Note: This is the 16th and last in our series of What Is Love: A New Testament Reply based on Paul’s description of love and informed by the relational and behavioral sciences.
Synopsis: For your own personal use, explore the proclamations that love never fails or ends; search into the theology and psychology of these precepts; look at mysterious lifelong love; delve into three of the major ways to comprehend Paul’s teachings; contemplate the wide-ranging coverage of the English translations; review a bit of what science says and consider gambling on never and forever.
It’s Over, Or Is It?Love may never die but love relationships do cease even if love is still felt. Many a divorced person feels a love in their heart for an ex and at the same time they feel a strong, real love for a new spouse. “I love my ex so much better now that I know I don’t have to live there anymore” is an idea I have often heard expressed in post-divorce counseling (see “Exes and Love”).
Love for a child, parent, sibling or other family member or even a deep friend, if estranged or on hold with little or no chance of reactivation, still can persist. For many, once they strongly love someone that love is an ongoing state of being lasting a lifetime. For millions who have lost those dear to their heart due to death, this ongoing love remains very true, real and active. It has always been amazing to me in counseling with help when a client talks to a dead loved one and then listens for a reply, amazing things often happen. Several counseling techniques assist this process but often they are not needed. Replies almost invariably come, whether silently heard or spoken by the client, and most commonly are extremely heartfelt and beneficial to the one grieving.
Intellectually we all know to think that the replies come from the client’s own mind but at the heart level it still works. Clients usually leave those sessions feeling a love connection event has occurred, nurtured them and they are better for it. Perhaps it is because they were able to engage in the action of sending their love but then too they seem to have also received some love in the process.
Then there is the hard to explain, getting a reply containing information that seemingly could not have been known prior to the session. That is rare but it does occur. I can only conclude we see through a glass darkly and, therefore, who really knows what realms love can reach into?
Some think that once love is born and grows, it gets to a certain point of strength where thereafter it is always able to be tapped into and is a lifelong part of us. In those cases, love seems to live on, deep in our subconscious.
Think of the many loving friends who have not seen each other, maybe even for years, and they pick up right where they left off years ago. Think of long lost relatives who do the same thing upon reuniting. Many a parent and child who have been, for one reason or another, sometimes separated for decades rejoining together and manifesting love feelings that seem both old and fresh at the same time. Then there are the exes who broke off relating years ago, then grew and came back together more successfully than before. They rejoin with a love that they sometimes say it both has restarted and it was there all along.
There appears to be much evidence pointing to the truth that, as far as we can tell, real love is indeed often long lasting love. As related by Paul, love may not fail or fade away but indeed be, just possibly, everlasting (see “A Dozen Kinds of Love to Have in Your Life”).
Contemplating and Comprehending Paul On LoveThis is the last in our series on Paul’s precepts on what love is and is not and what love does and does not do. This last precept is thought to be a sort of summation teaching aimed at having a final, potent impact with a compelling action-oriented effect. For a great many readers it seems to succeed at that.
There are, however, some interpretation ponderments. Translators seem to see two interrelated but definitely different ways of understanding this teaching. Then to make matters more complicated, other scholarly research appears to point to a third still interrelated yet different discernment.
Paul’s words in ancient biblical Greek are “he agape oudepote ekpiptei”. Eighteen of the 30+ English translation efforts we reviewed decipher this as “love never fails” but eight others as “love never ends” or something very similar. Then other scholarship now understands this to perhaps mean “love never weakens” (see “Spirituality and Love Great and Grand”).
So which is it “love never fails” or “love never ends” or “love never weakens”? It is quite possible Paul’s words mean all three. Just as is true in English, biblical Greek words can have more than one meaning. Sometimes variations of meaning are simultaneously meant to be communicated. Especially is this true in the communications of the more widely educated and intelligent of ancient Greece. Paul was both according to what we know about him.
From a psychological perspective, it can be quite rewarding to include all three in our study and thoughtful usage of Paul’s summation precept on love. Even so, there are some more to be intrigued about, contemplated and understood.
The English Possibilities“Love never fails” in English has a wide variety of meanings. It can mean love never succumbs, loses, goes down to defeat, and is ever victorious. It also can suggest, love never declines, does not perish, waste away, flag, deteriorate, falter or flounder. Then again, it can be understood as love never collapses, crumbles, is found defective, comes to nothing or is inconsequential. Some put it as real, strong and healthy love always wins out in the end.
“Love has no end and/or love is eternal” can be seen as love always was and always will be, love once begun will last forever, love was and/or is self originating, love is ceaseless, perpetual, timeless, infinitely ongoing and once love is given birth love never dies.
“Love never weakens”, i.e. love never diminishes, depletes, declines, decays, degrades, fades or becomes de-powered is a third rendition being considered for interpretive value.
All of the above can be seen as having possible truth. Arguably, the deity is seen theologically as eternal and omnipotent, plus the nature of deity is understood to be love and, therefore, love also is eternal and of an undiminishing strength. In more than one world religion, these concepts have been posited or are articles of faith (see “7 Other Definitions of Real Love Worth Considering” which includes A Metaphysical Definition of Love).
What Does Science Say?Science and especially the psychological sciences can not really adequately deal with much in the world of theology. As one researcher put it “We just can’t seem to fit eternity and all the other totality concepts into our labs so, alas, we best treat them as outside our jurisdictions”. That, of course, has not stopped any number of scientists from proclaiming they know the real truths of existence.
The history of science is replete with examples of arrogant proclamations which turned out to be mistaken. It seems all scientific truths are subject to at least greater elaboration later. It would seem that we do well to remember that we see through a glass darkly but with science we probably do see far better and far more than ever before.
From a social sciences point of view, the fact is love relationships do end even if love itself does not. There are those that argue the evidence says love is like everything else – it is something that is born, grows, diminishes and then dies. Arguably that might refer to false love relationships or relationships that did not grow to the point of strength that they could last a lifetime or beyond.
Now on a personal note, let me say that I, as a clinician, have seen and experienced things my scientific self can not come close to adequately explaining. Especially has this been true in matters involving love. I must say that from my astonished and awed perspective it appears the heart often sees far better and further than the mind.
Gambling On Love Eternally TodayA Theolog I knew and respected once wrote me a report on Paul’s precepts which ended with his collective take on Paul’s teachings. It was, “In all circumstances and human relationships, when in doubt: love; it is never wrong to love.” I agree.
I suggest gambling on love is likely, almost always, to be your best bet. Believing or at least hoping and suspecting that love lasts forever and that love relationships may indeed go on beyond the grave is frequently a very life affirming and helpful thing to do.
Here is a suggestion to contemplate. Work at doing ever better love everyday you love someone. Adopt the perspective that it is a joy and privilege to do that work. Therefore, why not hope to do it forever if you can. That, I suggest is an attitudinal gamble well worth taking.
Likewise, there is a usefulness to knowing that at any moment a love relationship can be brought to an abrupt, earthly end. So, do not waste your time, use it to do more love relating actions soon, often and better.
One more little thing. I bet some good things will happen if you get to talk this mini-love-lesson over with some loving others. If you do, then please mention this site and help spread love knowledge around a bit. Thank you.
As always – Go and Grow with Love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly
Quotable question: In the high valley of the heart summer love is easy, but what about in the deep snows of winter?