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Love is Fucking Stupid

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.

65 Comments

  1. Hill wrote:

    You may have drunk a little too deeply from the stream of antinomian nominalism on this one.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    I don’t know any antinomian nominalists…

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  3. kim fabricius wrote:

    For “love”, substitute “Jesus”. Then – and only then – with this Christological exegesis – the passage makes perfect sense.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Absolutely. Who else could any of this describe? Maybe I should have titled this post “Jesus is Fucking Stupid.”

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  5. adamsteward wrote:

    Nice Nietzsche.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  6. Skip Newby wrote:

    Halden,
    you had me going for a while. I was thinking how cynical, he knows better than that. Then, I remembered, he knows me, so he knows it can be lived. Peace.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Permalink
  7. Nah, just emphasis on drinking.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink
  8. Hill wrote:

    Yeah I was thinking that might be a better explanation. Common sense suggested that it was too early in the day for that, but we’re talking about Halden.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  9. Ben Myers wrote:

    Excellent. You ought to write a book with that title.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    Part of the reason I bit the bullet and went with this title is because I knew you’d love it, Ben.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    I do live in Oregon. But I do totally believe what I wrote in this post. So there.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink
  12. Rasselas wrote:

    “The Bible? What a preachy book! Everybody‘s a sinner! Except this guy…,” as Homer Simpson exegizes.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  13. saint egregious wrote:

    “Love is fucking stupid.” My wife thinks this is hilarious and says she’s putting this with an great big arrow on her new t-shirt collection.

    I’m not sure I like my new nickname.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 7:59 pm | Permalink
  14. dan wrote:

    is this a test of what we can bear? felt like a journey through the heavy equipment shops, mills, warehouses, and endless truck stops where i’ve earned most my living… 1 cor 13 has been part of my contemplation since 66 or so when I first came across this text… good insights here

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 8:16 pm | Permalink
  15. Halden wrote:

    Which way is the arrow pointing?

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
  16. Logan wrote:

    I love this post. Real Christian (that is, Christ like) love looks completely, ridiculously absurd to anyone who takes it seriously. Very Kierkegaardian. I dig it.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Permalink
  17. St. Egregious wrote:

    Whichever way my fat ass is movin’!

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 9:25 pm | Permalink
  18. Out here in Milwaukee, you could believe it, drink beer, aaaaand eat cheese.

    Still, I liked it. Even minus the cheese.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 9:33 pm | Permalink
  19. Ben Myers wrote:

    Yep, you’ve got me all figured out…

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 9:52 pm | Permalink
  20. I wondered aloud once to a friend concerning his girlfriend, “If love is not jealous why the fuck are you?”

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 10:23 pm | Permalink
  21. Nathan wrote:

    When Ben linked here on the basis of the title I thought you’d missed a comma.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 10:29 pm | Permalink
  22. alan wrote:

    Your really got a point here. Totally agreed. I think it is absurd enough already. Not to mention the sermon on the mount.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 10:31 pm | Permalink
  23. Bobby Grow wrote:

    sad

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 12:34 am | Permalink
  24. John Lyons wrote:

    Since the Church can hardly ever be said “to bear with all things” (and so on), does that mean a second sermon in the series would have the title, “The Church is not fucking stupid”? Of course, neither was Paul really.

    Boy, was he an idealistic dreamer…

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 12:35 am | Permalink
  25. BC wrote:

    As Paul wrote earlier in Corinthians, that Christians are to be foolish rebels against the currently held views of the world.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 3:09 am | Permalink
  26. Eric Lee wrote:

    That’s exactly what I was thinking the whole time I was reading this.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 4:42 am | Permalink
  27. Adrian wrote:

    Thanks Nathan. Hilarious…

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 5:04 am | Permalink
  28. Rebekah wrote:

    In real love, we are emptied of much of the stuff we fill ourselves with. You are right that it can be a miserable process and pretty much hurt like hell, but I believe that we are emptied so that there is room for the Lord to work in us and that really isn’t pathetic, it’s powerful and wonderful.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 5:33 am | Permalink
  29. Paul wrote:

    I have an idea. Write a follow-up essay titled “Jesus is fucking stupid” and expound on the Sermon on the Mount, its inherent stupidity, and the church’s use of sentimentality to gloss it over.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 7:20 am | Permalink
  30. Jason Oliver wrote:

    For a second, Halden, I thought that you had lost your damn mind. But I kept reading the post and it makes sense. Fascinating reflection. Don’t know my mother would like though. LOL!

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink
  31. Halden wrote:

    I agree Rebekah. That was, hopefully, the point of my last sentence. Mostly I wanted to zero in on the absolute radicality of a biblical passage that has become sentimentalized and trivialized.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 8:21 am | Permalink
  32. R. Warren Gill III wrote:

    I find it interesting that this post has been characterized as in the vein of antinomian nominalism, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. I am impressed.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink
  33. Dave wrote:

    This interfaces well with John Caputo’s deconstructive bender on love in the beginning of his book, On Religion.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  34. Sharad wrote:

    This post perfectly illustrates how incomprehensible the Bible is apart from some sort of theological context. 1 Corinthians isn’t a sonnet. It’s not Paul waxing abstract on the virtue of virtues. If it’s read that way it does result in an reprehensible co-dependence that only invites abuse.

    The reason that love isn’t fucking stupid is because it isn’t characterized by the purposeless “for-it’s-own-sake” kind of idealism that is rightly lampooned by Nietzsche. Love is directed by an external reality called “the kingdom of God” in which human beings find out what they are for. Whatever human beings are for constrains and directs the love described in ch. 13. Paul thinks human beings are made for the enjoyment of God in Christ. That means that love isn’t passive – it’s patient and kind in the pursuit of that end. It bears all things to that end. Believing all things is a corollary to rejoicing in the truth – a refusal to distort the truth in pursuit of that end. It endures what must be endured to pursuing that end.

    Jesus doesn’t embody the battered-wife-syndrome interpretation of this passage. He was, on several occasions, not nice. Jesus does, however, perfectly embody these characteristics if you see the kingdom of God as the telos which defines these descriptions.

    Love, by this definition, refuses to forsake someone else because they’ve hurt us – instead we patiently hold the truth before them and offer the possibility of reconciliation if they choose to acknowledge it. We do endure their rage, frustration and denial in the process.

    Anyone who’s had children who’ve done terrible things understand a type of love that doesn’t enable their behavior but continues to extend relationship and openness to reconciliation. It hurts like hell, and it’s fucking beautiful.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 9:08 am | Permalink
  35. Rev. Mike wrote:

    Actually, as I was reading it, I was thinking that in three semesters I never heard Walter Brueggemann use the F-word that many times, much less in one sitting, so that’s really quite an accomplishment, Halden! :) Actually, though, you do make the point, and it certainly won’t be forgotten very soon … good post.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink
  36. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Well, looks like you’re not converting to Catholicism any time soon!

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink
  37. Tom Welch wrote:

    Amen. Jesus wins by losing (Gerhard Forde). To the loser goes the spoils. According to the law, Jesus is fucking stupid. According to the gospel, Jesus is my Lord and my God.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink
  38. Hill wrote:

    We burn people who use swear words in blog posts.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  39. Halden wrote:

    Could you maybe drown me for being one of those cursed rebaptizers?

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  40. Sharad wrote:

    I see, by the way, the fact that you’re applying the logic of the cross and the “foolishness of the Gospel” Paul mentions earlier in the book to this chapter. I think it’s important, though, to show how this foolishness really is God’s wisdom – it does make sense when seen a certain way. Once a person understands what Jesus’ death accomplished and why, it’s no longer “foolishness”. It’s wisdom. In the same way I think that a person needs to understand how this sort of love is subversive and aimed at redemption for our enemies, not simply the coddling of their egos and a blank check to do whatever they want with our approval.

    The only reason I felt the need to prattle on about it is because I’ve seen people in my congregation use this passage to justify abusive relationships and I’ve heard preachers use the skewed guilt of victims to deliver them up to the torment of their abusers in the name of “love”.

    In other words, they tie up huge, crushing loads on the backs of people while they, themselves, aren’t willing to lift a finger. Not saying that’s what this post is doing, necessarily. Just a relevant concern.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  41. Halden wrote:

    Certainly a relevant concern. My point here was not to deny that the foolishess of the cross is, in fact, divine wisdom (indeed, the fact that 1 Cor 1 and 13 are in the same book is vitally important). Rather it was to point out how the radical agape of Christ is so utterly singular that, from the standpoint of the principalities and powers of this age, such love cannot appear as anything other than that which is completely asinine.

    Only from within does its character as participation in the very life of God become clear and real.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  42. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Well if it isn’t the ‘Blueraja’.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  43. roger flyer wrote:

    “What’s fuck got to do with it?”

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  44. journeyingrick wrote:

    AAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAA brilliant

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  45. Hill wrote:

    I’ll just call up some of my buddies at First Things and we’ll waterboard you instead.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  46. Halden wrote:

    We have an accord.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink
  47. Sharad wrote:

    Hey, Bobby! How’s it goin’?

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  48. Christian wrote:

    Great post! Reminded me of Barth’s exegesis of this chapter in The Resurrection of the Dead: “Once we lose sight of the sentimental-moral misunderstanding of the word ‘love,’ there is, apart from 15, no chapter in the whole Epistle wherein Paul has expressed in such radical terms, and with such incisive severity, what he had to urge in a critical spirit against the Corinthian Christians. Whoever is not convinced by verses 8-13 that what is actually referred to here are the last things is invited to ascertain for himself whether it is not a fact that almost everywhere where the word ‘love’ occurs in verses 1-7, such a word as seriousness or hope or expectation could be inserted without straining the meaning and in view of 8-13, and whether we are not already apparently standing in the midst of chapter 15.” (Barth, The Resurrection of the Dead, 84).

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  49. roger flyer wrote:

    Tina Turner still wants to know: “What’s fuck got to do, got to do with it?” Hi Bobby.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  50. roger flyer wrote:

    Don’t forget Homer Simpson, too.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  51. Jon Wasson wrote:

    Rather insightful. It reminded me of the point Dostoevsky attempted to make in “The Idiot”. Have you read it? It is easily one of my favorites of his.

    “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.”

    epic.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink
  52. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Hey Sharad,

    Glad to see that you’re still blogging, I think you’ve made some good points here . . . I’ll have to re-link to the ‘Soylent Green’.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  53. Chuck wrote:

    Nice post, the title reminds me of the movie Sid and Nancy.
    Anyways I agree with Kim Fabricius when he said: For “love”, substitute “Jesus”. This post makes perfect sense if it was seen in light that only the agape love of Christ can make sense out of the ‘all things’ that are referred to in the passage.

    Also I think the context of the passage as seen in the previous chapter where it concludes with a hanging thought that is answered in chapter 13: “But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.”

    It is also about the gifts of the Spirit, that is animated in love, that is akin to the agape love of Christ. =)

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:55 pm | Permalink
  54. Urbful wrote:

    As Christians, we are challenged to do many things that can seem impossible. Or stupid, dumb, or whatever in the eyes of nonbelievers. But the most important thing is doing what God asks us, and He has promised to give us everything we need to do so. He may give us hard tasks, but He also provides for us to see us through. (See 2 Cor 9:8)

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 12:52 am | Permalink
  55. Martyn Link wrote:

    How can you possibly think it is funny or appropriate to use a swear word in any way connected to God and holy scripture? You are making a point through shock tactics, but it is deeply concerning that all these commenters find it hilarious, rather than offensive. If we should hate even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh (Jude 22) then how can we justify using words from the gutter in any way connected to our exposition of the teaching of our holy, pure and righteous God? Where has our respect and reverence for our Lord gone?

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 2:59 am | Permalink
  56. Jack wrote:

    yeah, this fucking post is “completely asinine” :)

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 8:21 am | Permalink
  57. Hill wrote:

    Let the record show that I found this post offensive.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink
  58. roger flyer wrote:

    Martyn-I think Halden is using shock and awe tactics. But I, for one, do not understand why the f— word counts for anything in this post. But I seem to be the only one.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 10:16 am | Permalink
  59. Travis wrote:

    brennan manning-esque with a little bit more rage.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  60. Roger wrote:

    If you read a little through the beatitudes, Jesus warns of wise vs. foolish builders. Matthew 7:24-27. “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the wind blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Now you can think about this literally or you can realize the house is a persons life and the rock is Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. I wonder, Halden, what is your foundation as you wrote this? Was/Is your foundation in Jesus Christ or in some attempt at relying on reason and cultural/worldly values and experiences? The world says this type of love is impossible. But as Dietrich Bonheoffer describes the “impossible possibility” as that which is impossible to do, but through the grace and power of God and through this grace and power alone do things become possible, we must realize that it is not an impossible love to achieve.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 8:04 pm | Permalink
  61. Paul wrote:

    In heaven.

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 10:12 am | Permalink
  62. Koog wrote:

    Unlike Arthur in The Holy Grail, Jesus is the King with shit all over Him; our shit. This post was a great encouragement AND it made me homesick for Portland.

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Permalink
  63. roger flyer wrote:

    I love Fyodor.

    Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 7:35 am | Permalink
  64. Dissident Markus wrote:

    Hi, I was just sailing by the site (well, I was actually guided hither by a friend) and bumped into Halden’s analysis of love as described in 1st Cor 13.

    Regarding the allegedly “marketable [...] Scriptural sonnet”, signifying “nothing more than wedding day sentimentality”, a question arises: Why should the contemptuous expression of irony be preferrable to enjoying the beauty (and humility) of Paul’s words? Because the quoted words “don’t mean anything” to non-believers? How do you know? Because their conduct doesn’t match the standards of the Gospel? Does yours?
    All I know is mine doesn’t.

    Let’s not condemn, lest we be condemned.

    And who knows: perhaps the love Paul writes about (which is neither arrogant nor rude – remember?) even endures “wedding day sentimentality”? That would be beautiful, I think. And, as the Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky once said, “Beauty is the symbol of truth.”

    Monday, May 4, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  65. Matt wrote:

    You wrote: 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?

    My answer to that: Jesus does!

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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