And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three. And the greatest of these is love.
I went to a graveside service Saturday, committing to the ground a father and son I’d known for nineteen years. What these two men left behind was a testament to who they were. The love everyone had for them, and the love for each other, was a quiet, palpable presence among us. Toddlers playing, new people who will become integral members of this family soon enough, and the friends who became family long ago are all part of the love these two men left with the living. They abide in God’s eternal love, and they left behind an abiding love that gives all of us a glimpse of what is to come when the partial gives way to the complete.
Gracious God, I am so grateful for Ben the father, and Ben his son. Thank you for their lives, and for the abiding love they leave behind. Amen.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. I Cor 13:12, NRSV
What looks to us a huge flaw seems inconsequential to someone else; to someone who loves us, it may even be endearing. And it’s usually the insufficiencies that we see in our reflections, because we look only on the imperfect exterior. It’s a dim view of ourselves we see when we don’t look with loving eyes.
But this short-sightedness is a temporary condition. Some day, we will see ourselves and each other as God sees us: beautiful, unique, beloved. We won’t be able to separate the spirit from the flesh because love holds all things together.
Sometimes, we get a glimpse of a fullness out of the corner of our eyes. It’s just a glimpse of all things in their beloved totality. Perhaps it’s just enough for the love in our hearts to encompass everyone and everything, ourselves, and God. Perhaps, it’ll do for now.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. I Corinthians 13:11b – 12a
I heard the tantrum in the other room, quickly followed by the sight of a mother carrying her daughter out of story time. What started the whole thing remains a mystery, but the result was a little girl and her mother missing out on two more stories and a craft. If the little girl could have looked past whatever it was that upset her, if she could have held out an extra minute or so, she’d have gotten a musical instrument to play, a chance to point to her favorite kite on the page of the book, and had the chance to pick out a book to take home. Unable to take a longer view, she missed out on all of it.
My perspective isn’t as limited as a two year old’s. I don’t throw tantrums, and I can opt for longer lasting satisfaction over immediate gratification. I have patience, control over my emotional outbursts, and can forego something for the benefit of another. But I still grow impatient when I am needlessly (at least from my perspective) delayed; some people rub me the wrong way, and I am annoyed at their presence more than at anything they happened to be doing; I don’t like to admit my own short-sightedness. The mirror in which I view myself and everything else in creation is dark and distorted, and my partial love isn’t strong enough illuminate it sufficiently.
Paul writes that when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Paul may have done so, but I’m not so sure I have.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child..
When Jesus was asked how one might enter the kingdom of God, he drew a child from the crowd and replied, “You haven’t got a prayer of entering unless you can become like one of these.” I doubt he was advocating a rewinding of development – a return to childish ways. Children are born with limited physical and cognitive abilities because these are gained by interaction. To grow, children depend on the people around them to foster their well-being and introduce them to an ever-widening reality. With love and kindness, children grow into the selves that were only potential at birth.
Jesus was talking about something else. Children know there’s always something new to learn, and something more complete to become; children are not ashamed of being works-in-progress, unless someone has made them so. Perhaps it’s this quality, this recognition of our own in-progress state, and a willingness to own it, that can foster a childlike faith without the childish behavior…
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. ICor 13:8-10, NRSV
Once we know something (barring suppression, brain injury or damage), we can’t unknow it – the end of a book, the punchline to the joke, the last note of a song. Resolution cannot be undone; even if we repeat the experience, we can’t go back to our original starting point because we know how it all ends. Our partial experience ends when we reach completion.
But love is something different than these things that come to an end. We are deeply loved by God in our first breath and our last, and in every breath between. Our days will come to an end, and our lives will end in death, but the love we give and receive is something that abides beyond life and death. Instead of abiding in death, we return to the love that gave us life in the first place. Because love isn’t partial – at least not God’s love.
It gives me hope that God will make out of my own partial love something complete.