THE OBJECT OF CHRISTIAN HOPE
The Christian may not hope for more or less than what God has promised.
1. The Christian may not rely on his own powers, on his fellow-men, nor on earthly things more than upon God; otherwise he is sure to fail, because outside of God nothing is to be relied upon.
The hope of him who relies only on earthly means is not a heavenly nor a Christian hope, but merely human hope. St. Peter boasted of his strength, and yet he denied his Lord. Goliath trusted in his might, and he came to nought. St. Francis Borgia gave all his service to his patron, the Empress Isabella; she died and then he recognized the folly of it. It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust to men (Ps. cxvii. 8). To build on the favor of men is to raise one’s house on sand or snow. Those who put their trust in men will perish like the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel (3 Kings xviii.). He who relies on his own strength and not upon God has only himself for protector; God will not protect him because he does not hope in His protection (St. Augustine).
2. The Christian may not despair; i.e., he may not give up hoping that God will forgive his sins, or help him in adversity.
Cain despaired when he said: “My sin if too great to be for given” (Gen. iv. 13). Saul despaired by throwing himself on his sword when hard pressed in battle by the Philistines (1 Kings xxxi.).
The Christian may not despair, because God’s mercy is infinite, and God’s help is nearest when the need is greatest.
“Before sinning fear God’s justice,” says St. Gregory the Great; “after sinning trust in His mercy.” Who would doubt of being able to pay off his paltry debts if he were placed before a kingly treasure and told to help himself? Much less should we doubt of God’s mercy. “As a spark is to the ocean, so is the wickedness of man compared to the mercy of God,” says St. John Chrysostom. The greater a sinner is, the dearer is he to God in his repentance, for more glory is given to God when the sins that He forgives are very great.
Despair often ends in suicide and everlasting death.
Judas is an example of this. Despair is a sin against the Holy Ghost, and as such is never forgiven. “Hope,” says St. Isidore, “opens heaven’s gates, while despair closes them.” St. Augustine says that he who despairs of God’s mercy, dishonors God as though be did not believe in His existence; and St. Jerome adds that the sin of Judas in despairing of God’s mercy was greater than his sin of betraying Christ. He who sins kills his soul, but he who despairs is already in hell.
3. The Christian must never presume on his trust in God’s mercy, i.e., he may not continue sinning with the idea that God’s mercy can never condemn him to hell.
Confidence in God and fear of God must ever be equally present in us. It is wrong that there should be only fear of God without trust in Him, for this is despair. It is also wrong that there should be no fear at all; if a man thinks his salvation already secure he sins by presumption. “Despise not God’s mercy,” says St. Bernard, “if you would escape His justice.” Christ says: “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke xiii. 3). No man may safely say to himself, “I can always do penance for this sin,” or, “I will reform before my death.”
4. The Christian may never tempt God; i.e., he must never expose himself rashly to danger in the hope that God will save him.
He only can hope for help who does what God requires of him. He who is indifferent to God’s will, and acts with thoughtless rashness, is deserted by God. Hence: “He that loveth danger shall perish in it” (Ecclus. iii. 27). The devil urged Our Lord to tempt God by throwing Himself from the pinnacle of the Temple (Matt. iv. 6). So a man who should refuse to call in a doctor or to take medicines in a dangerous sickness, on the plea that God would come to his help, would be tempting God. Those who in the first ages of Christianity exposed themselves without reasonable cause to martyrdom were not accounted martyrs even when they died for the faith.