"And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13
Faith. Hope. Love. We hear about these all the time. This particular verse from Saint Paul frequently serves as the exclamation point concluding the passage preceding it at weddings. "Love is patient... love is kind... it does not boast." But why is love the greatest of these three?
FAITH is a gift from God. But it is also, mysteriously, something that requires some degree of effort on our part. It is a choice - a commitment to the will of someone other than myself. This is something we oftentimes don't entirely want to do because nearly every cultural influence around us insists that we ought to spend our lives seeking self-satisfaction.
That's where HOPE comes in. Living a life of faith is very hard work. It's downright terrifying sometimes. We need to trust that God has a plan, even if we can't see what that plan is. Hope is not optimism: "No biggie! It'll all work out somehow and everyone will be happy and nice to each other and we'll all go out for ice cream!" The fact is, most of the time, life doesn't work that way. Life sometimes sucker punches us in the stomach and we can't breathe or see any sense in the suffering we and our fellow human beings face. Hope is much, much deeper than that. It's a freely chosen, committed trust in the only One who really knows what's ultimately going on and where things are headed.
And that brings us to the greatest of the three "Theological Virtues" as they're known in the Christian tradition. LOVE. I've said it before and I'll keep on saying it until God calls me home, mostly because I myself need the constant reminder. Love is not a feeling. It is not an emotion. It isn't even a "power" or some vague experience of destiny. Love is the greatest of the three because love is the only one of the three that is a PERSON... Three Persons, to be exact.
"God is love" (1 John 4:8). God doesn't just havelove for us. He isn't merely a loving Creator. He is love. He is by nature perfect self-gift, and because He is perfect He can truly, perfectly give His entire self away as gift. His self-sacrifice is literally infinite. It knows no bounds and it cannot be damaged or destroyed by anything. The only thing that can stop this love is our choice to refuse to let it transform our hearts and our minds. God's love for us is so perfect that He will never force us to choose Him - that's coercion, not true love.
So, by His good grace I hope that I can pray this each day:
"Dearest LORD, please break down the barriers I've placed between Yourself and me. Lord - make Yourself at home in my heart, and may the love that is Your own presence spill over from my life into the lives of everyone I meet. Amen!"