Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Greatest of These

The following is an entry written by The Professor.  It's a great deal more meaty than the usual babble we have around here.  So, put on your thinking caps, and i hope you enjoy!

It’s been a while since I have written much poetry. There was a time when I wrote a fair bit; I even took a course on contemporary American poetry in college. I still write some, but only on the (rare) occasions when 1) I am in a particular type of reflective mood, and 2) I have a good chunk of free time.

These two conditions were met one evening this past May. At that time, I did not have a full-time job, and it seemed like I would not have one for at least another year, if not more. There were many things about our situation then that made life extremely difficult. Reflecting on the long-gone past, the all-consuming present, and the ever-elusive future, I wrote the following:

Joys of the past passed too quickly
Pain perseveres in perpetual perdition

All that has failed is ever with me
All that is unfulfilled is ever before me

The future is not what it once was
Can it be restored? rescued? ransomed? redeemed?

---------------------- Deep longing.

Can slender faith salvage hope?
And what of the greatest of these?

I still remember some of the exact feelings and thoughts I had as I wrote some of these phrases and lines. Much of what I felt was quite hopeful, despite the general bleakness of the words. Many of the lessons I have learned in the last few years could perhaps be explained in reference to C.S. Lewis’ ideas concerning the relationship between joy and longing. That discussion, however, belongs to a different post that will probably never be written.

A few days ago I came across the sheet of paper on which I wrote this poem, and I saw that I also jotted down this line:

Today is torture when tomorrow is taken away.

It was this core idea that stood behind all of my reflections and writing that night. It would be hard to overestimate the extent to which our present situation is impacted and shaped by the past. Still, I believe that this impact is eclipsed by the influence of our view of the future.

Before I married my beautiful, talented, and loving bride, my father-in-law gave me some wise and practical advice. One of his suggestions was that relationships thrive when there is something to look forward to. It made sense at the time. Now I know the truth of it. I have had times where there were a great number of wonderful things to look forward to. And now I have also lived through a season where I saw nothing positive on the horizon; our hopes and dreams seemed to have been indefinitely postponed, if not cancelled altogether, leaving us in a situation that was simply unsustainable. And in that time – where hope has fled, where tomorrow holds no promise, where there are constant thoughts about how differently things “should” have gone – there is very little love.

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

I have enough knowledge to maintain my Christian faith. Faith, or trust, should be based on strong evidence, even though that evidence does not amount to a deductive proof. Hope, however, is a different kind of thing. The two are related, to be sure, but they are not the same. I believe genuine and deep hope must be built upon faith, and yet true hope requires more than trusting that certain facts and promises are true.

Love, the greatest of all that remains in the end of all things, is likewise related to faith and hope and yet goes beyond them. Of course there can be some forms of love present without faith and hope (see Lewis’ The Four Loves or Kierkegaard’s Works of Love), just as there can be various hopes without faith – but they will not hold. Such love without hope and without faith will provide only the poorest imitation of true love. It will prove too flimsy, too shallow, too weak to support the weight of one’s existence in the long run.

As I look through the Bible to see what it says about hope, I feel shame for many of my feelings and doubts from the previous season in my life (although I also look to Israelites in Exodus, the Psalms, and the disciples in the Gospels and know that I am not alone in this). I am grateful for divine patience, and for opportunity to have hope reestablished. I feel as if tomorrow has been restored to me; it has been rescued, ransomed, and redeemed. There are things to look forward to; and that kind of hope is required for relationships to flourish.

So, God has provided me a few positive changes in my situation that has restored my hope in regard to the next year and the next five years. That grace has allowed me to remember the hope – the true and ultimate hope – that was never taken away from me. And now that hope has been added alongside faith, love has once more been able to inform my thoughts and my existence. Faith is a great anchor and stabilizing presence. Hope is joyous and life-giving. But let me tell you, love is the greatest of these.


  1. Wonderful, just wonderful. Thank you for taking time to share this Mark. Knowing both you and Katheryn, makes this post all the more supported and impactful. God bless you 3.

  2. Wonderful and encouraging! Thank you Mark.