is a choice to hope for a God. I’m not sure if Givens states that for everyone belief is a choice. I haven’t read it for some time.

    Ray, if your comment was in response to mine, I’m not sure what you’re responding to. Can you clarify and I’ll try to answer. If it was a response to an earlier comment, just ignore me.

  23. As simple as this probably sounds, I find myself having less choice in a belief when the belief becomes stronger. I had a spiritual fugue earlier in life when I wished I didn’t believe the Church’s doctrine, but was unable to pry myself from it, even while inactive. I’m sure there are a few eyes rolling while they read this, hopefully an even number.

    There are times while in Church that hearing “I know” over and over again really sets my teeth on edge. How the hell, I think, DO you know that? On the other hand, I guess it’s better than closing with “I hope the Church is true.”

  24. JNS, after re-reading the relevant section perhaps I can clarify further. Givens implies that for some faith is no choice. He gives the example of his grandmother for whom faith was as natural as breathing. Perhaps he also believes that for some no faith is entirely natural as well, I don’t know, he doesn’t say. He seems to be aiming his ‘belief is a choice’ to those few who are equally persuaded by the evidence for and against God. While that may still be a generalization, I don’t think Givens is implying that all experience belief as a choice as he does, as you assert in #20.

  25. JNS,

    I am not placing a lot of emphasis on the trio ordering itself, but pointing out that the scriptures which explain faith, hope, and charity enforce that ordering as a point of theology (contra your claim). For example, I quoted Moroni which says directly that hope cannot exist without faith. We could add Alma 32:21 which describes hope as a manifestation of faith (“if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen”).

    Trustful expectation is not at all the modern connotation of hope. A mere desire to believe is miles away from expecting something. Further, what makes the expectation “trustful”? It is trustful because it is based on a promise. We trust the giver of the promise. If there is no promise, there is nothing to turn a wish/desire into an expectation/trust.

    Alma 32 does not define “pure irrational desire for belief” as a gospel virtue. It says that even if you are so unbelieving that the best you can muster is a desire to believe, let that desire work in you until you can try out the experiment he suggested. That is a far cry from defining it as a gospel virtue.

    I think relegating the salvific doctrine of hope to a wish is the theologically misguided position. The idea that we must trust in God’s promises to the point of expectation is not needlessly redundant with the doctrine of faith. You are pointing to a concept in Alma 32 that does not even identify itself as hope whereas the scriptures which deal with hope directly seem to paint a much different picture than you are painting here.

  26. Jacob, I’ve already offered alternative readings of most of the scriptures you cite. So as is so often the case, the prooftexts aren’t going to get us there. There are various hermeneutical options here, although you seem to be needlessly minimizing the Alma 32 text which places the burden external to the individual for everything but the irrational desire to believe and a willingness not to throw the seed out. Hence, the only individual virtue of belief resides in (a) initial desire and (b) open-hearted-ness. Regardless, many hermeneutics exist.

    The question, then, is why choose a hermeneutic that unnecessarily deprives the hopeful who have not yet been blessed with more of hope?

  27. The idea that we must trust in God’s promises to the point of expectation is not needlessly redundant with the doctrine of faith.

    As a separate point, this seems to me to be very close indeed to the definition of saving faith in the Lectures on Faith.

  28. “Alma assigns only two tasks to us in his seed experiment: we must have hope enough to plant the seed, and we must choose not to cast the seed out of us when it begins to grow”

    We get other requirements by Alma in the rest of the chapter, for the seed esperiment is only the beginning. We have to nourish the resulting plant with great care and not neglect it.

    “But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.
    39 Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.”

    Thus, although we have limited responsibility in the first experiment, if we fail to act, we can lose what we got through neglect. This would be a description of those who had a testimony (or the start of one) and then lost it. And obviously such people are in a very different state from those who have never known in the first place.

  29. JNS,

    I must have missed the comment where you offered alternate readings of the scriptures I mentioned. Can you point me there?

    I am not needlessly minimizing the text of Alma 32, I am just disagreeing with you about what it says. A hermeneutic which places the primary weight of your position on a scripture which doesn’t mention the word hope doesn’t seem very compelling to me.

    (#27), As you may know, I don’t put much stock in the Lectures on Faith. I do agree that there is a close relationship between the scriptural doctrines of faith and hope, but not a “redundant” one as you put it.

  30. Jacob #25, regarding Alma 32:21, that quote if anything makes logically impossible a structure in which hope comes after faith. The passage says, “if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” In other words, in order for faith to exist, a specific kind of hope must necessarily exist. Hope is, here, a necessary condition for faith — and hence logically prior to faith.

    Moroni 7 creates a closed logical loop between faith and hope; each is logically prior to the other. Verse 40 makes hope a clear prerequisite for faith: “How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?” The first part of verse 42 echoes this position, claiming that hope is a necessary condition for faith: “if a man have faith he must needs have hope.” The second part of verse 42 makes faith a necessary condition for hope: “without faith there cannot be any hope.” So for Moroni 7, faith logically precedes hope and hope logically precedes faith. If that can be made into a logical structure, then it’s one in which miraculous intervention is necessary for anyone outside the loop to ever enter it. Alternatively, I think it’s sensible to look at the rhetorical purpose of this discourse — which is probably not to set out systematic and rigorous theological propositions, but rather to vigorously encourage listeners (and readers) to seek after faith, hope, humility, and charity. The propositions of linkages among these virtues can be seen as a rhetorical technique for extolling the importance of all of them, rather than a hypothesis about how they are interconnected. On this reading, the circularity of the chapter’s overall conceptions about linkages among the various gifts of the spirit becomes less troubling; the rhetoric is mutually reinforcing because Mormon wants people to understand that all of the gifts are divine and to be sought after, and therefore to avoid becoming side-tracked by only one gift.

    Regarding the Alma 32 point, my argument is that the description of a mere desire to believe is clearly congruent with even the weakest modern definition of hope. Hence, even though the word isn’t used, the passage validates the presumption that modern definitions of hope — even weak ones — have an important place as the gateway to belief. Given that validation, it becomes hard erfor me to read against the grain in other usages.

  31. #22 – My point was not directed at your comment, gomez. Really it was pointed more at a couple of other commenters who appear to believe that the way they experience hope is the only way that all should experience or understand hope. It was a lazy way of saying that some experience hope as a precursor to faith, while others experience hope as a result of faith. Who really cares in the long run, as long as both are experiencing hope? (Just like, who really cares how someone feels the Spirit, as long as they feel the Spirit?)

    Personally, I fit your description in #24 of those for whom faith is not a choice *as you define it there*. When I was in college, I had to chose consciously to maintain and fully accept the faith that was as natural for me as breathing, but it was not a “conversion” or a “moment of realization” or a “choice between multiple options” or anything else like that. It simply was, “Yes, this is what I believe – it really is an integral part of me.”

    I don’t pretend to understand that. I question everything; I analyze everything; I constantly look for new ways to look at everything; I am a critic and an editor by nature – with everything, that is, except the validity of my faith and the power of my hope and the nature of my joy. I constantly try to refine how I understand them, but I don’t remember a time when I have doubted them. Again, I don’t pretend to understand it, but it helps me realize that each of us experiences and understands these things slightly differently, at least.

  32. JNS,

    As you said, everyone gets to have their own reading of each passage, but your readings are quite perplexing to me.

    I don’t see how you can get from faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen to the idea that hope is logically prior to faith. That verse is obviously describing what it is to have faith. The “therefore” ties the two statements together and clarifies the meaning. It is describing faith as hoping for things which are not seen. To have faith is to hope for things which are not seen. Your reading of the second half of the sentence doesn’t follow from the first half, which leaves the “therefore” in an awkward position.

    In Moroni 7, you argue that the rhetorical question in verse 40 puts hope as a prerequisite to faith: How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? However, that phrase is plainly ambiguous. It could mean that hope precedes faith (as you suggest), or it could mean that because of the nature of faith you cannot attain unto faith without having hope as a result. Given the clearly unambiguous statement two verses later that “without faith there cannot be any hope,” it seems obvious which reading of verse 40 is consistent with the text. It is a strange hermeneutic that assumes the text to be contradictory when a congruent reading is so readily available.

    In between verses 40 and 42 Mormon offers a notion of hope very much in line with the bible dictionary definitions I quoted in 9:

    Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.

    Thus, according to Mormon in this verse, we have a trustful expectation that we will be raised unto life eternal because of our faith in God’s promises. We expect it because God has promised it and we trust the giver of the promise.

  33. Jacob and JNS, this is a sincere question, even if it sounds flippant. I don’t mean it to be anything but sincere.

    So what?

    In the eternal scheme, what difference does it make if people who have both faith and hope disagree about which came first? It appears fairly obvious in reading these comments that there is a definite difference in how the two of you have experienced faith and hope. Why can’t it be both – or, as in my case, simultaneous?

  34. Ray, the answer is simply that there are lots of Mormons who have hope but not yet faith. Jacob’s position leaves them completely in the cold.

    Jacob, perhaps unsurprisingly, your readings seem unpersuasive to me. Let me briefly comment and then get back to the point. Your comments on Alma 32:21 reaffirm that hope is a logical prerequisite for faith; to have faith is defined as to already have hope. So your reading matches mine here. The “therefore” isn’t problematic for either of us; the first clause distances both faith and hope from any concept of knowledge, so there’s no problem. Your reading of Moroni 7:40 is effectively an assumption that the text is in error because it is contradictory with your reading of Moroni 7:42 (which is also a reading that ignores the text’s assignment in the first clause of logical priority to hope as a necessary condition for faith). The “how can ye attain… unless ye shall have…” phrase is about getting faith and having hope — so a reading that makes the hope a consequence of the faith is surely external to the text itself. I agree that Moroni 7:41 places hope as a consequence of faith, as does the second clause of Moroni 7:42. So Moroni 7 twice makes hope logically prior to, and twice logically subsequent to, faith. All of this makes perfect sense if we simply accept that this isn’t theology; it’s an exhortation designed to encourage us to pursue all the best gifts. The contradictions aren’t a problem, for this purpose. They’re just a signal that the specific claims are rhetorical rather than theological in purpose.

    But here’s the final point: there’s really very little if any unambiguous scriptural evidence to suggest that hope in the modern definition is not intended as one of the gifts of the spirit. So a question to be asked is: what purpose does such a theological construction serve? One inadvertent purpose is to add burdens to some of the most burdened among us; to strip joy and comfort from those who need it most. If the argument simply boils down to profoundly contestable hermeneutics (as it does in many texts but not in the case of Alma’s discussion of the essential role of modern-definition hope as desire to believe), should we not resolve the draw in favor of ministering to those in need?

  35. Faint Hope says:

    I have at least some hope, but I have lost my faith. I am not yet convinced by JNS’s hermeneutic, but I want him to be correct.

    And regarding the quote from Teryl Givens in #19 above, I want to register my belief that he was, at least in one important sense, eloquently and profoundly wrong. I think he makes a good point if he is talking about our faith in certain values or ways of living, but my lack of belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon or certain other doctrines of the Church is not a moral choice and is not a reflection of who I am and what I love. I am the same person I was when I believed, and I love the same things I loved then. I just can’t reconcile these matters with the evidence as I understand it, and my loss of faith is an intellectual matter, not a choice laden with moral significance.

    Givens’ argument is dangerous, because it implies that those who lack faith are morally defective in some way. I know too many counter examples that disprove that thesis.

  36. Also, there’s a need to distriguish between levels of “knowledge”.
    We can say “I know that Heavenly Father lives.”, and we can say that because of our faith in it. However, that knowledge is not a “perfect knowledge”
    I know the sun with rise tomorrow, but that knowledge is not perfect, it’s based on faith. I haven’t seen it happen.
    Therefore, faith is dormant if I have a perfect knowledge.
    It does, then not distance us from the imperfections of mortal vision. Anything based on mortal view would not be considered “perfect” as mortality is not “perfect”, but if our eyes are opened, and we are allowed to “see” something in spiritual terms….then our knowledge is perfect in that thing, and our faith in it now lies dormant.

  37. #34 & #35 – Thanks. That is exactly what I was looking for – a real life application of the basic discussion. You both hit my central thought throughout reading this whole thread – that we need to be careful that we don’t define the legitimacy of something or some process so narrowly that we end up being Calvin’s bastard Mormon son.

  38. I think there are two questions whose answers should answer the question posed:

    1. What is the difference between knowing something and thinking you know something?

    2. How can you tell whether you actually know something as opposed to just thinking you know something?

    I believe the answers to these questions demonstrate that faith and hope are necessary and present even when we “know” something (or at least think we do).

  39. One inadvertent purpose is to add burdens to some of the most burdened among us; to strip joy and comfort from those who need it most.

    Wow, I thought we were discussing what the scriptures have to say about hope. I guess if I am doing all of that bad stuff I will shut my big mouth.

  40. “Ray, the answer is simply that there are lots of Mormons who have hope but not yet faith. Jacob’s position leaves them completely in the cold.”

    Jacob, I’m not sure how to read the tone of #39, but J’s quote from #34 that I just referenced is accurate, imo. If you tell someone who feels they have hope but not yet faith that their hope is not real because true hope only comes after faith, then you truly have cut their hope from them and left them without the warmth they felt before you convinced them it was only an unenlightened facade. You literally have left them out in the cold. Far better to leave open the possibility that hope can be both a precursor to and a result of faith than to destroy the hope some people feel merely for the sake of asserting one intellectual perspective over another.

  41. Ray,

    Can you point me to the place I said something remotely like what you described in #40?

  42. Ray,

    Not sure if you have simply not had enough time to get back to me, but since a response is not likely to be forthcoming (because I never said anything like what I am being accused of saying), let me explain why I find this exchange so insulting.

    In this thread, I took the following position:
    1. The word hope has an ancient connotation which is different than its modern connotation.
    2. When the scriptures talk about hope, they are generally referring to the ancient connotation.
    3. The ancient meaning of hope is that it is a trustful expectation rather than the modern connotation of a wish or desire.

    I backed up all three points with the Holman Bible Dictionary and some examples in the scriptures (and more arguments back at a post I linked to). For some reason, JNS decided to move away from the discussion of the meaning of hope in the scriptures and lay down the absolutely ridiculous accusations that I am adding burdens to the most burdened and stripping joy and comfort from those who need it most (I wonder if I am also torturing their kittens). You decided to insert yourself and added an accusation that I am trying to convince people without faith that “the warmth they felt” was “only an unenlightened façade.” Where did I do or say any of these reprehensible things?

    The problem, of course, is that the position I took does none of the things I am being accused of. In order to get to your accusation, it seems you must have assumed that I was arguing that a person without faith cannot have hope in the modern sense when I said explicitly that I was talking about hope in the ancient sense and spent many words describing the difference. I am not leaving anyone out in the figurative cold, and certainly I am not putting anyone literally in the cold as you claimed. I have been trying to discuss what the scriptures say, I have not said anything disparaging about a person who is struggling to have faith.

    Think about the position you are attributing to me. Is it even possible that a semi-rational person would argue that you must have faith in order to have hope in the modern sense? That position is laughably stupid. Attributing this position to me seems to be a remarkably uncharitable reading of what I have said here. I can only assume JNS did so because he already thinks I am an idiot from our previous discussions of other topics. Since we have never discussed anything in depth, I have no explanation for why you would jump in and confidently assert JNS’s statement “is accurate.” Whatever the reason, I find this string of baseless accusations distasteful. I don’t really appreciate someone making up a reprehensible view for me and then berating me for holding it. Sadly, that is what has happened on this thread.

  43. Jacob, I have only one thread and the flow of it to address. I also have said what you just said about parsing and not attributing meaning to words that aren’t there. If there is anything I hate, it is having that happen to me. Therefore, I apologize. I will go back and read everything one more time, very slowly – keeping in mind your last comment.

    There was nothing personal in what I said. I apparently simply mis-read what you were saying.

  44. Jacob, I went back and re-read what you have said in this thread. I then went to the standard works on-line and read all 140 verses that appeared when I searched for the word “hope.” Having done all of that, I will make the following clarification:

    My reaction in this thread was to the first paragraph of your first comment (#9), in which you clearly stated that you reject the idea of hope as a precursor to faith and instead believe that hope is a result of faith. It is obvious to me that “hope” is used throughout the scriptures to mean multiple things. That was the foundation point I was trying to make in my comments (plural) throughout this thread (See particularly #21 and #31.)

    After reading 140 verses, I am more convinced of that than ever. In the scriptures, hope ranges from a simple wish, to a desire, to a belief, to a strong belief, to a conviction, to an assurance, to an unshakable faith bordering on knowledge, and to a gift of saving power. It also is obvious that it is presented BOTH as a precursor to faith AND as a blessing of faith. IOW, it is presented as an over-arching process of acquisition – an “understanding” that can start as nothing more than a wish or desire and grow to become an assurance beyond faith. When I read all of the verses that deal with the principle, I simply see no way to claim it is gained at one specific point (pre- or post-faith). I just don’t see it in the scriptures themselves.

    Given that reading, I stand behind what I wrote in #40. There is absolutely NO personal animosity in this. It is nothing more than a disagreement over meaning and interpretation and application. However, the result of narrowing what I see as an all-encompassing process to just one step that can only be acquired after gaining faith is to eliminate those who have an early form or lesser degree of hope – which, given the scriptural complexity, is unwarranted and potentially damaging, imo.

    The foundation scriptural verse defining faith is Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” According to this verse, the substance of those things for which you hope constitutes your faith. I am NOT quoting this to “prove” that hope precedes faith. I already addressed the multiple uses of the word. However, ignoring this fundamental verse and claiming that hope *always* follows faith (again, as you appear to assert quite plainly in #9) is that to which I object. It might fit your reading of a Bible Dictionary, but I just don’t think such a narrow reading fits the entire canon of scripture itself. (In fact, the Mormon version of the Bible Dictionary does not include “hope” as a separate entry – which I find instructive in and of itself. In “faith” it discusses “hope” in more of the precursor mode.)

  45. Jacob, let me point out that theology does in fact have consequences. If you argue that those who have only hope in the modern sense do not have any part in the gospel plan and are not in any way represented in positive scriptural texts — my reading of your remarks above — then you are in fact closing doors on real people. You may not see this as bad or painful, but I am sure that at least some of them will. Theological ideas are not mere intellectual exercises, and your position does most certainly close doors. Given that the intellectual debate is at best mooted by the availability of alternate readings that are well-founded, as Ray points out, we are free to choose a position. You’ve chosen the position that locks the largest number of people possible out of the realm of God’s blessings. I don’t think you’ve done that on purpose, but it is a consequence of your theological position. That’s why this debate matters.

    Of course, the debate will obviously be resolved on its own terms; a position with terrible pastoral and pragmatic consequences may nonetheless be true. Even so, in this instance, there’s absolutely adequate evidence for concluding that hope in the scriptures sometimes corresponds with the modern definition and is a precursor to faith.

  46. JNS,

    If you argue that those who have only hope in the modern sense do not have any part in the gospel plan and are not in any way represented in positive scriptural texts…

    Honestly, there is no use in having a discussion if you are going to continue to make up ridiculous things and pretend I said them. I didn’t say anything remotely like what you attibute to my position in the quote above. Your position that the gospel doesn’t ever require anything of a person but an irrational desire is at least as problematic as my position.


    It is true that my first two sentences in #9 need to be read in the context of my third sentence in #9. Of course, that is sort of like reading Moroni 7:40 in the context of Moroni 7:42, so JNS will reject my approach to reading #9. Usually, I would love to discuss your various points in #44, but I have already worn out my welcome here.

    Since you are standing by your #40 (as of #44), I will just point out that I don’t object to you having a different view, I object to you mischaracterizing my view, which you did in #40 as I already outlined. If you are standing by it, I wish you would point out where I said the things you accused me of. Reading the first paragraph of #9 without taking the rest of that comment into account doesn’t count.

  47. Jacob, we obviously are talking past each other. We each think we have addressed the concern of the other, and we each think the other has not addressed our concern. I really dislike this type of unproductive discussion, so I will agree with you to cease.

  48. Jacob, the Alma text explicitly says that a desire to believe is the starting point, no? We don’t have to start with more than that; God gives us faith if we are willing to want it. Or do you think Alma’s mere desire to believe means something else? I don’t think there’s anything problematic in affirming that God’s request from us is our desire.

    Looking back over the conversation, I still think you have said pretty much what I’ve characterized you as saying. In your comment 9, you explicitly said that hope comes [temporally] after faith, suggesting that those with “hope” but not faith in fact have nothing. In another comment, you explicitly said that “hope” in the modern sense, and apparently as characterized by Alma, is not a gospel virtue. It’s hard for me to understand why pointing out the implications of this position for those who have hope in the modern sense but not yet faith would be any kind of accusation, personal or otherwise. These are the fruits of your position as I understand it. If this is not your position, please clarify; I apologize if I have misunderstood.

  49. By way of clarification, I think your position that the scriptures characterize an ancient meaning of hope as a gift of the spirit, but never mention a modern meaning of hope, does serve to destroy a potential source of modern-meaning hope for those who as yet lack faith but nonetheless desire it. The reason is that a broader reading, which recognizes modern-meaning hope as a major step on the pathway of salvation, gives promise of a brighter spiritual future to those who currently lack faith. By contrast, a reading that suggests that these people have no spiritual gift and have not taken a major step on the pathway of salvation may take away that modern-meaning hope of a brighter spiritual tomorrow.

  50. JNS,

    If the scriptures often use the word hope to mean something more than a mere wish or desire (as I claim), this says nothing about whether a wish/desire can be useful or important. It does not say that people who don’t have faith have “no place in the gospel.” It doesn’t say that they are “not in any way represented in positive scriptural texts.” These are not implications of my view, they are non-sequitors. In #9 I said that hope is “generally” used in its ancient connotation, not that it is exclusively used in that connotation. In fact, I think we can find instances in the scriptures where hope is used in its modern sense. Further, I don’t think people who struggle to have faith are out in the cold, or that their hope (modern sense) is a façade, or that their hope is not a gift of the spirit, or that their joy should be in any way diminished by the fact that sometimes ancients used the word hope in a different way than we do today. That fact that the word hope had a different connotation anciently does not imply anything about people who only have hope in a modern sense. It simply implies that you may be missing the meaning of some ancient texts if you are unaware of this linguistic fact.

    On the point of “pure irrational desire” being a virtue. If by virtue you mean only that it can be a good thing, then I agree with you, provided that the pure irrational desire happens to be for the right thing. As to your assertion in #17 that this pure irrational desire is “nearly the only one [virtue] asked of us,” that just seems unsupportable on its face. Do I really need to point out all the scriptures which ask other virtues of us? You are using a scripture (Alma 32) to arrive at your conclusion that it is the only virtue asked of us, why should we disregard all the other scriptures which require different virtues? We don’t have to look far. Alma 32:15 says that “he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed.”

    In your analysis of Alma 32 in the original post, you say that the only things required of us are to have hope and to not cast out the seed when it begins to grow. You said “Everything else happens to us, and is not under our control.” As Frank points out in #28, verses 37-41 disagree with you. They say that we must “nourish it [the seed] with much care” and that we nourish it “by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof.” Great diligence is not something that happens to us.

    I am further confused by your equivocation as to the origin of the hope you refer to. On the one hand, you say it is our only “contribution,” but then you say it is a “gift” of the spirit. Which is it? Do we contribute our initial hope, or is it given to us as a gift? Your position seems to be that it is given to us as a gift and that nothing else is required of us. The implication of this theology is that there is nothing required of us ever. This sounds very similar to some forms of Calvinism where God does absolutely everything and we are just subject to his irresistible will. I am not a fan of that theology, even if it may be comforting to someone out there. They idea that a certain doctrine brings comfort to someone is not enough for me to say it is correct (to answer your question in the last paragraph of #34).

  51. By the way, I broke out my Bible Dictionary entry on hope and I find a very well argued summary of the view I have presented. I’ll refrain from linking so as to avoid the spam filter.


    A couple of notable excerpts:

    While modern connotations include shades of uncertainty associated with a desired outcome (akin to “wishful thinking”), the biblical understanding of hope is a much deeper concept that contributes significantly to the worldview of biblical faith.

    Yet for hope to be genuine hope and not foolishness or presumption, it must be grounded in God and God’s promises.

    The certainty of the eschatological consummation of God’s promised future is the present confidence, trusting patience, and desire that form the hope of Christians, and this hope is engendered through the presence of the promised Holy Spirit (Rom 8:24-25).

    This last quote is interesting to contrast to your use of Rom 8:24-25 in the original post. Failing to recognize the deeper concept of hope in bilical theology, your use of these verses as a proof-text for your position neglects the real meaning of the text. This is my response to Ray’s “so what?” of #33. If we care about what the text actually means, we have to be willing to engage further than simply wanting the text to mean something and holding to it. A cursory reading of 140 verses in isolation may also be inadequate (see #44).

  52. For clarity, those quotes (and link) are from Eerdmans.