Love endures all things

I saw an interesting little icon today, showing a picture of Christ. In it, He was bruised, having been beaten like a criminal. On His bowed head, He wore a spiky crown of thorns that mocked His mission; the mission God gave His Son to link His divinity with our humanity–first in His body destined for death and then in our bodies, destined for life. And from His arm and chest, poured blood that had been called to abandon its assignment to sustain His body. Four pure white words silently blinked above him in the blackness. They were:

Love…endures…all…things.

The whole tableau brought a hush to my soul. Then a question slowly began to be unfurled in the silence:

Have…I…ever…really…known…what…those…words…mean?

For the first time I realized I truly did not. I had never deduced that their first association was with Christ. It startled me that I had missed it’s deepest meaning because I’d always made those words revolve around me.

Before this moment I had only ever thought of those words as they applied to my own sanctification: how I would learn to love when I endured all things. When I read this verse with the others in 1 Corinthians 13, I pictured these precepts being represented as a gate; one that I would never really get all the way through.

For instance, when I read the verse, my thoughts are: Yes, I need to be reminded again; I have to endure “all things” if I am to prove that I have love. I can’t have any boundaries to what I choose to accept from others. And the thoughts always ended with Ugh! I’m never going to be able to make this work! Why does the Bible have to be a house of such impossible expectations for us? I don’t even know why I keep reading this, trying to pretend that I’m actually going to be able to do this! It’s just so hard and unlike me.

But I never thought of these verses as something that relates who God is to me more than it relates who I am to others. They are a description of who God is and what He went through because of me. But, not just because of me; because of Him as well. If He had not been love, He would not have endured any of the all things that I did wrong to Him. He would have made that verse read: “Love makes the aggrieving party endure all the things that they have deserved.”

But that is not what it says. It says that Love endures all things. Love endured all things. He didn’t hold back from anything He could experience as a result of me. He endured it all so that there could be a relationship between us. He endured it all, so that maybe I would see that He was the only way I could be free; He was the only One who would account for my sins and make me snow-white before God.

In this new interpretation of the words, the fact that Love endures all things, is something to celebrate. It reflects a gift that is unparalleled in its generosity and grace. It makes me want to know this Love in all its infinite grandeur, rather than wanting to try to duplicate it. I can do nothing to improve this love, nor would it be more precious to me if I could make it my own by separating it from Him. This love is a Person. If love were less than a person it could not endure. In all things it could be only a vapor of substance.

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So, am I do for a lifestyle change?

Do you know one of my least favorite words? Lifestyle. There it is. A concise description of who I am. You look at what I do and you know me very well. When I look, I see where my policies on life don’t intersect with my practice. Why does the pattern of my life not match the blueprint I started with. Maybe it’s because I have two: the natural one that functions in my head and the supernatural one that often sits buried within the gold-rimmed folds of my Bible. I want them to be the same thing, but this requires that I become more and more faithful in choosing the one the Bible presents that it may transform the one already inside me.

O Lord, fix Your Word within me

convince my heart of Your ways

and endorse my days with Your signature

because You’ve lit my being with Your love!

But I thought it all had to make sense first!

I can’t trust myself to make the choice to follow God simply because doing so makes sense. If I were to define having and operating with good sense as the Bible does, I would have to admit that I am not a legitimate candidate.

I do not live based on good sense, I live based on self-interest–the two may intersect at times, but often they are two very different things. Good sense tells me to wait for a speeding car to pass before I cross the street and I heed its instruction because it agrees with my commitment to protect and care for myself. Contrarily, good sense will appeal for an early bed time that I might restore myself after a long week and I will ignore it.

As much as God’s ways may occasionally appeal to my understanding of logic (quite often it does not), this is not a strong enough motivation to deride my rebellion-bent will. At times I may vote in favor of His ways, but usually only when I see a very strong sow-and-reap theme in effect.

I will not make choices that reflect God’s heart unless I permit Him to bear His heart out within my own. The only way my will can be turned to Him is if  it has been transformed by the love that God gently and persistently pours into me.

Alone, my heart cannot tell me where I’m going

How can what I do under the guidance of Your hand be pure and without spot? How can my thoughts and intent be in agreement with the holy purposes by which You dictate my obedience? Only You can convert my heart through Your Word; it’s truth takes hold of me and instructs me in the way of Life — the way that none can travel but with You.

How can a young person live a clean life?
By carefully reading the map of your Word.
I’m single-minded in pursuit of you;
don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted.
I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart
so I won’t sin myself bankrupt.
Be blessed, God;
train me in your ways of wise living.
I’ll transfer to my lips
all the counsel that comes from your mouth;
I delight far more in what you tell me about living
than in gathering a pile of riches.
I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you,
I attentively watch how you’ve done it.
I relish everything you’ve told me of life,
I won’t forget a word of it.

Psalm 119:9-16