Too late for Valentine’s day, but here’s another of my many ranty mental meanders. This one starts with a Bible verse. Not big on Bible things? No worries. Got the source material right here:
Corinthians 13:4-7 New International Version (NIV)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Yeah. That right there is The Most Popular Wedding Reading In History. (don’t go all facty-citey on me. It’s called hyperbole.)
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: If you adore this particular bit of bible wisdom, I suggest you stop now and go look at something else, because it’s okay to agree to disagree, but I have MAJOR issues with this passage and its use as “accepted wisdom” advice about love.
Not that I’m against love. Far from it. Thirty-odd years ago now I indulged in a wedding myself and am still married, still ridiculously in love with my superhero Spouseman. In addition to being a marriage veteran, I’m also a sappy lover of romances and happy endings. (Heh. I wrote “happy endings,” heheheheh. Ahem.) Anyway, I love love.
But I loathe that whole passage packed with advice about What Love Is. Not because it’s about love. Because it gets love WRONG, insisting love is about always anything, and so its use in a marriage ceremony is BEYOND WRONG.
The usual defense of 1 Corinthians rests on the foundation of “Oh, well, this passage isn’t insisting people be perfect. It is setting out the ideals to which couples should aspire. Of course God knows we’re going to fail, but we’re supposed to try hard & ask forgiveness when we fail.
I CALL BULLSHIT. Not about the asking forgiveness part. (You might have to do that a lot in a loving relationship.) I’m talking about the essential interpretation. 1 Corinthians is not advice for couples. It’s about religious love. God love. Not people love.
How do I know?
I’ve read that whole danged book, and it’s as clear as day that 1 Corinthians is a letter to a congregation, not a couple. It spells out in no uncertain terms that it’s about God’s love. The writer (Saint Paul, for those interested) is reassuring a group of people that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved because God’s love will shore them up. Its whole point is specifically that they will never be judged unworthy for failing because God is the only perfection there is.
Now, belief in God aside, this blows the whole, “ideals” defense out of the water. It’s taking an inspirational team coaching speech with the message “Yes, you’ll screw up, but don’t beat yourself down, it’s okay,” and turning it into an aggravating, “This is what love is, so if you aren’t doing these things you don’t really love your partner and/or you are a failure. But no pressure because God loves even total screw-ups.”
Better than a sharp stick in the eye (I suppose) but hardly inspirational or even aspirational. It’s setting couples up for a lot of poisonous powerplay arguments that start with, “IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME THEN YOU WOULD_______________”
Those rarely end well. Advice that promotes bitter divisiveness is not good marriage advice in my not so very humble opinion.
Because ya know that whole “to err is human” thing? That’s reality. We are flawed. We are imperfect. We will screw up. It’s in the blueprints. We all make mistakes full stop.
So to say that love is always be this or that or does anything at all without mistakes is…dangerous at best. It says mistakes mean it isn’t really love…
…which is baloney, as anyone who has had to pick up their spouse’s socks or put down a toilet seat or transport abandoned dishes from bedroom to kitchen for the millionth time knows. If I get envious, if I get angry, if I doubt or shirk my responsibilities to my partner, it doesn’t mean I don’t love them. It simply means I’m human.
Human love is as infinitely individual as we are, so there cannot be a single perfect iteration of it. A thing I do not need in my life is another righteous lecture on The Only Way To Do A Thing.
Me, I want a passage about how love is telling jokes and doing laundry, tolerating toenail clippings and holding the line against dirty clothes on the kitchen table. Love is trying hard to avoid hurting and letting go of old hurts, it is being honest about likes and dislikes, and about valuing the needs and joys of someone else.
Love is complicated. Love is compromise. It ebbs and flows like the tide, and it does not demand or require perfection. That’s my version, at least. Someone else’s might be entirely different.
I still cherish the look on our pre-marriage counselor’s face when I went on a rant about that verse when it was brought up as a possible reading for our ceremony. Startled does not begin to describe his expression. Gobsmacked comes close.
Understandable, of course. He was a priest. An Episcopal priest, to be sure, but still. PRIEST. Ripping apart popular Bible verses is just not a thing one does in front of members of the clergy.
Of course one usually doesn’t petition the busy, important bishop of a diocese to perform marriage ceremonies either. (Never occurred to me to be intimidated until too late. Story of my life.) Hey, he’d been a chaplain at the summer camp where I worked, and my parish had no priest in residence at the time, so I had to ask someone. Turns out he loved doing weddings but no one had asked him in forever because he was a Bishop…
ANYway. After realizing I was dropping a Bible rant on a priest I sat waiting for him to shake his head in disappointment or maybe kick us out of the church office. (Soon-to-be-Spouseman was not at all shocked by me going off like a rocket. He was mildly amused. Go figure.)
Did we get chastised or “corrected?” Nope.
The priest in question found the attitude quite refreshing and mentioned h’d given like, six sermons in his career discussing that point in far more scholarly terms.
Ah, sweet, sweet vindication. 1 Corinthians is NOT advice about how to properly exercise mortal love, and couples mistaking it as such only set themselves up to fail.
I can’t even remember what set me off on this particular road of remembrance, but here we are. End of another long meander.
Go forth and love as impatiently & proudly or as kindly and softly as you damned well please.
2 responses to “What about love…a late & slightly obscure rant”
I love your biblical observations, actually. So much of what we ‘know’ about scripture is filtered through western (particularly American) culture, which inevitably changes focus and meaning.
I am so glad you enjoy my meanderings