40 And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
41 And what is it that ye shall hope for? 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.
42 Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.
These verses caught my attention recently. Looking close, it seems that if we are trying to tell which comes first—faith or hope—it becomes a chicken-or-the-egg problem. We have to have hope before we have faith, and we need to have faith or we cannot hope.
It is nice that Mormon (as quoted by Moroni) spells out exactly what church members hope for—it is hope of eternal life through the atonement of Christ and the resurrection. That is one grand hope to center our attention on. It is the hope that softens grief at the death of loved ones. It is the hope that consoles when new medical problems crop up. It is the hope that can drive us to reach for the Savior in our extremities and sins. Hopes of worldly successes may be frustrated, but our hope in eternal life through Christ will not, provided it is accompanied by our sincere faith.
So which comes first, faith or hope?
It seems to me that when I hear the promise of eternal life and its conditions, hope arises that it is attainable. Then my faith in Christ is exerted to comply with the conditions, and my hope of attainment is strengthened. And every time we are reminded of the atonement (as we must be over and over), we have opportunities to act in faith and again strengthen that hope.
On the other hand, we have elsewhere the statement that without hope, we’d be in despair, and despair comes because of iniquity. I would probably add that despair comes of iniquity we are not willing to repent of.
So to get out of that, we have to humble ourselves and repent. Then we gain hope. We have to be meek to learn what the Lord has to teach us so we can become more like Him.
The way Mormon goes into depth about hope teaches me about why Christ is sometimes called “Hope of Israel.” He’s the reason we can have hope.
Faith and hope are pretty abstract concepts and it is easy to have our eyes just glaze over on the topics. And too, I don’t think faith and hope are something we really think about as we go through the faith-repentance-obedience process. Rather, these are things that happen by themselves as we respond spiritually to invitations to act and promises of blessings. I think Mormon wants to make us aware of these things so that if spiritual problems come up, we can do a little self-evaluation and see if we have these things we’re supposed to have. It’s sort of like how the mechanic opens the hood of the car and does through engine checks when something has gone wrong. Usually we don’t look at the engine every time we drive somewhere, and the faith-hope interplay is like that. We just have to keep the Savior in our thoughts and trust Him.