Love and Things

NIRV gives us ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’, as its translation of I Corinthians 13.7:  πάντα στέγει, πάντα πιστεύει, πάντα ἐλπίζει, πάντα ὑπομένει.

When this wonderful chapter was read in church recently, that ‘always’ woke me up, jarring with my memory which is based on the KJV and RSV. I missed the repeated ‘all’ in those versions and their thingness: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

Is the NIRV wrong?

I don’t think ‘panta’ means ‘always’. 

I have a feeling – and I will risk the subjectivity – that ‘always’ here directs us to think of love as a quality of an agent, as an always loving character. 

By contrast, ‘love bearing all things’, etc, draws attention to what love has to deal with, work through, is up against. It thus grounds the sentiment in a practice wider than personal development. It saves the text from being an exhortation to be ‘loving person’ … which may lead to cultivating a lovable personality, regardless of circumstances. That would be a move far too close to the quest, which is popular in churches and elsewhere, to cultivate peace in the mind in the midst of an unpeaceful world. It is, I think, spiritual and human evasion, quite distant from any pilgrim intention and constancy. 

Who would true valour see,

Let him come hither;

One here will constant be

Come wind, come weather.

There’s no discouragement

Shall make him once relent

His first avowed intent

To be a Pilgrim.

Who so beset him round

With dismal stories,

Do but themselves confound,

His strength the more is.

No lion can him fright,

He’ll with a giant fight,

But he will have a right

To be a Pilgrim.

Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend

Can daunt his spirit;

He knows he at the end

Shall life inherit.

Then fancies fly away,

He’ll fear not what men say,

He’ll labour night and day

To be a pilgrim.

(John Bunyan, 1628-1688)

Real love in the world shoulders the load, and battles against the tide. It does not cultivate a personality. Like the Servant of the Lord, it suffers having no form or comeliness that we should look at it – Isa 53.2 – but it does bear things, hopes and believes through, and comes through. Love lives, love does not run away from life.

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