I want to say something with which the ages, the sages, the spiritual mentors, and conventional wisdom will disagree: love is not the answer, or the greatest, or all we need. Forgiveness is.
I’ve been playing with Christian scripture, messing with the words to support my thesis. Every time I do it, I come away wanting to say, “See, there you go. It just makes sense now, doesn’t it?” What I’ve done is switch the words. If the verse is about love, then I substitute forgiveness. If it’s about forgiveness, then I read it as love. Why? Because love is so hard to define. It’s misused, overused, and misunderstood. Forgiveness, on the other hand, well, you can hang your hat on it.
Try a few*:
A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
He responded, “You must
loveforgive the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and loveforgive your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29)
Unpack that some. Start at the top, with God. I’m supposed to
love forgive God? Loving Forgiving God is too big to wrap my head around. Thankfully, Jesus makes it easier by basically saying, “Yeah, I know. Here’s how you do it.”
Channeling RuPaul (“If you don’t
love forgive yourself, how in the hell you gonna love forgive somebody else?”), Jesus says that the way to love forgive God is to love forgive yourself and others. In other words, love forgive what God loves forgives.
love forgive yourself is a whole other subject-post-book. Suffice it to say that love forgiveness of self is undoubtedly required if you’re going to love forgive anyone else or, for that matter, God.
loving forgiving others? In the verses that follow, Jesus goes on to tell a story about a guy who helps out another guy, neither of whom would be caught dead associating with the other, like a conservative helping a liberal, a democrat helping a republican, a homophobe helping a drag queen. Our “neighbor” isn’t the person who lives next door, but is the person we’re most likely not to like. That’s who Jesus says we should love forgive in order to have life.
Here’s another one:
Peter came up to the Lord and asked, “How many times should I
forgivelove someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?”
Jesus answered: Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times! (Matthew 18:21-22)
Peter thinks he’s being cute. He knows that seven is the perfect number, so what he’s really saying is, “Hey Jesus! Look how smart I am! We’re supposed to love
forgive each other all the time.” Jesus affirms this by replying, “Yep! Infinity!” And then they both have a good laugh and head over to Mary and Martha’s for some fresh matza balls.
If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have
loveforgiveness, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have loveforgiveness, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have loveforgiveness, I receive no benefit whatsoever.
LoveForgiveness is patient, loveforgiveness is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. LoveForgiveness puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.
LoveForgiveness never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things. Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. Now faith, hope, and love and forgiveness remain—these threefour things—and the greatest of these is… (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
I’ll let you decide what the greatest of these is.
*All scripture quotations are free the Common English Bible.