The Truth Is, We Only Know Love In Part. But God Knows Love In Full!
This is the penultimate verse of the famous reflection on love from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. This chapter is often read at weddings, but the love that is being spoken of here far surpasses that of our earthbound, romantic view of love. That seems to be the point of this verse. We know only partially now, we see as if in a an imperfect mirror.
As faithful Christians, though we have come to know God through Jesus Christ, we are humble enough to know, too, that the greatness of God, the full knowledge of God in his infinite perfection, is far beyond us in our human condition. Our minds, as gifted as they are at coming to know great things, are not great enough, by their own light, to know God fully. Not yet. Paul uses the metaphor of a mirror here. In Paul’s day, mirrors were not like those that we know today. They were very imperfect and distorted an image more than reflecting it perfectly. We might think of a mirror fogged over with steam. We can see our vague image in it, but not clearly enough to recognize its complexities. While we are in the flesh, still encumbered by its imperfect weaknesses, we see imperfectly. But Paul reminds us, that if we believe, and have hope, and live in accord with God’s love, we will one day, see him perfectly, face to face.
Paul’s profound reflection on love in chapter 13, builds up to the statement that “Love never fails.” (verse 8) That is, “perfect” love never fails. God is that perfect love. Perfect love is always, “…patient, kind, never jealous, does not boast, is not proud. It does not speak ill of others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. It does not rejoice in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (verses 4-7) We know only too well how imperfect our knowledge and practice of love is, for what we call love often falls far short of the ideal expressed in Chapter 13. The truth is that, at present, we “know only in part,” but our present knowledge of God is buoyed by the gift of faith, and our faith is bolstered by our hope in God’s mercy and his grace, that one day we will see him face to face. What a profoundly joyful thought that is. We are being drawn toward perfect love each day, and one day, by the loving grace of God, we will know it perfectly.
Chapter 13 ends with the stunning statement that while the three theological virtues, In this life faith, hope, and love will remain with us, “but the greatest of these is Love.” (verse 13) Love’s superiority is expressed in this bold statement. These three things are interrelated and are more fundamental to our lives in Christ than any particular charism. Love is the operative force in both faith and hope. We believe because we have seen God’s love for us in Jesus, and we want to love him in return. Our faith is expressed, then, in our love for God and others. Our hope is rooted in our growing love for God, that one day we will know his love fully, perfectly, in his presence. Love, therefore, is the greatest of these, for it alone will last forever. When we are finally in the Real Presence of Love, in the heavenly kingdom, faith and hope will no longer be needed, for we shall know God fully, face to face, just as he has known and loved us fully since the moment of our conceptions. Thanks be to God!
Lord, we pray that you daily increase our faith, our hope, and our love for you, for our neighbors, and for ourselves. Give us the graces we need to love you more dearly, to serve you more generously, and to be your good disciples in this life. We pray these things in your holy name, Jesus. Amen!
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