I’m pretty sick of love. Not all love, but the love that says…We just need to love people…The greatest of these is love, so that’s ALL we need to do ….pardon me if I lovingly gag. Love without faith and hope is a pretty pitiful thing that amounts to no more than tolerance. Allow me to explain more fully…
My gut negative reaction to this Scripture comes not from the words themselves, but the way people have chosen to apply them.
1 Corinthians 13:13 says this, according to the NIV translation, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” You can check out other translations here, but every translation describes love as being the greatest, greater, or best. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, Love is the best….What’s wrong is the way we then APPLY it.
In our Western world, Good is Ok, but I want only the BEST. We chuck out everything else, and focus exclusively on what is the greatest. I would argue that this is dangerous, and harms Christian practice. Just as faith without works is dead (James 2:14), Love without faith and hope is sickly and anemic. I argue, it ceases to be love at all, and is nothing more than tolerance.
Wikipedia tells us love is a virtue of “benevolent concern for the good of another.” Yet what is good for another? Take the hypotehtical, yet very real, example of Jane. Jane is a drug addicted homeless person, panhandling for money. What is more loving, to give her money, or to not? To engage her or ignore her?
What is good for Jane? The real answer is for Jane to be motivated and empowered to change her life and circumstances that contribute to/led to the addiction, and to be healed of her addiction. Yet that is hard, and frankly most of us don’t hold much hope for that…So we do one of three things: 1. give her money, say God Bless you, and hope she spends it on food and not drugs. 2. Give her no money and tell her to get her act together. 3. Fiddle with our cell phone/radio knobs and ignore her. Are any of these really loving? Probably not…Why?
We’ve equated loving with being nice to people. So perhaps giving money is nice, but it wasn’t loving if it enabled Jane to further self harm and took her farther away from God’s purposes. Telling her to get her act together might be decribed as tough love, but it denies the real systematic issues that may be preventing her from just pulling her act together. Ignoring her may be seen then as the easy way, I’m not helping, I’m not harming. Yet this might be the most harmful of all. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? Crossing the street didn’t solve anything. When we just ignore people like Jane, we deny that they are our neighbor, and that they are a person created in God’s image. We ignore them because we have no faith, or hope that there can be any change in the situation.
St. Augustine wrote a Handbook on Faith, Hope and Love, and described the relation of faith and love thusly:
” Now this is the true faith of Christ which the apostle commends: faith that works through love. And what it yet lacks in love it asks that it may receive, it seeks that it may find, and knocks that it may be opened unto it.246 For faith achieves what the law commands fides namque impetrat quod lex imperat. And, without the gift of God–that is, without the Holy Spirit, through whom love is shed abroad in our hearts–the law may bid but it cannot aid jubere lex poterit, non juvare.”
Our faith works through our love and love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The logic “we just have to love people” is a lie, or at best only a partial truth. Our love is an outworking of our faith and hope in a God that truly changes things and heals hearts and minds.
I too am guilty of treating the “Janes” I come across without really engaging in relationship building. Yet I am praying that God will help me love the seemingly unlovable. As it gets hotter and hotter here in South Florida, I’m keeping bottles of water to give to those I meet. Another good idea is to keep hygiene kits to distribute directly, or donate to shelters, a list of what to include can be found here.
 Augustine’s Enchiridion Chapter 31, point 117. Found online here http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/augustine_enchiridion_02_trans.htm#C31