The Inconsistency of Love
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Again revisiting Paul’s passage on love, he describes in detail the nature and characteristics of this emotion. In verses 4-7, he describes love as “patient and kind” and also as an emotion that “rejoices in truth” while bearing, believing, and enduring all things. For my part, I am continually challenged by this portion of the passage. In my experience (albeit the experience of a confessed cynic) I have not found love to be any of these things. To me, love is often impatient, cruel, short-lived, fleeting, and highly envious. It can encourage fixation and possessiveness to radical degrees. Okay, perhaps I’m hyperbolizing slightly, but love can oftentimes be an unpleasant, distressing emotion to experience. For me, it is inconsistent.
For Paul though, love is the most consistent, essential feeling possible. It is the feeling that binds all reality together. When Paul extols the virtues of love, he is actually referring to agape: a form of sacrificial, all-encompassing love that resembles Christ’s gracious consideration for humanity. It is the quintessential expression of God’s genuine care and concern for us. In fact many people's perceptions of God are grounded in 1 John 4:8 where the writer exclaims “God is love.” Therefore, the qualities and characteristics of love that Paul lists here are the same as those found in God. As an exercise, quickly substitute the word “love” with “God” every time you see it in verses 4 to 7. Undoubtedly, the verses now lists qualities that a believer would associate with God- patient, kind, rejoicing in truth, not envious but generous.
Now, for the sake of another exercise, in those same verses substitute the word “love” with the word “people” or “persons.” I will make the bold assumption that those qualities are not what you would associate with people or persons. People are rude, impatient, mean, boastful, arrogant, possessive, controlling, and obnoxious. However, can they not also exhibit those same virtues that we would associate with God? It is never one or the other with people. In all of our relationships we experience both the qualities of love and their polar opposites when encountering human beings. We encounter the best and worst that human beings have to offer in our relationships with one another. People are inconsistent, which is perhaps why my experience of love is so inconsistent as well.
Love can be a troubling, perplexing emotion that calls out our best, but can sometimes tempt us to our worst selves. Paul’s description here is a gentle reminder of the qualities we seek in love, in God, and in other people. Unfortunately, people are not like God in that they are inconsistent in exemplifying these virtues. By extension, love can become a compromising affair as we struggle to steer ourselves amidst the shards and barbs that our frail human conditions can pose to one another. However, we can never be without love; as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
DQ: Where are the spaces in your life where you can be more “consistent” in exemplifying God’s love? How can we as a community of faith better strive to exemplify the consistency of God’s love to others?
See more devotions from Kyle and our other Young Adult writers, or find our how you can become a writer yourself at our By Young Adults for Young Adults devotion page.