What does the apostle Paul mean in 1 Cor 13:7 when he says Love “believes all things”? Everyone who has ever commented on this verse qualifies it with this: Paul is not saying be gullible or foolish or believe anything and everything.
Still, the line is powerful one: “love believes all things.” Those who know Greek may remember that Paul begins everything in v. 7 with the Greek word panta (all things or always). So, in English it can look like this:
All things love endures.
All things love believes.
All things love hopes.
All things love remains.
You could replace it with “always” and then it looks like this:
Always love endures.
Always love believes.
Always love hopes.
Always love remains.
Clearly #1 and #4 are almost synonymous, and that suggests the same for #2 and #3, leading us to think Paul means love believes as it hopes. In other words, a characteristic of love is that trusts and believes rather than mistrusts and misbelieves. Or, perhaps better, love doesn’t let us become cynical and skeptical. Instead, love never ceases to have faith as it never loses hope.
What do you think Paul means?
But that leads us to the question of how this works itself out.
This line from Paul, that love always believes or believes all things (or always), reminds me of an incredible short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer (I.B. Singer) called “Gimpel the Fool.” You can read it in The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer (you can read it online here). Everyone in Gimpel’s village, Frampol, takes Gimpel for a fool because he takes everyone at their word. His wife cheats on him so his children are not really his own, though he believes they are; he believes his wife when he says the man Gimpel saw in the bed was in his dreams. Even the local rabbi gets in on the act of making Gimpel the fool by playing with words. Gimpel comes off in this story as rejected by all, completely filled with integrity and grace and belief, and in the end he is the one who is vindicated. In a world of slippery words and treacherous lies, Gimpel’s rugged commitment to trust the words of others stands out as a unique and solitary person. Better to be the fool who trusts than to participate in evil for a moment. Something like that is an element of this story.
Is this what Paul had in mind? If not, what then did Paul have in mind? How does one practice what Paul says when he says “love believes all things/always”?