Nonviolence and Love, Part 3
…if I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Last week I noted that Protestantism is a product of the Age of Enlightenment, which propelled intellectual knowing into the most prominent and respected method of attaining knowledge and wisdom. And it redefined what was considered knowledge and wisdom in the process. Protestantism took the new obsession with the written word and established a branch of religion based on varying degrees of literal interpretations of the Bible. Never mind that the Bible had inspired generations for centuries because its teachings and stories were understood as metaphors applicable to many different cultures, eras, and individual situations. Because intellectual analysis relies on facts for its conclusions, intellectualism required the Bible to either be factually correct or to be considered less than truthful. For many, there is no middle ground, metaphors and analogies be damned. The intellectualization of Christianity supported and emboldened the violent elements within the church in ways completely contradictory to the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ.
Author and teacher Richard Rohr points out that a literal understanding of sacred texts is the lowest level of understanding we can attain. In other words, literal understandings are the least spiritually mature. Which is to say that the intellectualization of Christianity has made our quest for spiritual maturation and union with God more difficult. One problem with literalism is that its conclusions crumble once a better argument is made, which always occurs eventually. When we base our beliefs on words or creeds, our beliefs have no solid foundation because words are metaphors for something bigger. Words are limited representations or descriptions of realities, but they are not the realities themselves. Therefore words, while powerful, are illusions. When humankind elevated the power of words to preeminence a few centuries ago, as witnessed by the rise of Protestantism, it took a step away from our understanding of and participation in a larger reality.
One key deficiency in intellectualism was stated well by the apostle Paul, himself an intellectual, 2000 years ago in his first letter to the Corinthians. In his discourse on love he says, “…if I understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but do not have love, I am nothing.”1 Love is not beholden to the rules of intellectual discourse; indeed, without love intellectual discourse is meaningless. We can fill libraries and lecture halls with eloquent words describing what love is and is not, and many authors and speakers do, yet all fall infinitely short of the actual experience of love. And so it has become with many applications of modern-day Christianity: it lacks what it most seeks to attain, which is the love of God. God does not exist or express in words; God exists and expresses in experiential love.
When we base our understanding of truth on words, whether that truth is religious, political, or educational in nature, our truth only endures until someone comes up with better words that align truth in a different direction. What we seek and need is a truth that stands firm regardless of the words within which we attempt to describe or capture it. Grounding our truth in the wordless nature of love provides that stable, nonverbal grounding. Whether we imagine love underlying our words, rising above them, or encircling them is immaterial. Our words, even our biblical words, must be interpreted by, subservient to, and applied within the context of love.
And this is one way that violence has crept into Christianity. Different people have different methods of defense for when their deeply-held beliefs are threatened, whether that belief has to do with their personal safety or their concept of God. When words fail us, we must fall back onto something else. Jesus taught us to fall back onto love, even when others fall back onto violence. When we believe our earthly existence is the most important aspect of our life, we will protect and defend it with all means possible, often violently so, and we miss the entire lesson of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Our lives are infinitely more than our days on earth, and it is that larger life that is always safe within God’s care and cannot be harmed or defiled by earthly tragedies. Thus the oft-repeated mandate to not be afraid, to not give in to our earthly fears. Nothing here threatens our larger life. Like Jesus, we too will be resurrected back into the life of God from which we came. While on earth we are to embody love for God, love for others, and love for ourselves, regardless of what is done to us. It makes no logical sense, but it is truth as truth was lived, taught, and embodied by Jesus of Nazareth.
This is the 39th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of other individuals or organizations. To engage with me or to explore contemplative spiritual direction, contact me at email@example.com.
 1 Corinthians 13:2