The final words of a popular spiritual hymn read:
“Faith will be lost in heavenly sight, only dear Lord, in thee” (“Only In Thee” by Thomas Chisholm).
An older hymn reads:
“Faith will vanish into sight, hope be emptied in delight, love in heaven will shine more bright, therefore give us love” (“Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost” by Christopher Wordsworth).
Older still, Charles Wesley penned these words, describing heaven as a place
“where faith is sweetly lost in sight, and hope in full supreme delight, and everlasting love.”
The term, lost, has several definitions. It can mean, to become deeply absorbed or enraptured by someone or something (while still existing). With that meaning, the phrase could signify: faith will be engaged in heavenly sight.
Unfortunately (poetic license aside), that is not its significance in these hymns.
Instead, it is widely believed that faith has a term-limit; that faith will one day cease to exist; supposedly, it is a perishable commodity. At present, faith exists. In heaven, however, faith “will have ended in sight” (Scaggs, 122).
Despite its popularity, the expression itself is never recorded in the Bible, nor is the notion it advances Biblically tenable.
Belief in this expression stems from several misguided notions.
First, at its core, is the opinion that faith is merely a “blind leap.” Allegedly, faith exists in the absence of evidence. Hence, where faith exists, proof is lacking; but when proof is furnished (e.g., when we see God in heaven), then faith vanishes.
But the “blind leap” theory fails to comprehend the true nature of faith. Proof and belief do not cancel each other out. Rather, Biblical faith is buttressed by evidence.
Belief in God’s existence and power, for instance, is a proposition that may be “clearly seen,” since the evidence provided by “the things that are made” is incontrovertible. There is no room for doubt or mere guesswork. Those who do not “clearly see” God’s existence are “without excuse” (Rom. 1.20). Knowing he exists and believing it compliment one another; they are not mutually exclusive things (see John 6.69; 1 John 4.16; 2 Cor. 4.13-14; 2 Tim. 1.12).
The same may be said of our faith in Jesus Christ. Words and phrases such as: “proving” (Acts 9.22), “infallible proofs” (Acts 1.3), and “attested” (Acts 2.22), pepper the sacred text, and are employed specifically in reference to our faith in Christ. Proof and faith go hand in hand.
The gospel message itself is designed to give sight to the spiritually blind (Lk. 4.18; Jn. 9.39), for faith provides “full assurance” that the proposition(s) you accept as true, is, without question, true, precisely because it has been proven to be true (Heb. 10.22).
Thus, far from being a blind leap in the dark; faith is an open-eyed reliance upon someone or something that has been proven to be trustworthy, upon which or upon whom sufficient light has been shed. Does proof of gravity (or one’s experience of gravity) in any way mitigate one’s belief in it? Of course not. For a more detailed study on this point, see my articles: Faith, Reason, & Subjectivity; and Doubting Thomas.
Second, many suppose that 1 Corinthians 13.8-13 argues that faith is transitory — belonging to the present age only. Since love is superior to faith (v. 13), and since love “never fails,” faith itself, supposedly, must eventually fail.
However, that passage expressly says: “and now abide faith.” The present tense suggests that which continues to remain. Oddly, brethren have quoted this passage to affirm the opposite of what it actually says! It is an exercise in exegetical gymnastics to use a passage which stresses the abiding nature of faith to teach the alleged non-abiding nature of faith.
Why, then, is love superior to faith? It has nothing to do with its duration. Consider:
The passage is presented in a context discussing miraculous gifts. In chapter 12, Paul affirmed that there were a variety of supernatural gifts, each having different uses. Some of these gifts were “greater” or “better” than others (12.31), due to their superior usefulness or profitability (cf. 13.3).
For example, in chapter 14, verse 5, the inspired author maintains that prophesying is “greater” than speaking in a foreign language, since the church is edified by the former, while the latter edifies only if there is a translator present. Tongue-speaking, by itself, may be profitable to the tongue-speaker, but prophesying is profitable to the entire church (14.4).
It is in this sense that love is “greater” than faith and hope. All three Christian graces mentioned here — faith, hope, and love — continue to exist together. But love is greater (even while it exists with faith and hope) because it is the most useful of all. Faith and hope may benefit ourselves; but love benefits all. Love is the quality that spreads faith and hope; without love, neither faith nor hope would or could exist.
One author remarks that
“the contrast in [1 Corinthians 13.13] is not between love which is imperishable and faith and hope which are perishable, but between ephemeral gifts and enduring graces” (Meyer, 311).
Hence, the apostle pits the inferior supernatural gifts on one side, because they are limited in duration (with prophesying being at or near the top of the list), against the superior Christian graces — faith, hope, and love — because they are unlimited in duration, which continue to “abide” (with love being at the top of the list, due to its superior profitability).
But what about hope? How can Paul maintain that hope will continue to "abide"? Won’t hope
“end in realization when heaven and eternal life are finally possessed” (Woods, 260)?
As Paul asked: “why does one still hope for what he sees” (Romans 8.24)?
Biblical hope involves a desired expectation of something certain. When that which is expected is finite — happening only once — then once it occurs, hope for it is no longer necessary. The “redemption of the body” (its resurrection from the dead) is the matter hoped for in Romans 8.23-24. Once that event transpires (at the return of Christ), we will no longer hope for it. After all, why should I hope for that which has already come and gone? But since it has not yet come and gone, I continue to hope for it.
Conversely, “heaven and eternal life” are infinite. They will come for the faithful, but they will never be gone! There will always be new treasures to anticipate in heaven’s precincts. We will ever look forward in expectation of future glories, which are certain to come. In this way, hope — joyous, bosom-filling hope! — becomes a boundless thing, filling our hearts with eternal glee (cf. Rm. 12.12).
Albert Barnes sagely observes:
“Hope is a compound emotion, made up of a desire for an object and an expectation of obtaining it. But both these will exist in heaven. It is folly to say that a redeemed saint will not desire their eternal happiness; it is equal folly to say that there will be no strong expectation of obtaining it. All that is said, therefore, about faith as about to cease, and hope as not having an existence in heaven, is said without the authority of the Bible, and in violation of what must be the truth, and is contrary to the whole scope of the reasoning of Paul here” (Barnes, 1949, 258).
And there is this: Paul’s description of love includes the fact that love “hopes all things” and “believes all things” (1 Cor. 13.7). But if love endures forever (which it does), then since love hopes and believes, it necessarily follows that hope and belief will also endure forever. Otherwise, love ceases to be love. You cannot have love without faith or hope, since love generates them both. All three will endure forever.
Third, Paul declared that we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5.7). Inspiration likewise asserts that faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11.1). Don’t these passages demonstrate that faith and sight are mutually exclusive; that faith ends where sight begins?
They do not.
The passages in question pertain to the foundation of faith — its basis. The term, sight, in 2 Corinthians 5.7, has to do with the outward, physical form; the visible, earthly aspect. Our faith is not grounded in earthly objects, nor are our actions influenced by the things of this world. Barnes again offers excellent insight into this passage:
“We believe in the existence of objects which are invisible, and we are influenced by them. To walk by faith, is to live in the confident expectation of things that are to come; in the belief of the existence of unseen realities; and suffering them to influence us as if they were seen. The people of this world are influenced by the things that are seen. They live for wealth, honor, splendor, praise, for the objects which this world can furnish, and as if there were nothing which is unseen, or as if they ought not to be influenced by the things which are unseen. The Christian, on the contrary, has a firm conviction of the reality of the glories of heaven; of the fact that the Redeemer is there; of the fact that there is a crown of glory; and he lives, and acts as if that were all real, and as if he saw it all” (Barnes, 1950, 108, emphasis in original).
Even when we get to heaven and see God, we will still be walking by faith in him, not by sight, for we will not base our heavenly actions on physical phenomena. We will still have conviction of things not seen, for God does not belong to the material world, and our trust in him has nothing to do with whatever outward appearance he may display (cf. 2 Cor. 4.18).
None of these passages suggest that sight nullifies faith. In fact, the weight of the evidence suggests that sight and faith can operate mutually.
(1) Jesus informed his disciples that he would soon die and be raised from the dead. He explained:
“And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe” (Jn. 14.29).
After they saw his death and resurrection, they remembered what he had said and believed. Sight led to belief (cf. Jn. 2.22).
This demonstrates also that faith is not merely grounded in things that have not yet transpired (cf. Heb. 11.1), but can also be rooted in things that have already “come to pass.” The realization of the promise did not erase faith; it enhanced it (cf. Jn. 16.4; 13.19)!
(2) Paul was a witness to the Lord’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15.8); he knew the one in whom he believed (2 Tim. 1.12), because he had spoken with him after his resurrection on the road to Damascus (Acts 9.1ff); yet, he affirmed his faith in it too (1 Thess. 4.14). Sight and faith may be distinct, but they are not incongruous.
(3) When Thomas saw the resurrected Lord, did his sight cancel out his faith (cf. Jn. 20.24f)? To the contrary. Jesus said: “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed” (v. 29). Faith and sight were coextensive.
Fourth, Peter wrote: “receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls” (1 Pt. 1.9). Many suppose this means the termination of your faith — that when your soul is ultimately saved, your faith will cease. In this context, it means nothing of the sort.
While the term can signify the limit at which a thing ceases to exist (cf. Heb. 7.3), it is often used to denote the end-goal — the purpose, aim, or ultimate result of something.
The term itself (telos) is cognate to our word for telescope. Older telescopes were rolled out one juncture at a time until they reached their full length, at which point they functioned at maximum potency. Obviously, the telescope does not cease to exist at this final stage; rather, it has reached its ultimate purpose.
Paul employed the term in 1 Timothy 1.5. That passage reads:
“Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (KJV).
Does this mean that the commandment is to be terminated, once love, a good conscience, and sincere faith have been established? Certainly not (cf. Jn. 14.15). But the end-goal of God’s commandments (i.e., its “purpose” NKJV) is to produce such things.
Equally so, faith’s function in this life is to save the soul (cf. Heb. 10.39). Thus, the ESV has the best rendition of 1 Peter 1.9: “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
None of these arguments prove the proposition: faith will be lost in heavenly sight.
Reductio Ad Absurdum
Before proceeding further, consider a concise definition of faith.
Faith, in its most basic form, involves two components:
(1) trust in a proposition as valid, because it has been proven to be reliable; and
(2) trust in a person as dependable, whose testimony is unimpeachable (cf. Rm. 10.17).
Now, reductio ad absurdum is a
“method of proving the falsity of a premise by showing that its logical consequence is absurd or contradictory” (Webster’s).
Let’s apply this methodology to the present matter.
(1) If faith will be lost in sight, then it follows that when we see God, we will no longer believe he exists.
Of course, that sounds absurd of itself, but that is the thrust of this dogma. Once one knows he exists (having seen him), belief is then ended.
Yet, how can one who has actually seen God, no longer accept as valid the proposition, God exists? Do you cease believing in the existence of your neighbor the moment you first meet him face to face? Did Stephen die without faith, when he saw “the heavens opened” and beheld the glory of God and Jesus standing at his right hand (Acts 7.55f)? Was he not “full of faith” (Acts 6.5, 8)?
(2) What’s more, the Bible indicates that the demons, who exist in the spiritual realm, “believe” in the “one God…and tremble” (Jms. 2.19). Therefore, if faith is lost in sight, then the demons will believe, while God’s people will not. Surely, there is something wrong with this reasoning.
(3) Furthermore, if faith will be lost in sight, then we will no longer trust God’s word as true.
But the rewards of heaven ought to provoke the opposite effect on believers. Those who inhabit heaven will have an even greater dependency on God, for we will be living proof of God’s dependability and of his unimpeachable testimony. We’ll believe what he says (and has said) all the more!
The sacred text affirms, when we “see his face,” “his servants shall serve him” “night and day” (Rev. 22.3-4; 7.14-17). But how can we serve him if we no longer have faith in him (cf. Heb. 11.6)?
That faith is an ever-abiding characteristic may be demonstrated by the following syllogism:
Major Premise: Faith will remain as long as the word of God remains.
The Scriptures teach that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10.17). When God speaks, the listener hears and, if he accepts God as a reliable witness, faith is created in the heart. Without the word, there can be no faith. With the word, faith lives.
Hence, as long as the word of God remains, faith will also remain.
Minor Premise: The word of God remains forever.
The Bible teaches that “the word of God lives and abides forever” (1 Pt. 1.23), and that the truth “will be with us forever” (2 Jn. 1.2). The “gospel” message will endure even in eternity (1 Pt. 1.24-25).
Conclusion: Faith will remain forever.
There will never be a time when God’s faithful will have forgotten his enduring word, or cease to trust what God has said, for his word is an “imperishable seed” (v. 23), ever germinating the heart with faith.
Barnes, Albert. Notes on the New Testament: I Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1949. Barnes, Albert. Notes on the New Testament: II Corinthians & Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1950. Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Commentary on the New Testament: A Critical and Exegetical Hand-book to the Epistles to the Corinthians. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1890. Scaggs, Jr., Johnie, Ed. The Essence of Guy N. Woods. Jacksonville, FL: Basic Bible Truths Publications, 2012. Woods, Guy N. Questions and Answers: Open Forum. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 1976.