The theological virtues are faith, hope, and love. This trio of attributes, drawn from the very pages of Scripture form the rubric of Augustine’s famous On Christian Doctrine. They are the backbone of a hermeneutical method, which is designed to help people read Scripture more faithfully.
In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul writes, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
What can he mean? If these three virtues describe the goal of the Christian life, then how can one really be greater than the others?
I believe the answer is that the love is the only one of the three virtues that we will still live out in the new heavens and the new earth.
The point could be made from other texts, but there are two places that limit faith and hope to the present life.
The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)
There are a number of important conclusions that could be drawn from Hebrews 11, but one of them is that faith is something for this present life. It’s not that we won’t have conviction in the new heavens and the new earth, it’s that we will see the very object of our faith.
Once we see the glory of God in person in heaven, then we won’t have to rely on faith to sustain us. That which we know is real, but believe will no longer be believed, but known.
That isn’t to say that we don’t have confidence in God’s attributes now, but that the nagging doubts we experience and the obscurity of our understanding will be eliminated when we see Christ face to face. It’s a glorious picture of a wonderful day. But is a day when faith, as we know it now, will be no more.
In a famous passage discussing the renewal of creation that will come when Christ comes again, Paul writes, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom 8:24-25)
Following much the same logic, hope is an important virtue that Christians should work to develop. It isn’t an ultimate virtue, though, because it will pass away. We hope for what we do not see. We hope for Christ’s soon return. We eagerly and confidently expect it, but we do not see or have it. That is hope.
Once creation is renewed, we won’t need to have hope anymore. That is because the very thing we hope for will have happened. Sin will be eliminated. We will be glorified in Christ. God will be glorified in us. Everything will be right in the world.
At that point in the space-time continuum, we won’t need hope anymore. It will be an artifact of our earthly past.
The greatest of the theological virtues is love. Paul tells us that clearly, and the transience of faith and hope help explain the supremacy of love.
There is, however, another explanation. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.”
Certainly God is more than simply love. However, the identification of God with one of the theological virtues shows us that love is both permanent and supreme among the three theological virtues.
So what does this mean? Are we supposed to focus on love and neglect faith and hope?
That can’t be, since we see that grace comes through faith, which is a gift of God. (Eph 2:8). We are also called to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).
No, we’re to pursue all three, but the permanence of love helps to remind us that this world isn’t all there is to life. Good theology is important, but someday there won’t be arguments about theology because we’ll get to meet God himself face to face.
Pursue all three, but understand that God is the perfect embodiment of the one that matters most and will last forever. It’s not our works, it’s his gifting and glory that matters.