Some call them the most influential theologians of church history: Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Karl Barth. Others say that list is missing some key players like Irenaeus, Anselm of Canterbury, Martin Luther, Schleiermacher & Harnack, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, not-to-mention C.S. Lewis!
If you still are reading, I have one more to add ... Margery Williams. Actually, kind of a strange name to add to these stuffy, great, think tank academicians. After all, Williams never wrote a systematic theology or even a commentary. She did pull off, however, one of history's greatest theological treatise on love: The Velveteen Rabbit!
Turns out, love isn't love until it's real, and real isn't real until it's loved. That's why the key to experiencing real life is to experience real love.
Trouble is, the "shelf life" of our earthly functionality is short-lived. Our main-springs break and seams begin to fray. That's why the skin horse set his sights on a different reality: " 'Real' isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become 'Real.' " -- The Skin Horse
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If love truly is the gateway to this kind of meaningful existence, and if love is an unconditional validation and valuation of the supreme significance of every human life as mattering deeply to God, then there is only one place we can go to encounter such a supreme vision of life. "And yet I will show you the most excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31b NIV).
Paul says there are 16 identifiable attributes that make this "most excellent way" (love) real (1 Corinthians 13). You know them. You've rattled them off many times before; love is patient, love is kind ... and on we go.
The implication? If your life giftings, skills, assets, experiences, strengths, degrees, achievements and adept abilities are not brought into the most important and most excellent story in history -- the love of God -- then all we really make is a lot of disturbing noise (vs. 1). That's why Paul makes it his earnest prayer that we "May have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:18-19 NIV).
That is real love at its very best. Sometimes, in our culture, you'll hear someone say, "He (or She) is for real!" or "They are the real deal!" What they are really saying is, "you can count on the substance of their life. What you see is what you get."
I want to become one of those people before I die. I hope you do too. So what are we to make of our lives and how are we to proceed from here?
Relationships that are real give us cause and connection. Events and programs give us temporary, consumable encounters that distance us from transparency and intimacy. At the end of the day, we need to feel valued, wanted, affirmed, special and important to somebody in order to feel loved. Love is where I feel safe, secure and free to be myself! That is where we find real!
Love is the only thing that will take us there. "Love never fails" (vs. 8).
-- Rev. David Parker is lead pastor at Central United Protestant Church in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.