Our cultural ideas come from many texts written from many perspectives and, subsequently, interpreted through many contexts. Love is one such subject that has been spoken through many contexts and lived through many people. I recently wrote a challenge to Shakespeare’s possessive and totalizing sense of love in one of his beautiful sonnets. Some of our ideas on love are confused by a semantic confusion between family or religious love and romance love. Romantic love is a relatively recent idea. In counterbalance to Shakespeare’s sense of totalizing, romantic love, let’s love at another poem from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
If I speak in the tongues of men and angels,
but have not love,
I have become sounding brass or a tinkling symbol.
And if I have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains,
but have not love, I am nothing.
And if I dole out all my goods, and
if I deliver my body that I may boast
but have not love, nothing I am profited.
Love is long suffering,
love is kind,
it is not jealous,
love does not boast,
it is not inflated.
It is not discourteous,
it is not selfish,
it is not irritable,
it does not enumerate the evil.
It does not rejoice over the wrong, but rejoices in the truth
It covers all things,
it has faith for all things,
it hopes in all things,
it endures in all things.
Love never falls in ruins;
but whether prophecies, they will be abolished; or
tongues, they will cease; or
knowledge, it will be superseded.
For we know in part and we prophecy in part.
*But when the perfect comes, the imperfect will be superseded. *
When I was an infant,
I spoke as an infant,
I reckoned as an infant;
when I became [an adult],
I abolished the things of the infant.
For now we see through a mirror in an enigma, but then face to face.
Now I know in part, but then I shall know as also I was fully known.
But now remains
faith, hope, love,
but the greatest of these is love.
This is truly an extraordinary text on love, reflecting the living importance of a life lived because and according to love.
Ironically, a strange question could be asked, notably from an atheist perspective in direct challenge to religious thinking: does this text or philosophy on love require love of God or could we simply call for a love of community? To put this simply, does love, as Paul expresses it and challenges us to live out, even require God?