St. Valentine’s Day has come and gone.
Heart shaped balloons lie
deflating in the rubbish bin.
The gym is full of people
frantic to work off the extra pounds
that a thoughtful box of chocolates
has added to the waistline.
The teddy bear
with “I wuv you” written on its chest
has fallen irretrievably under the bed.
Does love really last for ever,
because whatever St. Valentine’s Day stands for
doesn’t seem to!
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity,
but the greatest of these is charity.”
Modern translations of course say “faith, hope, love… but the greatest of these is love.”
Is love really the same as charity,
or are we being misled?
C.S. Lewis points out
that we can easily confuse different meanings
of the word “love”.
“I love Paris in the spring”,
“I love my cat.”
“I love my wife.”
“God so loved the world”.
The first three ideas make sense to us,
but does the fourth?
Do we know what it means
when we hear about the love of God?
Is it at all like human love?
St John tells us that God is Love.
This same word is also used in the commandments
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,”
and “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”.
Clearly we are meant to love each other in the same way.
That poses a bit of a problem for us.
God is love,
and we know that God is beyond anything
we human beings can even begin to understand.
How on earth are we meant to love
in the same way that God does?
Since God is Eternal,
His love for us cannot have
any conditions attached.
He loves us for who we really are,
regardless of what we do.
That love has been there
since before we were born,
or even thought of.
Our existence has been planned by God
from outside our understanding of Time or Space.
The things that we do
simply do not affect
the love that God has for us.
St Paul tells us that it doesn’t matter
whether we can communicate great ideas,
it doesn’t matter whether we are wise,
it doesn’t matter whether we are able
to make sacrifices of our possessions
or our very self.
These things are not Eternal,
they will all pass away,
rot or be forgotten about.
Our best deeds,
our greatest achievements,
our wealth and acquisitions
– all will die with our bodies.
They do not possess the character of Eternity.
If what we have means anything at all,
it has to have love
– unconditional love,
the love that comes from Eternity.
Human beings don’t do unconditional love very well.
“I love Paris in the spring!”
But what about the winter?
“I love my cat!”
But what if that cat then kills your pet budgie?
“I love my wife”
But many marriages end in divorce these days.
There always seem to be conditions.
St Paul knows that this unconditional love
is both very near us,
but always just out of our capability.
So he tells us what this love, this charity, is like.
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind;
charity envieth not;
charity vaunteth not itself,
is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly,
seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked,
thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity,
but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things,
believeth all things,
hopeth all things,
endureth all things.
Charity never faileth:”
Notice that we can replace
the word “charity”
with the word “God”
and the whole thing still makes sense.
We know that an action is godly because
it is patient, kind,
without pride and arrogance and lewdness.
An action is filled with that unconditional love
if it is selfless, tolerant,
thinks the best of people
but doesn’t give wickedness the time of day.
It is honest,
hopes for the best and puts up
with whatever is thrown at it.
This is the love that God is,
but are we completely incapable of showing this love?
God has made us in His own image
and He commands us to love.
This means that Love is part of our existence,
part of our being,
part of our creation.
We haven’t just been created because God loves us,
we have been created to be love
and to extend that love into the world.
We may indeed have marred the image of God in us
through our sins,
but it is not obliterated.
God is part of our existence
and so love is still there
beneath the scratches and darkness of the glass.
We can indeed love
and love well if we follow St Paul’s advice.
We may not get it perfectly,
but we can make a big difference
if we learn to marry our actions
with the love which is in us by our creation.
Lent should be our time for taking stock.
Perhaps it might pay us
to learn those qualities of love off by heart
so that we can measure our actions against them,
If we say that we are human,
but have no love,
then we are truly nothing at all.