Thursday, May 27, 2010

Love comes before understanding

Our Scriptures this week are 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and Philippians 1:3-11.

I liked how these two segments of Paul’s letters work together to say something about the role of emotion and wisdom in building a relationship with God. In writing to the early believers in Corinth, Paul reminds them of his initial interactions with the community. He writes that he spoke to them of Jesus and the crucifixion, full of fear, trembling, and weakness. He remembers that he did not come using “lofty words” or persuasive rhetoric, but rather let God’s power take center stage.

In his letter “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi,” Paul tells of his great joy in praying for them and how they hold him so closely in their hearts. He prays that their “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight” (Phil. 1:9) as they come closer to Jesus and God.

These passages taken together, Paul seems to be saying that an emotional connection with God takes primacy over well reasoned logic. Emotions, whether knee-weakening fear or overflowing love, pave the way for us to connect to God’s power. Paul says to the Corinthians that a slick speech would have distracted from the message he was bringing. The humble approach he used allowed for their faith to “rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). He wanted them to come to Jesus not because he was a good speaker but because his message was so powerful.

In the prayer for the Philippians, we see how emotion leads the way to understanding. But this time it’s not the painful emotions of fear and weakness, but joy and love. The joy Paul feels for his friends and the love of the community provide a basis for their continued learning and growing understanding of God. I might be putting words into Paul’s mouth (or letters into his pen, as it were), but I think he might have thought that building a relationship with God follows this path: 1) experience the pure power of God’s message, 2) come to love one another as your love for God grows, and 3) human wisdom of will God will follow.

Or, put another way, love comes before understanding.

With love and hope,



Jeremy said...

I'm going to use this interesting post (yes, I'm biased) to go one step further and attempt to suggest a potential loop in logic.

A big question (unanswerable, most likely) is how to figure out which wisdom we're leaning on - our own or God-inspired. Of course, it is a balancing act/gray area/fluctuating situation as we experience each situation in connection with those of the future and past (i.e. "life"). But that isn't really an answer.

If we are acting within God's love and wisdom, shouldn't the result be "right" and good? How far into the future does this lead, and how far reaching does it go? Even if we are led (as much as we can tell) by mercy and love (which are certainly of God), how can we tell if it is God's wisdom? Maybe an act of love and mercy in one moment enables (or encourages) harmful actions later? A classic example would be stopping a child from touching something painfully hot.

Okay, Jeremy, you say, you're being annoying. (Yes) Of course there are gradations to this. Possibilities are pretty much infinite for a act of love and mercy to go one way or the other. You're essentially asking us to be able to predict how our actions and interactions play out on a macro and micro level. Even inaction can be merciful and, more likely, harmful (as we see everyday).

Which brings me back to the thought Susan suggests here (and mentioned last week): We just can't know for sure. No amount of proof or assurance will ultimately satisfy us or assure us. We can only love (which can be seen as a higher form of trust) and allow understanding to unfold (though it may be a painfully long time coming).

Loving without understanding sounds like a foolish thing to do - maybe that is one of the things songwriter Rich Mullins means when he sings, "If we can reach beyond the wisdom of this age, into the foolishness of God - that foolishness will save."

Susan Foutz said...

Very interesting Jeremy