Love is the greatest of the Theological virtues. 1 Corinthians 13 claim these three virtues remain, Faith, Hope, and Love. One though is the greatest of the three. So why do so many Christians emphasize faith as the primary virtue of the believer? There are many believers who castigate others due to a perceived lack of faith. Do we need more faith in order to finish a project? Does faith overcome fear? In the evangelical culture of the American South, many people with more secular goals will demand faith in their projects. They ask questions like, “Are you on board with the plan?” We need to trust their judgement, force of will, or “determination.” Faith and resolve are considered synonymous and heroic. Faith is a virtue. But Faith is not the greatest virtue. Love is a better way. Why?
Faith and Hope
Faith and Hope go together. I can hope tomorrow will be better. I have faith tomorrow will be better. What about today? I may have no faith in anything today. I can wish the day will be over hoping for a better tomorrow. Faith and hope are time focused. Hope has to do with today and the future. Faith can be past, present, and future.
C.S. Lewis points out the greatest historic and present day evils either were or are done in the name of the future. Vengeance is always focused on the past. Esau despises Jacob for taking his birthright in a moment of weakness and stealing his blessing by way of deception. He decides to wait until the death of their father Isaac for his revenge. Past harm will be the justification of future evil. Later in the story we see faith does not overcome the fear Jacob has when he meets with his brother decades later.
Love Is Present
Love does not look to the past or the future. The present time is the time love can happen. The present time is the time that is most like eternity. “Charity never ends.” People often express their practice of charity in this sense of the present. A person who says I will give to the poor next Christmas is not practicing charity or love. Only the person helping the poor now does. Jefferson’s famous resolve to free his slaves never freed a slave. It was future focused. One day I will… Is not the same sense as today I am. This is what is significant about Jesus’ bad grammar in John 8:58, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
God can only be in the present. Jesus does not claim he was there with Abraham. Nor does he claim Abraham glimpsed the presence of him in the future. Abraham rejoiced in his day as he experienced the presence of the Word in his day. He was neither sorrowful nor hopeful about the something he foresaw. He rejoices in what he sees in his day as the Day of the Lord. This is not easy to wrap our heads around. Love is in the present in the same way.
Practice Is Present
One person may write a check for someone else in the future to give food to the poor. Is this action love in action? It can be argued the person could be motivated by guilt to write the check or carry out any charitable act. Granted, that could be the case for that person. However, it is not what the people receiving the food experiences. Those people experience love from the gift. They do not share in the other person’s guilt. In the same way, the poor do not owe anything to the one’s giving the gift. They incur no guilt.
Charitable practice is always in the present. So a guilt-ridden person acting charitable is expressing love in some fashion. Love is greater because it is only ever in the present. Struggling for justice may look to the future. But actions taken in the present for or to other people are the means by which we achieve justice. Only just means bring peace with justice. Otherwise, we experience a paranoid state of being. Love keeps us from such fear.
Love Is Greater
When I listen to the reasons people give for dividing churches or leaving them entirely, I never hear anyone list “failure to love other people” as one of the faults of the church. It is our greatest failing. The stated reasons for the divisions are about doctrines or personality clashes. The reasons are sometimes stated as a failure to love “the truth.” We are all willing to argue over the love of truth. We may even argue about how to go about loving others. Yet, I still wait for someone to say, we are leaving over the failure to love other people. Most Christians never argue that is a good enough reason.
We may decide our faith was misplaced and still love in the here and now. It could be we see no way out of the darkness and still care for another person. We may have no idea what we will do tomorrow but feed people the meals to be given today. These are the reasons love is the greater virtue.