Give me a break.
When I was younger this bit of Scripture was so common in weddings that I thought it was actually a required part of the service. I hear it’s fallen out of favour of late. I think that’s for the best.
The problem is, Paul, or whoever wrote this letter wasn’t writing marriage vows. And he wasn’t referring to “love”, he was writing about agapé. Agapé isn’t the mushy stuff we generally think of when a couple makes googly-eyes at each other in front of assembled friends and family.
Using this excerpt as a definition of “love” between a couple can lead to all sorts of abuses; not the least of which is what does it mean to “endure all things”?
Does that include domestic violence? Neglect? Unfaithfulness? Unequal roles? “Hoping” all things will get better is naïve at best.
Too often, that’s what the words have been twisted into condoning.
That was never what the author intended.
Agapé is the compassionate, inseverable, mutual relationship that exists between all things in Creation. It is the Immanence of God made manifest.
So let’s forget the touchy-feely stuff and take another look.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. I Corinthians 13:4-8
Agapé is patient and kind.
Patience has fallen out of style. We live in a society based on instant gratification. We want things and we want them now.
Make no mistake; the patience grounded in agapé can be just as impatient for change, especially when faced with injustice. But it also recognizes that it takes more time for us to change the world than it does to buy the latest gadget. We do it by acting benevolently (a better translation of chrēsteuomai than “kind”) in each and every relationship that we’re part of.
Agapé isn’t envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
In accepting our inseverable relationship with Theos and with all of Creation, we also accept that everything in Creation has innate value and worth. All voices deserve to be heard. All perspectives deserve to be considered. This can be a challenging concept to actually live. On the one hand, there are times we are thoroughly convinced that the perspective of another is nonsense. We may even be right. It can be difficult to be patient in that situation. But if we are, sometimes we’ll discover a new insight that we might otherwise have missed. I don’t agree with either literalists or atheists, but I’ve learned tremendous amount about my own faith over the years by listening to individuals who hold both beliefs.
Agapé isn’t selfish or resentful or irritable.
On the other hand, there are times when our desire to recognize others can lead us to silence ourselves. We may call it “humility” or “tolerance.” But that is a mistake that’s at least as bad as not listening. If we fail to insist that our own voices are equally deserving of consideration, we do a disservice to others as well as ourselves. By failing to include our perspective in the discussion, we fail to ensure a just and equitable future.
Agapé rejoices in the truth.
In other words, when we work through acknowledging our relationship with all, we find no pleasure in benefitting at the expense of others.
The “truth” is an unfolding reality. We are discovering and exploring it together as a society and a civilization. To be true to our relationship with God, we cannot allow ourselves to create new inequities, new persecutions, as we move beyond those that stain our past.
Agape bears all, believes all, hopes all, endures all.
A better sense of what the author was saying would be to say that because of our unshakable confidence in our relationship with God we can face anything that the world throws at us.
Remember, the author wasn’t writing to provide marital advice to blushing brides. He was writing to provide guidance and encouragement to the community of faith in Corinth.
That message is just as important for us today. It isn’t dependent on whether or not we’re in a faith community. We are all one community, one Creation, no matter who or where we are.
Agapé never ends.
Our relationship with God is inseverable and eternal. How we live out that relationship is up to us.
Like the people of faith in Corinth, we are challenged to look at our past with new eyes. No matter how willing we are, there will be times when the sheer magnitude of such a radical, inclusive Message will be daunting.
That’s when we need to rely on faith, hope, and love
And the greatest of these is agapé.