First Corinthians 13 is one of the most famous of oft-quoted scriptures in existence. How often have all of us found ourselves at a wedding in which the folks getting married may not even be Christians in any sense in which this Scripture is movingly quoted? It’s everywhere. First Corinthians 13 is ubiquitous. Arguably, the apostle Paul never penned anything more marketable.
But seriously, has anyone ever stopped to examine this particular little Scriptural sonnet, let alone think about it? Seriously, who on earth do you know that is like this?
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.
What is ironic is that just about anyone that I can think of that would match up to this description is any significant sense is really fucking boring, annoying, and dumb. Seriously, who do we know who “bears all things” or for goodness sake, who on earth “believes all things”? “Endures all things?” Please. Anyone who trusts so easily, who endures without flinching, who remains hopeful in face of hurt and betrayal is, quite literally, a moron. I mean, who on earth would actually thing think that loving means literally bearing anything that comes to you as a consequence of your love? The fact is that we all have limits that we’re not going to cross when it comes to loving others. There is some stuff that we just won’t bear. That’s how it is. If we try to deny this we are liars.
And yet, according to Paul, love, the love that defines who God is bears all things. How have we turned this into the kind of sentimental message that it now is in our popular romantic consciousness? How has the impossible task of bearing any and all hurts, wrongs, and terrors from another person come to mean nothing more than wedding day sentimentality?
Regardless of how this passage of Scripture has become coopted in this way, what is important is clear. If we take 1 Corinthians 13 seriously as a description of the kind of love that defines God and to which we are called as followers of Jesus, we have to realize that this love is fucking deadly. I don’t just mean some heroic notion that if we actually live like this the evil bad guys will want to try to kill us for being so loving. What seems clear to me is that if we love like this, we are going to wear the fuck out. We are going to be used up, depleted, empty, pathetic, gullible, dumb. If we actually believed in loving people according to this Pauline description we would die. Not because people would regard us as some sort of danger, but simply because we would be pathetic, losers, fools, awkward and unattractive imbeciles.
Who besides an imbecile would live a life that bears all things, that believes all things, that hopes all things, endures all things? It is completely unreasonable. It is completely stupid in its excessive irresponsibility. Only dysfunctional idiots endure all things.
Love, understood in this sense is the least attractive thing we can imagine. Love is fucking stupid. Love will kill you. And not in a heroic, self-validating sort of way. Love will kill you by rendering you pathetic, naive, and stupid. To love according to this Scriptural definition will inevitably result in the crucifixion of any successful and attractive mode of existence. The love that the gospel invites us into is one that does nothing less than reduce us to nothing. The gospel makes us pathetic, lonely, manipulable, vulnerable, empty.
In this is love, that we become pathetic nothings. Forlorn, forsaken, foolish, empty, and pathetic. Only so do we live. In any sense whatsoever. According to the gospel, the pathetic life of love is the only truth, the only way, and the only life.