I’ve written about overused, well-worn verses of the Bible before.
I’ve sometimes complained about them.
I’ve usually tried to be clever with them.
I’ve looked for something new to say from them.
I’ve rarely sat in awe of them.
This weekend, I was having a drink with some friends, and a brief, passing exchange in conversation caught my attention. Someone mentioned that they’d heard a view of God by which we must remember that his love is tempered by his anger and judgement. My instinctive response was to say that as soon as we’ve said ‘God’s love is tempered by…’, we must have gone very wrong. And conversation moved on.
But the thought stayed with me. I know in my head that I can’t overestimate the love of God. I can’t rein it in or mitigate its extravagance. As soon as I start to think, ‘could God really be so loving as to…?’ the answer is always yes, and a thousand times more loving than that. But knowing the theory doesn’t make much difference to anything, really.
The next day I went for a walk along a canal and settled myself on a bench. Just me and the fresh air, my Bible and my notebook, and the steady trickle of families walking off their Sunday lunches with happy, muddy Labradors in tow, and toddlers launching bread at the ducks.
Still mulling over the idea that God’s love can’t be tempered by anything, I opened 1 Corinthians 13, possibly the single most over-quoted passage in the whole Bible. For those not familiar, it’s a passage all about what love is. I remembered weddings I’d heard it read at, youth groups we’d studied it at…
…even the melodramatic time as a teenager when I wrote it all out again and again to fill a piece of paper and then shredded the paper, convinced I’d never be any good at loving anyone.
I thought about that timeless description of love. Patient. Kind. Not boastful. Not proud. Not dishonouring others. Not easily angered. Keeps no record of wrongs. Rejoices in truth. Protects. Trusts. Hopes. Perseveres.
I thought about the ways I’ve tried to be like that, the ways I find it so hard to be like that. The effort it takes to get close to loving anyone like that, no matter how lovable they are. The commitment it takes. The mediocre standards I’d expect from myself, or other people.
Human love. Broken love. Trying-hard love. Getting-it-wrong love. Small-victories love. Well-meaning-but-often-mistaken love. Patient-through-gritted-teeth love. My sort of love.
Then I tried a little experiment. If God is love, God is all those things. Not like I might try to be all those things, or want someone else to be all those things. No, God is those things in the way that only God is. That beautiful, perfect, full, complete, totally embodying way that God is the things he is.
So I read it again.
God is patient.
God is kind.
God does not envy.
God does not boast.
God does not dishonour others.
God is not self-seeking.
God is not easily angered.
God keeps no record of wrongs.
God does not delight in evil.
God always rejoices with the truth.
God always protects.
God always trusts.
God always hopes.
God always perseveres.
And I sat by the canal in awe of a God who is Love like we wouldn’t dare imagine.