Editor’s note: This is the second post in our newest series, reflecting on the Hillbilly Thomists’ recent, self-titled album. The series will run each Tuesday and Thursday throughout the Easter season. Read the whole series here. This post concerns the song “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” which you can listen to here.
“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). This verse has become somewhat of a clarion call for apologists, who insist that it urges all Christians to be ready to defend the faith against those who would challenge its foundations. I would like to propose an alternative, more literal reading. St. Peter does not say to be prepared to account for your faith, but “to account for the hope that is in you.” But what is hope?
In “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” the Hillbilly Thomists offer us classic lyrics that can answer our question. To hope is simply to lean on the everlasting arms. “What have I to dread, what have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms?” the song asks of us. “O how bright the path grows from day to day, leaning on the everlasting arms!” This is the power of hope in the heart of the Christian. Leaning on God’s power, on his everlasting arms, we have no reason to fear or to dread, for the Lord is stronger than all our troubles. With the Lord leading us towards heaven’s harbor, how could life not grow brighter day to day?
St. Thomas also speaks of hope as leaning on God. He says, “In so far as we hope for anything as being possible to us by means of the Divine assistance, our hope attains God Himself, on Whose help it leans” (ST II-II Q. 17 A. 1). This is exactly the kind of leaning in which our song rejoices. “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms.” Hope gives us a foretaste of the divine joy, of that eternal happiness given to the saints in heaven. This hope is not selfish or too bold. Instead, we find St. Thomas insisting, “We should hope from [God] for nothing less than Himself” (II-II Q. 17 A. 2). We can dare to hope for nothing less than God Himself because our hope leans on the faithful promises of Jesus Christ, our God who calls us not servants but his friends.
St. Peter wants us to defend our hope because the world must be told why we can so confidently pursue the grand promises of a God we cannot see. Without this hope, desiring eternal life is folly, enduring persecution and struggle is vain. Hope assures us that we do not rely on ourselves, that we cannot rely on ourselves. Instead, the Lord, who is infinitely more trustworthy and reliable than we are, strengthens us, provides for us, and leads us to eternal life. To anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, simply tell them, “I’m leaning on the everlasting arms.”
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)