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Part Four: Final thoughts

We have spoken about love for the Bible. But let me lift up the larger aspect of this love and refer you toward the end, to one of the most beloved passages in the beloved book: I Corinthians 13, the … Read More

By / January 7, 2008

We have spoken about love for the Bible. But let me lift up the larger aspect of this love and refer you toward the end, to one of the most beloved passages in the beloved book: I Corinthians 13, the Ode to Love. Here Paul has to deal with the question, How can diversity and pluralism be an asset instead of a liability? How can we learn, as some of the feminist theologians have taught us, to turn the old statement around and say, How much diversity do we need? How much unity can we afford? We are used to asking, Can the center hold? How much unity do we need? How much diversity can we allow? Paul has an image that love is measured by how much diversity can handle. And he had to learn it hard, because in Galatia, in an earlier part of his ministry, he thought that by stamping his foot, he could get his way. You remember what he says in Galatians I: If anybody preaches and teaches otherwise than I do, be it so an angel form heaven, damned be that one. That's chutzpah. But now he knows in Corinth that he is one of the many, and he is even, perhaps, low man on the totem pole, so he gets ecumenical. It's so moving. Oh, how I love that book which tells me these things. It's so moving: he says that we now see like in an old-fashioned bad mirror, in a glass, darkly. And now our knowledge is only partial. That's called relativism. It is when he thinks about the diversity that he has to tell us: Don't be so cocky about the truth. You have your insights, but you are just at the beginnings. And then he ends by saying, so there remains those three: faith, hope, and love, and greatest of them is faith. Well, that's what he should have said, according to his own thinking. The basic line: He is the apostle of faith, everything depends on faith. But here, suddenly, there is a breakthrough in his thinking, and he says: And the greatest of these is love, agape, esteem of the other, not "insisting on its own way," as the RSV puts it.

So, it is proper for me to end these five points where the Bible teaches us to deal with it-as a friend, not to give it honor by just inflating it, but to hear it as that strange way in which the divine has broken in through human thought and human words and human experience. Finally, let me leave you with a word which is the one that, in my own long love relationship to this book, I want to have in my mind when my end comes. It reads, in 2 Corinthians 3:18, like this: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the spirit."

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