Tuesday, May 10, 2011

(Biblical) Love

Love is a powerful word, one that transcends across races, cultures, and even history. I am not going to dwell on the significance of the term -- nor of its connotations in the society we live in. For one, I do not have the time (final exams week, remember?) nor perhaps the extensive vocabulary to explain things thoroughly. The purpose of this blog post is to discuss the famous passage in the book of Corinthians on love.

Before diving into the actual passage, it is important to note that in the context of the Holy Bible, love is not defined in human expressions of affection for one another. It is never referred to in that context. Rather, love is always represented by the relationship God has with Creation (aka us). God's love for us is complicated: it is always unrelenting and without bounds, but can at times be perceived negatively for didactic reasons.

In terms of the actual passage from the book of Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13), my favorite translation is the one from the Message version. Below are the lines copied from biblegateway.com (thanks!):

The Way of Love
1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

8-10Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

11When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

12We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Some context for the passage would be helpful. The apostle Paul is communicating to the newly established church in Corinth (in present day Greece?) about the significance of love. Amongst the reasons he raises this issue is the temptations faced by those living in the city of Corinth. Back in the Roman times, Corinth was notorious as a place of debauchery and corrupt by sin. Thus Paul urges the church in Corinth (hence the term "Corinthians") to stand fast and remember what love truly is -- as opposed to the public displays of sexuality around them.

I like the Message's translation of the passage due to the straightforward terminology used by the translator (Eugene Peterson I believe). A central point of Peterson's translation is not to focus on poetic metaphors and jargon, but instead to directly interpret biblical text using language anyone can understand without prior theological training. His translations can be controversial as debated by numerous theologians yet, on the whole, I think it definitely has merit and offers a refreshing account of the gospel.

Overall, this passage (as many of you probably know) describes love in its most desirable form. We all have heard that love ought to be "patient", "kind", "slow to anger", etc. but these quotations are often taken out of the context. Here, Paul describes how fellow Christians ought to treat their brothers and sisters in Christ and plainly states that love is the glue holding everything together. Nothing matters in the absence of this love. Yet at the same time, Paul emphasizes that while this love described derives from God's affection for us, our understanding of it is incomplete. We may think we know what love is through our daily experiences, but this is not true in the grand scheme of things. Our knowledge of God's love, even through many experiences, is only a fraction of the depth of this love. It is as if we only had a drop of water in the desert -- thirsting for even more.

In particular, I really like the translator's choice of adverbs in the last verse to describe faith, hope, and love respectively:
  • "Trust steadily" -- our lives can resemble a roller coaster with its highs and lows, but in the end our trust in the Lord should be unrelenting. In other words, we must not let temporary problems cloud our faith in God and what His plans are for us.
  • "Hope unswervingly" -- perhaps my favorite of the three, this speaks of hope that is always present and never ending. Our hope in the future ought to be absolute and never to be compromised for something else.
  • "Love extravagantly" -- this describes God's love for us which, in a likewise manner, should also be how we love others. Others as in anyone else around us, regardless of any romantic affiliation. We all know to love, but doing so with extravagance may pose a challenge.

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