The Bible can be used to support or dismiss almost any point of view. Lately, its main purpose seems to be a tool to deny LGBT people not only rights, but also to degrade and dehumanize them. The Bible is a collection of writings, mostly found through archaeological means, written in ancient languages such as Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, over centuries. It has undergone translation and censorship. It has been studied by many people intensely for years at academic institutions. Common sense tells me that God did not put pen to paper. People put pen to paper to write about their spiritual experiences and beliefs. It was written within the cultural context of the times.
If one reads the writings of St. Paul in Corinthians, it’s almost as if he is bipolar. There are passages regarding slavery, women shaving their heads, not speaking in church, and the list goes on.
Yet, we have a passage that has remarkable insight. If I were to choose just one lesson from the Bible, it would be this.
1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 Written by St. Paul.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
What do I find so remarkable about St. Paul’s words?
If one does not have love, one has nothing. Look at the last sentence. Without love, one does not have faith or hope.
Paul defines love and its purpose. It is not self-seeking and does not delight in evil. It protects. It is kind.
Paul acknowledges that all else can change. Prophecies, tongues, all will pass away. Notice he uses the word knowledge. Not truth. Knowledge is something that is changeable. Knowledge is actually all we have. And we all know that knowledge changes each day. We use it to define truth. But truth can never be completely certain. In Biblical times people thought that the sun went around the earth, the earth was flat and it was only 6,000 years old. Science – knowledge – have proven all of these to be wrong. This is a perfect example of Paul’s wisdom when he says that knowledge will pass away.
Paul also acknowledges that our reasoning will change. It matures as we grow older. Does it not also mature with each generation? With each revelation about ourselves, our society, our understanding of others? Would we permit slavery today? Do we enforce all the other rules that Paul presents as required to worship God? No. We do not. This is ‘knowledge’ that has faded away as our culture continually experiences enlightenment.
Last, but perhaps first, Paul makes the point that love is greater than faith. Why? Because it is love that creates all of our values. Everything comes from love. Faith comes from writings fixed in stone. Love comes from who we are today, in our life right now, not 2000 years ago.
Each of us is capable of that “on the road to Damascus” moment that changed Saul into St. Paul. Each of us can cast aside our prejudices and ignorance. Each of us can open our heart and mind. Let love and hope lead you to your understanding of faith. Not the other way around.
geekgirl: Jude is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science.