Let the Children Come to Me

· Ethics,Love,Bible

Everyone knows the “love chapter” in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It has been read at nearly every wedding I have attended – even my own.

A side story: I remember kindly asking my father, who co-officiated my wedding, not to read 1 Corinthians 13 because I didn’t think the love it describes was limited to (or even focused on) romantic or spousal love. It’s about the nature of love in general, I insisted! With my soon-to-be husband, I picked out other passages that I thought were more appropriate, one from Song of Songs and another from Tobit. Leave it to my dad to find a way to include it in his sermon!

There’s something about this love chapter that keeps us coming back to it. Perhaps it is Pauls clarity in describing what love is and what love is not. Love is a high call but it’s not unattainable.

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; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4–8a)

Paul says that love is the greatest thing we can receive from God and give to others:

And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

And no language or knowledge or conviction or sacrifice is worth anything without love:

If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3)

There are other verses in this chapter that strike me in a new way today.

But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part, but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:8b–11)

Now, we know that Paul is writing to a group of Christ followers who are not mature in their faith. Contextually, these words make sense. “Stop acting like children!” Paul says. “Grow up!”

But then comes verse 12:

For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Even if we put our childish ways behind us, even if we act like adults, we can’t see or know or be everything about love. Reflections are only two-dimensional. They don’t capture the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love (Ephesians 3:18).

Isn’t that part of what makes love so hard to carry out?

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. Things seemed much clearer to me as a child than they do now. Of course love is patient! Of course love is kind! Of course it’s forgiving! Of course it tries to find ways to a better future! What else could love be?

As an adult, I still agree Pauls description of love. I still believe he speaks the truth. But the “Of course” part is much harder to get across my lips.

I’m not saying that children are perfect love. You and I can cite many examples of unloving words and acts we have done as children. I am saying that, at a certain age, there is an innocence that frames our understanding of things – a straightforwardness uncorrupted by the complexities of the goings-on of the world. It’s these complexities that get in the way of seeing how love can overcome what Paul calls the “nothing” of unlove.

How can I forgive a person who is hurting someone I love over and over again?

Aren’t there times when records of wrongs are necessary to protect society from harmful people?

How much pain can I ask someone else to endure, even for the sake of love?

Love seems far more complicated to me now than it used to. I don’t think that was the point Paul was trying to make at the time. But it is what I hear in the words of Jesus.

Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs. (Matthew 19:14)

I wish I could be a grownup with a childlike view of the “of course-ness” of love. That may be the closest we come to an understanding of the multi-dimensional nature of love.