Faith and hope are often lumped together, but what exactly is the difference between the two, and how are they related?
I think that hope is especially tricky, as faith is something that we talk about all the time. First, I think it’s helpful to think of these words as we would use them in everyday language; that is, in language outside of a church or gospel setting. Let’s start with hope. If I’ve agreed to meet someone at noon for lunch, I might say that I hope he shows up on time. In this sense, hope is what I want to happen. It’s a desire. Hope is often accompanied by a sense of optimism or positivity. If I say that I hope it snows on Christmas day, there is an implied bit of optimism there.
Faith, on the other hand, is the degree to which we believe in that optimism, or the degree to which we think that desire will actually happen. Paul sums this up perfectly in his letter to the Hebrews:
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen” [Hebrews 11:1 NLT].
So now let’s use both hope and faith together in the same context. I could say, “I hope he shows up on time. He usually does.” In that case, both hope and faith are high. My optimistic desire is strengthened by his track record, and so I believe (i.e., have faith) that he will be there on time.
Conversely, I could say, “I want it to snow tomorrow, but the forecast calls for clear skies.” Here I have hope but no faith (or in other words, no confidence).
So how does this then apply to the gospel?
Well, we know that we need to have faith in Jesus Christ and the atonement. This is one of the basic principles of the gospel. But let’s start with hope, since faith is just the confidence we have in our hope. What does it mean to have hope in Christ or in the atonement?
I think that a big part of it comes down to the desire to believe. If you have hope in Christ’s atonement, you have more than an idle curiosity about it or academic understanding of it—you understand what it means and desperately want to apply it to your life. You want (hope) it to be true. You want Christ to save you from your feelings of inadequacy, pain, loneliness, shame, sadness, or whatever other difficulty you’re suffering through [see Alma 11:7-11].
Now let’s combine that with faith. I really want the atonement to have an effect on my life. Do I think it can? Is it possible for me to become clean again? Do I really believe that what Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane can apply to me here and now, and not just to other people? That is faith. The ability to take an understanding of something and apply it on a personal level to the point that it changes you is faith.
Let’s recap. Hope is the optimistic desire that something will happen. Faith is the confidence we have that what we hope for will happen. Now recall Paul’s famous line in 1 Corinthians 13:13:
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity [KJV].
or in other words,
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love [NLT].
Charity or love is the next logical step in the process. First you deeply desire something (hope). Then you confidently ask for something and receive it (faith). Then you want to share what you received with others (charity/love). And it makes sense that charity/love is the greatest of these, since it encompasses the first two and then encourages you to give them to others. It’s the exact same progression that Enos experiences, isn’t it? He wants forgiveness for his sins. He receives it. And he prays for the same for others.
Once we properly understand what faith and hope are and how we can apply them in our lives, we can look forward to the same thing that Enos looked forward to after this life—our Redeemer waiting for us, saying, “Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father” [Enos 1:27].
For further reading on hope (since it is the more nebulous of the faith-hope duo), check out The Infinite Power of Hope by Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ by Neal A. Maxwell.
Image source: Flickr user Lawrence OP