2014 Lent 28

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I Corinthians 13

Love never ends, says Paul.

But what about its beginnings?

Seriously, this is a question worth pondering.  Has love always existed?  Or is it something that came into being somewhere in time, back in the ancient past, maybe when the first rational animal committed a selfless act?

It seems reasonable to say that love has always existed, doesn’t it?

But be careful.  Especially if you’re an atheist.  For if you want to say that love has always existed, to do so is akin to saying it is not a created concept; or to saying it is eternal, that it has no beginning, regardless of whether there ever was a big bang or not.  That puts love beyond time, and thus likens it to the trans-religion concept of God: existing both within and without the dimensions of space and time.

So if you want to say that love has always existed (as I do), then you’re somehow connecting love to God whether you admit it or not.

Perhaps then the being we call God should instead be named Love.  Not a bad idea.

But there is another way of seeing love; namely, as an attribute of God.  Love never ends, yes.  But love never begins either.  It has always been, is now, and will always be.  And this is because it is a part of who God is.  In this sense love is not a god, but similar to truth, beauty, and goodness, three other eternal attributes of God.

Are you with me?

But here is what makes love different from anything else, including truth, beauty, and goodness: it is outward.

Put yourself in that beyond-time-and-space realm mentioned earlier.  Here is where God alone dwells.  God has always dwelled here; God will always dwell here.  This means that God was here forever in the past, infinitely and eternally, before creation began–sun, moon, stars, planets, supernovae, all of it!

Now, here, in this beyond-time-and-space place, God could possess infinite truth, beauty, and goodness easily enough.  But how could God possess the type of love described in I Corinthians 13?  God could have thought it up, sure.  God could have determined to create a world in which beings existed in God’s own image, male and female, and that these beings would selflessly put one ahead of the other, that they would love one another.

But that would make love a created concept.  And that would mean that love is not really attached to God’s being–unless God took on that attribute after it had been created, which would mean that God was at one time less complete (and thus less perfect) than God is now.  But this is impossible.

No, love has to be an eternal attribute of God.

But, to return to that infinite and eternal beyond-time-and-space place, God could not possess love unless God had some way of expressing love, of putting another first, selflessly.  But God dwells here alone.  So with, for, and to whom can God express love here?

Tricky conundrum, eh?

For the atheist, love has to be a human invention, by definition.  But humans are no more than rational animals that operate by the same Darwinian principles as any other species.  They should be self-centered, not selfless.  Yet agape love, a love humans are capable of showing to one another, puts others first: it defies survival of the fittest.

Love also baffles the concept of a monotheistic God.  The God of the Jews and the God of Islam have always existed, eternally and infinitely in the past.  But they are alone in that beyond-time-and-space place.  So for them love cannot be an eternal and infinite attribute.

Love is indeed a baffler.

Only the Christian God provides an adequate answer.  For only the Christian God is seen as triune, three-in-one, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, existing infinitely and eternally in perfect perichoresis (a kind of divine dance).  Only the Christian God possesses community.  Only the Christian God allows for one person to put another first eternally and infinitely.

Love, then–the kind of love explained in today’s reading anyway–is what convinces me more than anything else that Christianity contains the truest expression of religious faith.

Love never ends.

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