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I've been reflecting on the interplay between faith and hope, especially when hope entails some degree of uncertainty and lack of intellectual assent but a strong desire for something to be true. Consider a scenario where an individual, exposed to the preaching of the Gospel, the promises of Christianity, and arguments and evidence for its core tenets, might express, "Though I don't know if Christianity is true, and I'm not highly or overwhelmingly confident, in light of the evidence I certainly believe it has potential to be true (i.e., it makes sense and I can't rule it out), and sincerely wish and hope it is true."

Is it possible to redefine faith, traditionally rooted in strong beliefs, to encompass the prospect of being grounded in hope? Can individuals anchor their faith in hope rather than belief or intellectual assent, acknowledging uncertainty yet finding enough motivation rooted in hope in order to act "as if" a belief were true, with the aspiration that their hope-based faith may eventually, at some point in the future, evolve into a more solid belief? I'm interested in exploring whether this nuanced perspective has been discussed in philosophical or theological contexts, and how it might reshape our understanding of faith and its relationship to hope, belief, and intellectual assent.


Additional food for thought: The application of Pascal's wager might be considered as an example of this, where an individual, faced with the uncertainty of the existence of a higher power, may choose to embrace a hopeful faith. In acknowledging the inability to decisively prove or disprove the divine, a fence-sitter on the question might opt for a faith-driven approach, investing in the potential benefits of belief (by acting "as if" the belief were true) while recognizing the inherent uncertainty.

Another related and important question is whether we can choose to believe something based only (or mostly) on our desire for it to be true and in spite of our prior uncertainty. See To what extent do we choose our beliefs?


Definition of belief

Someone in the comments asked for a definition of belief. I will quote the first paragraph of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on belief:

Anglophone philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true. To believe something, in this sense, needn’t involve actively reflecting on it: Of the vast number of things ordinary adults believe, only a few can be at the fore of the mind at any single time. Nor does the term “belief”, in standard philosophical usage, imply any uncertainty or any extended reflection about the matter in question (as it sometimes does in ordinary English usage). Many of the things we believe, in the relevant sense, are quite mundane: that we have heads, that it’s the 21st century, that a coffee mug is on the desk. Forming beliefs is thus one of the most basic and important features of the mind, and the concept of belief plays a crucial role in both philosophy of mind and epistemology. The “mind-body problem”, for example, so central to philosophy of mind, is in part the question of whether and how a purely physical organism can have beliefs. Much of epistemology revolves around questions about when and how our beliefs are justified or qualify as knowledge.


Definition of hope

To clarify, I'm using hope in the following sense:

Faith as hopeful affirmation

Now consider hope. James Muyskens (1979), Louis Pojman (1986a; 1986b; 1991), and William Lad Sessions (1994) have each proposed accounts of faith that take hope as the central cognitive attitude. Pojman claims that:

If belief-in, or trusting, can be analyzed in terms of commitment to a course of action or a disposition to act, then it seems that we do not need to believe-that x exists in order to believe-in or deeply hope in the existence of x. (Pojman (1986b), 224)

But what is hope and is this claim plausible?

Hope is a complex attitude that involves both evaluation and opinion or, at least, some relatively weak constraints on opinion. If I hope for sunny weather on my sister’s wedding day, ordinarily this will involve both a desire that the weather be sunny and a belief, say, that this is at least possible. Notice that I can hope for sunny weather even if I believe that alternatives like rain or even snow are more likely. While there are differences of opinion concerning just how hope is to be analysed, quite generally, it seems that, for any subject S and proposition p, to say that S hopes that p involves at least that (1) S desires that p and (2) S does not believe that p is impossible. Clearly hope is also an attitude one can have towards the existence of an object, entity, or person x (e.g. God) or the obtaining of some state of affairs. These conditions are arguably necessary minima for hope. It would make little sense to say Dave hopes that his wound will heal quickly and not become infected but has no desire that this be the case or that he believes that this is impossible. But perhaps a religiously significant sense of hope requires a bit more. As stated, the first condition leaves the nature of the desires quite unspecified (e.g. are these emotions, considered value judgments, or what?); ‘impossible’ in the second condition might mean only logically incoherent. A plausible case could be made, for example, that the second condition for religiously significant hope should be that p is a live option for S or that S believes that the probability that p is true is not so small as to be negligible or that S does not believe not-p.

[...]

Although hopes can be misplaced, the minimal epistemic opinion involved in hope is a very weak one. Indeed, hope is most nakedly apparent in cases where something is hoped for despite its improbability. Moreover, and for this reason, the hope that p requires less, often far less, in the way of evidence to be rational than the belief in that same content p. It can be reasonable to hope that p in cases where belief with the same content would not be. Clearly, I can hope to win the lottery jackpot without believing that I will and indeed while believing that it is extremely unlikely that I will; that the odds of winning are about one in two hundred million. Lying blind and paralysed in a ditch, I might hope to see and walk again. Devastated by the kidnapping of her child, years later, a tearful mother might still hope to be reunited with her son. Enslaved, I might hope one day to be set free. Similarly, one can hope that God exists without believing that God exists.

Source: Authentic faith and acknowledged risk: dissolving the problem of faith and reason, DANIEL J. MCKAUGHAN. Religious Studies / Volume 49 / Issue 01 / March 2013, pp 101 ­- 124 DOI: 10.1017/S0034412512000200, Published online: 15 June 2012

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  • Faith gives us hope in everlasting life. Without faith there is no hope in the afterlife.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 20 at 15:49
  • @KenGraham Can you hope that X without believing that X? For example, compare "I hope you are right" vs. "I believe you are right".
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 20 at 16:00
  • Leaving aside whether the definition of belief you provided aligns with what Christianity might define it as, it seems that faith and belief are intertwined. That is, the type of belief the Christian means is not "that we have heads" but "that God exists" and "that we can have eternal life" which can only be believed through faith. Hence "hope" is no substitute for belief.
    – eques
    Commented Jan 20 at 16:35
  • Hebrews 11:1 Commented Jan 21 at 17:24

4 Answers 4

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Christian faith is not based on wishful thinking: "Oh, I hope I get to heaven."

Christian faith is not based on belief in a religious system: "Oh, by performing all those rituals and supporting this denomination I hope I get to heaven."

Christian faith is not based on sorting out which belief system seems stronger than others: "Oh, the Christian gospel message appeals more to me and seems more reasonable than other religious messages."

Christian faith is based on the fact of the crucifixion, resurrection and glorification of the sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Until that conviction grips a person's heart and mind, they cannot have Christian faith at all. To hope that it is true, or to be mentally persuaded that it's more likely than the others is to put the cart before the horse. It will get the person nowhere.

Now, it is true that there is an interplay between faith and hope, but only if faith is "the horse", and hope is "the cart". Christians have "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). But if Christ is not in you, you cannot have a sure and certain hope, which is kept in heaven for the believer. Only then can anybody know what the hope of God's calling is, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints is - Ephesians 1:17-23.

The answer to the question is, "No". Faith can only be based on belief in the reality of the crucifixion, resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ if it is to lead to hope that is not mere wishful thinking.

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  • Would you say then that Pascal's wager is pointless?
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 20 at 16:29
  • 5
    Pascal's wager is a sort of meta-analysis of the value of belief. It ultimately concludes that belief is worth more than non-belief. It doesn't explain how to believe nor does it create faith.
    – eques
    Commented Jan 20 at 16:37
  • 2
    Pascal's wager is much misunderstood, e.g. the comment above. I gave a long answer to a Q on that in christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/92475/… a Q which you may be familiar with. If you want to know my in-depth view of Pascal's wager, please read my answer.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 20 at 16:48
  • Nice answer except "Christian faith is based on the fact" makes it sound intellectual which would be useless (see James 2:19). Saving faith is about allegiance/love, the kind that would produce works if given the chance (death bed converts don't have the chance)
    – SkySpiral7
    Commented Jan 22 at 22:10
  • @SkySpiral7 Only those who were eye-witnesses of the resurrected Christ knew experientially that the dead Christ was now alive. But for the few billions of believers in that, who never saw him then, they take his resurrection as a fact, by faith. It is only after such faith comes and is exercised that their experience of Christ becomes real to them.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 23 at 11:22
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A Preface (that may not be necessary)

I share your passion for philosophical investigation of theological concepts that in turn is based on the Bible that in turn is based on God's revelation. That's the proper order: God -> Bible -> theology -> philosophy. Unfortunately most lay believers stops at Bible and do undisciplined "bring your own thoughts" into Bible verses and ignore the undercurrent of orthodox catholic (lower case "c") apostolic theology running throughout Christian History, a trend scholars name solo scriptura instead of sola scriptura (see this article).

But another mistake is to start with philosophy and similarly ignore the aforementioned orthodox catholic apostolic theology and bring in modern philosophy such as libertarian free will or "Pascal's wager" or secular understanding of "faith" divorced from right understanding of who Jesus is (who should be the center of any theology). Not that those concepts don't have a place in theological discussion, but they should not reframe orthodox theology using incompatible categories. Rather, those concepts should be purified and modified so they (as reflecting human psyche) are put AT THE SERVICE of orthodox theology, and in this we follow the example of St. Thomas Aquinas who tweaked Aristotelian concepts for his Biblical and orthodox theological system he summarized in the famous Summa Theologica. The relevancy of Aquinas theology today is concurrent with how well Aristotle understands the human psyche and human nature (which is gaining fresh appreciation in the 21st century) given the scientific advancement in psychology and neurology, which St. Thomas extended into the supernatural and eschatological future of humankind as revealed by God in the Bible. Think tanks like the Thomistic Institute carry on the Thomistic way of processing revelation and the world (including its scientific investigation) so philosophy remains theology's handmaiden.

So this answer tries to do philosophical investigation of "hope" as understood by the apostles; the understanding preserved for us in the Bible and THEN reflected upon by the Patristic, and later, medieval theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas. Yes, there are several valid theologies of hope out there, some more orthodox than others, but I'm not a professional theologian / philosopher, so what I describe below is based on wide reading of various systematic theologies and philosophically flavored Thomistic books such as Josef Pieper's faith - hope - love, a collection of 3 philosophical essays on the 3 theological virtues according to Aquinas. I'm writing an SE answer intended only to whet the appetite of reading that book (so it's not a summary, just a teaser), which among the books I came across, remain the best philosophical investigation of the 3 virtues and has stood (somewhat) the test of time (in 1997 Ignatius Press reprinted the English translations from the original German, written in the 1960s).

Hope (Biblical & Theological)

In the few hundred years after the last canonical prophet Malachi (c. 432 BC, Nehemiah's 2nd visit to Jerusalem) and throughout the 2nd Temple period in which there were heroic acts such as the Maccabean Revolt and during which the fervent hope of a political Messiah who would deliver the nation of Israel into a golden age surpassing the old glory days of David and Solomon (1000-931 BC) was running high. Instead, Christianity redefined this national deliverance into an eschatological deliverance of the whole human race (all nations) from disorder, war, sin, injustice, and death by God through His incarnation in Jesus who currently lives forever guiding all people who are willing to be His disciples into an eschatological future of the new heaven and earth, the fulfillment of Eden (access to the Tree of Life is reopened and the ground is no longer cursed). This is a joyful place of endless exploration of God's goodness and greatness pursued by a new humanity (each person in a glorified body) who do life in the presence of God, that is, in peace, true wisdom, health, and love. If we ask a Christian: "what is the content of your hope", that would have been the answer.

God promised this and although we already see glimpses in the community of love that Jesus founded 2,000 years ago, recognizable when Jesus our Lord is present at the center of a community's life (his body ruled by his spiritual presence), Jesus has not yet come again in visible glory to inaugurate that eschatological future described above. So we live in a tension of having a foretaste but still yearning for complete fulfillment of God's promise. St. Paul described it in 1 Cor 13:12 ("For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known."). An important theme of the NT is encouragement in the midst of suffering as a theodicy to explain why persisting to keep this right desire for the content of that future (the virtue of hope) is no fool's errand but despite all appearances, it's bankrolled by the faithfulness of God who has been proven faithful before (partly by sending Moses in the OT and Jesus in the NT).

Hope (Philosophical)

Christian philosophy's role is to tie human soul's desire to this promise of the eschatological future (given by theology) and to re-kindle this desire despite tragedies, setbacks, wars, disappointments, depression, etc. Philosophy doesn't make light of these human challenges, but attempt to re-integrate these sufferings by re-setting our eyes on that future promise. So trust is needed. Trust in what? Well, in Christian context, it's obviously foolish to trust in the earthly goods that God has blessed us (even though they are good gifts that God is pleased to give His children), but trust in God the giver. The habitual propensity to trust in this way is faith, and the desire for God's future promise is hope. Philosophical analysis and investigation maintain the separation though they are obviously related.

How do we maintain this habitual stance to keep desiring God's promise? Aquinas (as philosophically processed by Josef Pieper) frame this as the theological virtue of hope where the grace infused into a human soul who is living in the tension described above (Chapter 1) can cure despair (Chapter 3) as well as can instill magnanimity and humility (Chapter 2) while staying away from presumption (Chapter 4) and from fraudulent imitation like Liberalism, Stoicism, and false fearlessness (Chapter 5).

Answering your questions

With the stage set above (proper biblical, theological, and philosophical context), I now proceed to give quick comments on your questions.

You are correct that "hope entails some degree of uncertainty ... but a strong desire for something to be true", the "something" being the "content of the hope" I described above.

Is it possible to redefine faith, traditionally rooted in strong beliefs, to encompass the prospect of being grounded in hope?

"faith" and "hope" are related, but as virtues (habits of the mind) they have different function: "faith" is about trusting, "hope" is about desire. Desire on the wrong promise is foolish, so shouldn't be named Christian hope but a pie in the sky. Christian hope is based on the true promise of God. "faith" then, is trusting the intention and the ability of this God to deliver that promise, which is often called "God's faithfulness". Who is the agent of Christian hope? Jesus Christ. So we have faith in Jesus to be our deliverer into the "promised land" of the new heaven and earth in a glorified body.

About "faith" and "hope"'s relationship to intellectual assent just ask yourself: what is the meaning of 'trust' and 'desire' in human relationship such as marriage? If I say "I desire to be happy with my wife" ("hope") and "I trust my wife's willingness to be happy together with me for the rest of my life" ("faith"), surely there IS intellectual assent involved?

  • The cognitive content of the "hope" is a picture of what "happy being with my wife" is; different husband has different picture. For the academically inclined, maybe the picture includes collaborating academically to publish a book. For those wanting grandchildren maybe the picture includes raising godly children who then produce godly grandchildren.

  • The cognitive content of the "faith" is accumulated proofs in the years of marriage as to whether my wife is keeping beside me when I'm sick, poor, or even (God forbid) incapacitated. If she seems to prefer to spend his time with other men, then this is a counterproof. If my wife has a different hope than myself, then although my wife has good character, our hopes are incompatible and thus by faith is misplaced.

Applying the same analysis to God,

  • The cognitive content of the "hope" is a theological processing of the narrative of revelation of God's intention as to the direction of history into the currently-only-partly-visible eschatological future.

  • The cognitive content of the "faith" is a minimal understanding of the gospel while the critical help to enable the cognitive faculty (i.e. reason) to assent to the gospel is the "light of faith" described in my other answer. In addition, "faith" as virtue (different in concept than "light of faith") is a habitual predisposition which you can read further in Josef Piper's essay on faith (not in the scope of this answer). Also, if the content of the "hope" is not what God promised (as recorded in the Bible understood correctly), these believers who DO have faith in Jesus Christ as deliverer will be disappointed as in victims of prosperity gospel who may have good Christian character but they were sold different cognitive content of the "hope" so more prone to despair and even deconversion!

CONCLUSION: I hope (desire) by separating the elements and recombining them with the help of Christian theology and Christian philosophy above enable you to see how saying "can faith be based on hope rather than belief or intellectual assent" is a confusing mash-up of terms that should be connected much differently:

  • both faith and hope have their own cognitive content and that cognitive content need to be assented to by the intellect (reason). Otherwise faith and/or hope are irrational but humans are rational animals
  • faith is belief that Jesus is our deliverer, yes, but then to the question "TO WHERE are we being delivered", the answer is: "the cognitive content of hope". I have seen examples of good Christians who are despairing (let's say a beloved child dies) and become depressed, but keeping their faith stoically in Jesus. The virtue to keep them joyful despite suffering is NOT stoicism (grit your teeth and move on) but hope. There is no joy without desire.

P.S.: Josef Pieper (German Catholic Thomist philosopher) is a very different figure than John Piper (American Calvinist theologian). I often got people confused when mentioning the former since the latter is much more famous, especially among evangelicals.

Follow-up comments

Revisiting your marriage analogy, your definitions of 'faith' and 'hope' presuppose that one is already convinced of the existence of one's spouse. However, in the way I phrased my question, I'm using hope with the more conventional meaning of "wishing that some fact be true", which entails uncertainty, but in your analogy it wouldn't make sense to say "I hope that my wife exists". If one is already convinced of one's spouse's existence, 'hoping' that one's spouse exists wouldn't make sense at all. If you already believe in and are utterly convinced of the existence of your wife, you wouldn't ever say that you 'hope' she exists.

You're correct that in my marriage analogy I'm already married with certain expectation (hope) with a little trust (faith of a mustard seed). My analogy presupposes the existence of God; it is meant to highlight the function of "hope" and "faith" in the journey in this life toward the uncertain future ("uncertain" psychologically speaking). I could have changed the analogy to my hope of finding a certain wife (who may not exist), but this would be a different analogy.

Remember how in the Preface I said that philosophy flows from theology? You can of course bring a word's common meaning into Christianity, but you must be willing for the word's meaning to be molded by theology; otherwise you'll be introducing a foreign category into Christian thoughts, thus misrepresenting Christianity.

In Christianity, hope is not simply wishful thinking, but tied to God's promise revealed earlier as the cognitive content. Prior to becoming Christian, yes, I can see how "faith" and "hope" is one package with God's existence. If God doesn't exist, then the faith and hope I described above go down along with the non-existence of God. On the other hand, let's say you believe in the existence of God, but as a Deist (watchmaker God). Then there is room for Christian "faith" and "hope" to follow when one is born again. I don't think the other way around is possible where simply because of the hope you can then believe the existence of God which is indeed wishful thinking. The arrow doesn't go in that direction.

But I shouldn't be too quick to dismiss that, because C.S. Lewis uses the argument from desire to show how our yearnings prove that there is a fulfillment beyond death. But it is a proof of the immortality of the soul; I don't think it's enough to guarantee the kind of God who is the basis for the full Christian "hope" (the goal) and "faith" (the way). Apologists usually use the Argument from Desire only to bolster the rationality of Christianity.

But once you become a Christian where existence of God is a necessary ingredient, "faith" and "hope" function differently in the spiritual life since they are cures to different spiritual maladies. The necessary healer is Jesus who give us grace for various spiritual illness, and that's why in Thomistic theologies "faith", "hope" and "love" are called theological virtues that grow stronger to help a disciple matures in different aspects.

What are your thoughts on the concept of 'hope-based faith' suggested by James Sennet in this lecture (6:54 to 10:30)?

Several take away points summarizing the segment: 1) she acts as if it is true until externally non-distinguishable from believers; 2) non-cognitive desire motivates her to do the act; 3) the gospel ideas being beautiful also feeds that desire; 4) doesn't say gospel is false, but just not enough evidence for. From that description, she is doing "fake it until it's real" hoping that one day the conviction will come. It is a "make believe" practice with an imaginary friend she hopes to be real.

From the Christian point of view, this is very laudable. The segment doesn't say, but I assume she also prays to God and starts a relationship with Jesus as prescribed by Christianity under the pretext that Jesus and the Father would reciprocate to her (by becoming real in her consciousness) according to what the Bible teaches Jesus and the Father would do. In other words, acting on the desire that this imaginary friend will turn up real, she acts her part.

Using my marriage analogy, this is similar to the wife (Carol) trying out a relationship with a husband (Bob, analogous to God) that she believes would reciprocate her "future picture" of a happy married couple life that Carol & Bob have worked out together (analogous to the cognitive content of hope described above). The fulfillment of that future picture depends on both sides doing their part (work hard, tangible support as lovers, selfless giving, etc.) seeing the construction of the pieces coming together (car, house, savings, kids, friends, etc.). But let's say Bob doesn't do his part (he is not as faithful to the project as Carol expected), or Carol found out that this "future picture" is no longer desirable to her (Carol abandons the project). Then this "future picture" in which Carol and Bob need to be existing in loving relationship proves to be illusory. They then separate. To Carol, this means Bob doesn't exist in her life anymore, analogous to God doesn't exist for Carol.

Of course, an atheist would say to Carol: "See, God doesn't exist". But a Christian with the light of faith would compassionately acknowledge that while the reality of God is not subjectively present in Carol's soul, he/she would pray together with her so someday the "light of faith" comes while encouraging Carol to keep on doing what she has been doing (there's no harm but only good, as the practice promotes a flourishing and satisfying life even without feeling God's presence). He/she would also rally up community support since loving community is the very picture that Jesus says already happened on this side of heaven. One powerful apologetics in the early church is "see how they love one another!".

Conclusion: If Carol doesn't yet have the conviction that the Biblical picture of hope is true (along with the prerequisite: existence of God), then she doesn't have the "light of faith". But since she "acts as if it is true", does Carol have the virtue of "faith"? I think while she is keeping it up she DOES, not by empirical evidence, but by the Bible teaching that God gives grace to those who ask for it, manifested in Carol's ability to overcome adversities that try to derail her trust in God (as powering her doxastic voluntarism without the light of faith) and her desire for heaven (which in this case IS the starting point).

In Christian theology the existence of God is a given and we trust what God promised in the Bible (the basis of this trust is a whole other discussion) but subjective cognition of God's presence and subjective conviction of His faithfulness can vary; it's great when a believer has it but it's not guaranteed.

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  • Insightful points about faith and hope from a theological perspective. This corroborates that what I meant by my use of the word 'hope' doesn't quite match with how it is understood theologically within Christianity. Revisiting your marriage analogy, your definitions of 'faith' and 'hope' presuppose that one is already convinced of the existence of one's spouse. However, in the way I phrased my question, I'm using hope with the more conventional meaning of "wishing that some fact be true", which entails uncertainty, but in your analogy it wouldn't make sense to say "I hope that my wife exists"
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 20 at 18:36
  • If one is already convinced of one's spouse's existence, 'hoping' that one's spouse exists wouldn't make sense at all. If you already believe in and are utterly convinced of the existence of your wife, you wouldn't ever say that you 'hope' she exists.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 20 at 18:36
  • @Mark That "some fact be true" is the picture of the new heaven and earth, including resurrection of the body, eternal life, no more wars, etc. Who doesn't want that? The want is independent of the existence of God. So without God, people seek them through brain preserved in nitrogen to one day be reconnected with technologically advanced body. Or people try to eliminate war through purely secular means like UN, international court, etc (good, but not enough). So the picture is separate than the agent who can deliver it. Commented Jan 20 at 18:47
  • But in Christianity the picture's definition includes fellowship with God, which makes Christian hope by definition presupposes the existence of Christian god. Still, we haven't talked about deliverance. Maybe the Christian God doesn't want to give us that? So in addition to having Christian hope, faith in that God's deliverance is necessary (which of course implies his existence). So yes, belief in a God that can deliver (faith) is needed for Christian hope, but conceptually the two should not be confused. Commented Jan 20 at 18:49
  • About the marriage analogy. Before I was married, I dreamed of meeting a certain wife who shares my picture of living happily together in the type of activities I enjoy (example: this picture includes enjoying classical music together), so I keep looking. Sometimes I have hope, sometimes I don't. Consulting the Bible, does Bible say God promises that I will find my classical music loving wife just because I desire her? No. But is it a pie in the sky? Not really, there are many Christian women classical pianists out there. But will one of them want to marry me? Those are different questions. Commented Jan 20 at 18:54
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It is not certain that Faith and Hope can be so differentiated that one can be said to be based upon the other. Interplay, as expressed by OP, is perhaps a much better term. If, however, one is to be based upon the other it might be better understood for faith to be based upon hope so long as hope is understood in Biblical rather than worldly terms. In other words, Jesus faithfully endured for the hope of joy set before Him. All of the following excerpts (except the Bible quotes) are taken from a John Piper article entitled "What is Hope?".

We use the word hope in at least three different ways.

  1. Hope is the desire for something good in the future. The children might say, “I hope daddy gets home early tonight so we can play kickball after supper before his meeting.” In other words, they desire for him to get home early so that they can experience this good thing, namely, playing together after supper.

  2. Hope is the good thing in the future that we are desiring. We say, “Our hope is that Jim will arrive safely.” In other words, Jim’s safe arrival is the object of our hope.

  3. Hope is the reason why our hope might indeed come to pass. We say, “A good tailwind is our only hope of arriving on time.” In other words, the tailwind is the reason we may, in fact, achieve the future good that we desire. It’s our only hope.

So hope is used in three senses:

A desire for something good in the future, The thing in the future that we desire, and The basis or reason for thinking that our desire may indeed be fulfilled.

There is another, more foundational and distinctive meaning of Hope that is found in the Bible along with these three common usages.

All three of these uses are found in the Bible. But the most important feature of biblical hope is not present in any of these ordinary uses of the word hope. In fact, the distinctive meaning of hope in Scripture is almost the opposite of our ordinary usage. Ordinarily, when we express hope, we are expressing uncertainty. But this is not the distinctive biblical meaning of hope. And the main thing I want to do this morning is show you from Scripture that biblical hope is not just a desire for something good in the future, but rather, biblical hope is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future. Biblical hope not only desires something good for the future — it expects it to happen. And it not only expects it to happen — it is confident that it will happen. There is a moral certainty that the good we expect and desire will be done.

Piper makes a distinction between 'moral certainty' and mathematical or logical certainty. Morality is understood to be seated in the will and moral certainty to be based upon our acts of the will and the promises of God. After 30 years of marriage I do not say that I hope we will not get divorced, as though there exists a possibility to that end. 30 years of experience of the nature of our wills to remain married coupled with God's grace to do so makes us confident: Marriage until death is our Hope...we expect it. We do not aim for it as much as it draws us onward.

Mathematical or strictly logical certainty results from the necessity of non-moral laws. If we have two apples and add two more, we may be “mathematically” certain that we now have four apples. That is mathematical certainty. If all men are mortal and if Plato was a man, then we may be “logically” certain that Plato was mortal. That is logical certainty. That kind of thinking is important. In fact, it is indispensable in biblical studies as well as all other areas of life. But most of our experience is not like that. There is a kind of legitimate certainty and confidence that does not come from mathematical calculations or merely logical laws. I call it “moral certainty".

Biblical hope is not a mere desire for something good to happen. It is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future. Biblical hope has moral certainty in it. When the word says, “Hope in God!” it does not mean, “Cross your fingers.” It means, to use the words of William Carey, “Expect great things from God.”

Faith and patience are tied to the "full assurance of hope" which is, in turn, rooted in the promise keeping nature of God. A Christian, then, does not 'cross his fingers' and 'hope' that he will be raised with Christ...He expects it to happen because he expects (is confident that) God will keep His promises. Christian Hope is set before us, anchoring our souls unwaveringly within that holy place wherein Christ has entered:

But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,  Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.  And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. - Hebrews 6:9-20

Therefore, biblical hope does not contain an amount of uncertainty nor is it preceded by intellectual assent. The born-again believer has set his seal to this: That God is true. It is no uncertain hope that the Lord Jesus Christ has taken away the sin of the world, currently makes intercession for the saints, and is coming back to take us to the place He is preparing in the Father's house. How can such hope be certain? Because the born-again one has repented and believed and has actually been forgiven and indwelt by the Holy Spirit just as had been promised.

A person who has gone from death to life is not hoping in a "cross your fingers" uncertain sense to receive eternal life. It is a certain and upward call of God in Christ Jesus:

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. - 1 John 5:13


As a response to the "Additional Food For Thought" in OP regarding Pascal's Wager I offer this answer to the related question of Whether there is Scriptural basis for Pascal's Wager.

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This is spoken to directly in Alma's sermon comparing the word to a seed in the Book of Mormon:

And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. (Alma 32:21)

The writer of Hebrews both hope and assurance in his definition of faith:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)

And Paul uses both earnest expectation and hope in a similar sense:

according to my earnest expectation and hope (Philippians 1:20)

The degree of earnestness is best evidenced by our level of investment, but hope is perfectly compatible with faith and belief, and seems to entail more than wishy-washy wishful thinking.

It is clear that investing hope (even when seen as a limited desire to believe) can pay real dividends of faith:

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 32:27)

I have seen the reverse to be true also: Many who apostatize from faith withdraw their intellectual assent to the truth of God's words not because of an intellectual problem, but because they first lost hope, withdrawing their desire to believe. What the heart rejects, the mind forgets.

Additionally, belief may originally have meant something other than intellectual assent; one strong etymological theory about the origins of the word uses the root lief, meaning "love". In his gloss of the subject, Ty Bennett unpacks this etymology to assert:

Belief means to be in love with.

Thus connecting belief more with desire, and with love, as in the First Two Great Commandments.

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