Martin Luther on Faith and Hope

What is the relationship between faith and hope? In the social sciences, there is a tendency to shy away from them as too religious. Still research has shown that both are positively related to health and wellbeing in a number of ways. For example, recent studies have found hope to be a critical ingredient in recovery from mental illness. High levels of hope are positively associated with increased well-being, more effective coping with stress, greater ability to regulate emotions in times of distress and positive outcomes in therapy. There is abundant research support for the effectiveness of religious faith to promote positive mental health, marital happiness and recovery from serious illness.


In the New Testament Paul combines them with love as the three greatest spiritual attributes. Hebrews 11 defines faith as consisting of that which is hoped for …

Martin Luther, the great reformer wrote, faith and hope are inseparable, they are the two cherubims above the mercy seat. He identified 5 ways in which we can distinguish these two great virtues

For Luther, faith is firstly a function of the mind. It is based on our understanding while hope is an act of the will. We chose to hope and to maintain it in all situations. In fact faith is also exercised by the use of the will, but the will is activated by understanding and reason. Hope comes into being the act of the will.

Secondly, in regard to what they do, since faith is knowledge based, it teaches truth, it distinguishes truth from error and enables us to understand the tenets of our faith. Hence it is about what we believe as people of faith. Hope awakens us to listen, hear and to wait in expectation especially in times of suffering. In suffering, faith and hope sustain each other.

Thirdly, in regard to their object, faith looks to the word of truth (the scripture), but hope looks to that which the word promises. It focuses on the benefits of the promise to sustain it. Luther practiced this habit in his own life, he wrote, “I dispute much with God with great impatience, and I hold on to his promises.” The promises of the word keep us hoping in the time of uncertainty and distress. The more hopeful we are the more we can endure and the more we endure the more hopeful we become as our faith remains committed to truth.

Fourthly, in regard to which come first, hope follows faith as it based on our belief. However, hope strengthens faith as well belief affects our ability to hope. Faith comes first, for we believe with the mind, then with the will we chose to hope even when it looks hopeless.

Finally, faith fights against error, and falsehood. It enables us to judge between good and evil. Hope on the other hand, fights against trouble and sorrows. When we hope we expect good even in the face of evil, we endure suffering, pain and disappointment. Even when the situation worsens, the pain becomes more intense, hope can grow stronger.

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