A while back (as in a few years) a friend of mine asked me what I thought about Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13 that “love always trusts.” Conveniently, at that time I was in the middle of reading through that letter written to the church in Corinth. One thing that had struck me about the thirteenth chapter was how we usually use it in a wrong context. Two chapters before, Paul discusses unity within a group of people, focuses on the Lord’s Supper, examines different talents we each bring to a community, and then talks about love. The way he segues into chapter thirteen implies he’s still talking about community—not just two people—when writing about love. Knowing that, the poignancy of what he’s saying increases tremendously.
Chaos would ensue in a community without love, but even so, that love must contain trust. For example, if a church merely loved the idea of their pastor or their elders or, really, each other, but didn’t trust any of those people, everything they’d want to build would collapse in no time. Love is one of the defining qualities of unity; it is what draws people together and brings them in under one commonality, and within that there must be trust. You can see this when Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector both follow Christ. Simon would’ve taken any chance possible to kill a guy like Matthew, but he doesn’t because something is greater. Something has removed the chaos, and that’s Christ’s love and perspective. Trust is vividly a part of this picture because for Simon and Matthew to put aside their differences and be peaceful towards one another? Well, it shows just how much they trust Christ. They’re willing to move beyond prejudices because they trust Jesus knows what he’s doing. He has become great; they have become less.
And even though Paul isn’t talking about romantic love in 1 Corinthians 13, this same idea of trust applies to it also. One of my professors in college made the point that if one night his wife isn’t home when she usually is and still isn’t home three hours past when she normally walks in the door, other than being worried he’s not going to be suspicious. He’s not going to think she’s out having an affair because he said, “I trust her implicitly. My thoughts don’t even go anywhere near that assumption.” Because of this they can (and do) have a solid marriage.
This issue of trust affects entire families. Imagine what would happen if a family’s “love” for one another didn’t contain trust; think of the hatred and frustration that would explode out of that. It doesn’t matter how much a person says they love somebody; love without trust is a bastardization of God’s greatest gift. Quite simply, it ceases to be itself.
Trusting in someone, though, is frightening, and that’s usually when people might try to counteract this move towards trust by bringing in Scripture that emphasizes shrewdness. The “fool” in Proverbs comes to mind, but it’s important not to harp on that too much. Jesus said, “If you know me, you’ll know my Father,” and judging from what we know about Jesus it was that he was anything but shrewd. Thus, we can connectively believe that the shrewd side of God also greatly pales in comparison to his attributes of love and trust.
This then begs the question: “Wasn’t Christ shrewd, though, in some areas?” Yes and no. He didn’t let just anyone into his inner fold when he hand-selected twelve men to be his disciples. But, then again, he also picked for that group one guy who would betray him, one who would deny him three times, and ten others who would run for their lives during his darkest hours. That doesn’t seem like he made a very shrewd choice of twelve men. Some may try to argue Jesus didn’t trust them completely, but reading the Gospels confirms to me that Christ trusted them wholeheartedly, especially when you consider the things with which the disciples were entrusted (like building his Church). Still, though, this doesn’t mean such trust is easy for us.
Putting one’s guard down enough to the point you can completely give your trust over to someone is a frightening concept. And it can backfire. I learned this the hard way in college while helping a guy out in Arkansas, whom I will refer to as Buckwheat. I caught him telling me significant lies my senior year, and he would blow it off like it wasn’t a big deal, which prompted me to get in his face and yell so he understood how serious it was. Now, if someone were to ask me in that moment, “Do you love Buckwheat?” what am I to say to them? This is a difficult impasse for me. Usually I say that I love Buckwheat, but do I? Because, after all, he showed me he can’t be trusted—at least, not completely. If the trust between the two of us has been broken, am I even capable of loving since love always trusts?
This is extremely taxing, and I think Paul answers why just a few verses into 1 Corinthians 13 when he says, “We know in part.” In short, we don’t get it. We have gaps in both our knowledge and our ability to understand. It’s why wide gulfs of distance appear between parents and children. It’s why marriages crumble. It’s why churches fall apart.
I don’t know that God is trying to emphasize to us the message of shrewdness. I don’t think that’s his point. I think that might be just us hearing what we want to hear and not what we know deep down we need to do.
It tells me this: Lean on God’s ability to love with a love that always trusts. “Love always trusts” means that if next Sunday a pastor gets up in front of his church and admits to marital infidelities, the congregation continues to love him because that is what they are called to do and continues to put their hope in the fact that God knows what he’s doing. In other words, they continue to trust God’s love will carry them through. That doesn’t mean consequences won’t be there for that pastor or that this church won’t need some time to heal. It simply means that leaning on God with that trust is absolutely vital. Why? Because whenever we enter this conundrum of love and the trust it must show, pain will inevitably come.
C. S. Lewis, writing about his wife’s death, notes how when we open ourselves up to relationships and love, we concomitantly invite in pain. You will get hurt in some way when you attach yourself to other people. Anything can happen: infidelity, injury, stress, lies, circumstances of life, hurt feelings. But what if none of those happen? There will still be one hurt that is unavoidable—that of loss. Alfred Tennyson experienced this exact pain when his closest friend died, and In Memoriam is a lengthy series of poems within which he works through his grief. Towards the end he comes to the conclusion it is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all. When we open ourselves up to other people we will, at some point, invite in pain. But the reward will far outweigh it.
And this is true. Despite all of the pain and setbacks a friendship with Buckwheat entailed, the rewards still outshone them. For every lie that came from him, something else showed me how he is worthy of love. Buckwheat’s humanity overrode all of it. I still consider him one of my greatest friends. Do I love him perfectly? No, I never will be able to. When I ever get married, I won’t be able to love Sally perfectly, either. But then again, that expectation is not there. Why?
Because Paul presents ideals in the thirteenth chapter, directing the attention of the church in Corinth towards the way God loves. Consider how often Israel failed God, and yet, he would still reveal himself to them and draw near to them by entrusting these people with the task of, well, being his people period. God shows us an untainted example of what it means to trust in love; it is our job to emulate to the best of our abilities. Some people have a better handle on this than others; for them it just comes naturally to be able to love and trust people wholeheartedly. For others, they see an inherent risk in such a life approach and cringe at the possibility of being that vulnerable.
I believe this typifies the constant struggle in the human psyche of risk versus security. People want an adventuresome life, want to try new things, and want to have spontaneity and surprises waiting for them, but they also want to have security in there as well. I suppose a balance is needed, but it is all too easy to just seek safety all of the time. A love that trusts in God’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will” does not seek security in every situation, for we already find it in Christ.
And this is why the ability to show people a love that always trusts cannot happen until we give over that same love to God (life, after all, is cyclical in nature). If it seems like there is something so ambiguous about doing that, there is. I can’t see God, I can’t touch him, and yet I am to trust him with everything. Such submission almost seems ridiculous to the point I feel perpetually weak, which might not be so bad.
With this entire topic as a backdrop, Christ’s words in John become even more earnest: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We are rather incapable of ever impacting someone’s life unless we, too, exemplify the love Jesus had, which sounds like a simplistic Sunday school lesson, but what is not so trivial is the realization of how that love requires us to let down our guard like Christ did and let others inside our lives. That asks us to show an eerie amount of trust that isn’t always appealing, especially in this private, guarded Western culture of ours. But it’s still necessary to do.
Christ made himself nothing in order to reach people at all places, all levels of human existence. To make oneself nothing implies defenselessness, a removing of walls, and a showing of true colors—a sort of, “Here I am on a bare-bones level. You can take it or leave it.” And some people did “leave it,” walking away from Jesus (his hometown doing so no less). Some couldn’t take it. But many were drawn to him like magnets. I strongly believe many of the nameless people in the crowds mentioned in the Gospels had never experienced a love like that before, one that was so impactful they couldn’t keep from trusting in it.
I don’t know if Paul is necessarily saying, “You have to get this right or else.” He’s simply outlining what true love is—the way in which God administers it. We’re not capable of attaining such perfection, but we have a model for it.
That trust may feel blind a lot of the time . . . because it should. That’s the point. It wouldn’t be trust if it didn’t have an element of blindness to it. That leap of faith may frustrate and cause stress, but even that may be something for which to be thankful because that might be the sign of someone beginning to realize the serious enormity of it all. In the difficulty of it, though, one must not lose sight of how the base mandate is that we are to do it, we are to love. It’s intrinsically simple and yet difficult.
And how do we trust without losing perspective? Quite simply, we leave the overarching trust resting in Christ’s nail-riddled hands. People will fail us, and we will fail people, too, but by having that cornerstone of trust in the Divine, we will always have something to which we can return. By having that Rock from which our hope can be renewed, we will never view administering a love that always trusts as a ridiculous waste of the time God’s given us. It is, after all, what Christ spent all of his energy and life spirit doing; for us to imitate would not be pointless in any way.