From today's Office of Readings (Prime). I arranged the paragraph breaks and indentations to highlight the parallelism.
We are afflicted...
but we are not crushed;
full of doubts,
we never despair.
We are persecuted
but never abandoned;
we are struck down
but never destroyed....
While we live we are constantly being delivered to death for Jesus' sake,
so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh.
This is, of course, part of the "earthen vessels" discourse in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians (chapter 4).
I am particularly taken, this morning, with
[F]ull of doubts, we never despair.
The common conception of faith is that it is the opposite of doubt -- that we have faith in just exactly the measure that enjoy freedom from doubt. Not so.
It's true that "never despairing" is technically the flowering of the virtue of hope, but it's in the face of doubt that hope does all its work -- and you can't tell me that hope only blooms where faith fails. Doubt, therefore, cannot be a failure of faith.
Like the afflictions, persecutions, and blows with which it is made parallel in the passage, doubts are, I think, something that happens to us.
Faith and hope are among the possible responses to such doubts, those responses being something that is engendered by us -- that comes from us -- in cooperation with grace.
I maintain that it's quite unfortunate that fides -- faith -- has come in English to connote mostly "belief" or "lack of doubt." Much better to think of it via its cognates fidelity and faithfulness. These carry a connotation of action, of a series of decisions. "Faith" in English has come to mean something that happens to you. "Fidelity" and "faithfulness" still mean something you choose daily -- like hope and charity.
I'm also taken, today, by
While we live we are constantly being delivered to death...
and, along with it, the line a few paragraphs later that goes
We do not lose heart, because our inner being is renewed each day even though our body is being destroyed at the same time.
Probably those lines were originally meant to encourage and strengthen people who are looking death right in the face. I come at it from another point of view, at least now. If we are healthy and feeling pretty good, it is possible to forget that "while we live we are constantly being delivered to death."
It's true, though. The cells die every moment. The collapse has been going on for a long time.
If only my inner being could be renewed each day, as imperceptibly but steadily as my body is being destroyed. Hope is, I think, believing that it can be so; faith is deciding to live as if we are certain.