"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13). This verse ranks as one of the most well-known and popular Bible verses today. It can be heard everywhere from weddings to funerals, and even those with barely a passing familiarity with the Bible know of its existence.
Whenever I would hear or read this verse, I would mentally rank all three virtues mentioned: love first, of course, then faith, and, finally, hope. Love seemed very obviously necessary, and faith I considered to be a prerequisite to all other Christian virtues. Hope, however, never seemed too terribly important to me; I never considered it an essential component of the Christian life, and wasn't even sure why Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, placed any emphasis on it at all. I assumed it was meant as more as a nice idea than a necessary virtue.
I've since come to realize how wrong I was in my assumption, for witnessing the effects of a widespread absence of hope causes me to understand how fundamental to our present and future joy this virtue truly is.
Hope, I believe, is the easiest virtue to ignore and abandon; it's the one most readily cast by the wayside, even at the slightest of incentives. In any time of trial or difficulty, we don't give up love or even faith we give up hope. We turn almost willingly to despair and desolation, preferring rather to "be realistic" than to hold on to what we often convince ourselves is an impossible desire or expectation.
I know that I have been guilty of this many times; after a while, it seems like hope just doesn't make any sense, and can be classified as nothing more than a nice idea. But there is never any reason to give up hope.
The movement of the soul toward a future good is always in itself a good thing, regardless of how difficult we believe that good may be to attain. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that "in hope we have been saved" (Romans 8:24), and as Christians we must believe this wholeheartedly. For salvation is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope with which we can face the present. With hope, the present, as arduous and demanding as it can be, can be lived toward the ultimate end of redemption, salvation and eternal life. And if we can be sure of this goal, if we can place our hope in it, the goal is absolutely great enough to justify the strain of the journey.
Mat Charley, a graduate of Bishop Ryan High School in Minot, has attended University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. He lives in Minot.