The Greatest of These

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If reality had a body, love would be its lifeblood. It flows in and through the divine heart, pulsing into every vein and artery of Creation, filling it with a promise of delight and contentment that can only be sensed in our most perfect moments, like a romantic adventure with our dearest love, or the iconic warmth of a Christmas morning.

Love can make sense of a Trinitarian God. It can correct and strengthen our theologies. It can unbend the wayward passions of our hearts. It can solve world hunger, establish world peace, stop human trafficking and abuse. It can unite and empower the people of God. It is our origin and our destiny. 

God is love. Not because he gave birth to something and wants to coddle it for eternity, but because it defines his very nature. This statement of I John comes from a man who walked with God for three years, watching him, listening to him, gaining insight from their relationship. John did not emphasize God’s sovereignty, power or goodness. These are all true of him, but without love, good works and sovereign power would be misspent.

What good is Love without a person to share it with? And what good is sharing life with a person that is pre-programmed, or a slave, or some clone that must, by nature, think and act like you? No, our understanding of the Trinity can be illuminated by Christ’s single statement: “Not my will, but yours be done.” If this is the mantra of divine love, it can explain why the Father, Son and Spirit function as one, co-existing in a free unity that baffles our self-oriented minds.

From the smallest particles to the inconceivable vastness of space all is bound in a cohesive unity of parts, everything relationally defined. Yes, I am a unique, unrepeatable individual, but I am meaningless without the gift of life that my parents gave me, the soul-shaping influences of my culture and upbringing, and my day-to-day interactions with other people. When I look down, I see my dad’s Flinstone feet, but they are my feet. I see my mother’s constellations of moles, but they are my moles. We are all free, but we are inextricably bound to one another.

Imagine if we were all like George Bailey or Atticus Finch. Strangers could be trusted with children. No one would try to lie to you, or rip you off, or sleep with your wife. They wouldn’t even think of it. We all know that love, a genuine self-giving kind of love, is what we all want at the deepest levels, but we’re not sure how to make it happen. If you disagree, just study some of our most important novels, movies and works of art. To me, this common hunger for an elusive quality of life proves the Fall of humanity. It shows that Love is not only the source of our common existence, echoing in every human soul and conscience, but it is also our destiny.

The ever-popular Love Chapter of I Corinthians 13 is sandwiched between two chapters on spiritual gifts. Paul is doing what he can to convince this group of self-oriented believers that the solution to the human condition is not found in spiritual powers or good works, but is a re-orientation of the soul. Just like a body needs blood to live and function, society needs love to exist as it is meant to exist, the way we instinctively want it to exist.

Jesus summed up the entire Jewish Law with two new commandments—love God, and love one other. It’s that simple. Except . . . it’s not. Just like a car can’t get far without oil, we can’t have healthy, functional relationships without love, and love is from God. After the ultimate demonstration of love, giving his own life to save his enemies, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to inhabit and re-orient the human race. Two spirits, one body—a relational solution to depravity. The devil possesses bodies, but the Holy Spirit comes alongside, like a married partner, like a parent, and slowly and painfully turns our stubborn hearts away from ourselves.

In the Love Chapter, Paul sums up the Church age with three key terms—faith, hope and love. Faith is our mode of existence, allowing us to function as physical citizens of an invisible kingdom. Hope is our mode of anticipation as we wait for the Second Coming. Love is what defines us, motivating all that we do, tempering all of our interactions, allowing us to move with the proper balance of sensitivity and confrontation.

Paul says that, when the Perfect comes, the partial will fade. At the Second Coming, our faith will become sight. Our hope will be realized. Yet love will endure. In that sense, love never fails. As long as there are persons, there will be love, and if our love is pure, divine, it will reap a paradise where God and men can walk together in the fullness of beauty and life with nothing to hide and everything to give.

This is Heaven. This is Eden. This is the true Church. This is Life.

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