Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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. (I Corinthians 13:4-8a - NIV)
Courses in Logic used to be required fare for high school students. The discipline of reasoning and making sense of things bit the dust along with requisite Latin, Greek and other classical studies, long before I walked the halls of South Eugene High School.
But, I do remember one logical formula that was drummed into us in our basic Algebra classes.
I loved Algebra, at least the fundamental version which I took in junior high. I used to rush home from school eager to tear into my Algebra book before dinner. Now, don't get me wrong. I am no mathematics brain. In fact, later on, I barely passed college Algebra, even with the help of a hired tutor. But there must have been something in those beginning lessons that appealed to my right-brain strengths. Maybe the fact that letters were substituted for numbers made it easy for my literary mind to grasp.
Algebra was logical. And one of the first Algebraic properties I learned was that if A=B and B=C, then A=C. Likewise, if A=B and A=C, then B=C, and so on. This understanding is handy when working our way through life. I.e. If water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside, then the wet roads will probably be slick. (Bad example, but you get the point.)
I was recently thinking about how this principle might be applied in theology. In other words, are there some qualities (A and B) which are co-equal, that can lead us to an understanding of yet another equal, who just happens to be God (C)? Is there a back door, so to speak, to an understanding of the Divine, that is just as simple as a basic formula?
I believe there is.
I John 4:8, and 4:16a tell us unequivocally that God is Love.
So let's start with the C of the equation. God=Love.
Now, look at I Corinthians Ch. 13 (the Love Chapter), and we will find the A of the formula, Love. Likewise, we will find several Bs of the formula: patience, kindness, humility, forgiveness, truth, protection, trust, hope, perseverance, steadfastness.
Rushing home from school, we can open our Algebra book, the Bible, and dive into the most marvelous lesson in logic ever given. It can be written several ways, depending on the definition given to the letter B.
If Love (A) is patient (B), and God (C) is Love (A), then God (C) is patient (B). If Love is kind, God is kind; if Love is forgiving, God is forgiving. If Love is truthful, protective and steadfast, then so is God.
But what about those attributes which we don't usually associate with God, Himself: humility, trust, hope, perseverance? Aren't those qualities which are a bit beneath a Sovereign Master? Why would God ever be humble, why would He choose to trust in anything or anyone but Himself, why is such an open-ended trait as hopefulness associated with a God who knows all, sees all, and in fact made it all?
These are godly traits because God is Love, pure and simple. Believe it or not, He actually holds out hope for us, he trusts in us, believes in us, even though, as the Bible says, He knows that we are "made of dust." Perhaps these traits, more than the others, bespeak the essence of Divine Love. For, knowing how frail we are, He chooses to plant His image in us; and in loving us, He is in fact loving Himself, seeing the potential in us, and knowing what we can become if we become like Him.
Which is what the Love Chapter is all about. It is about becoming more like God. It is about allowing God's Love to infuse us, live out through us and exert itself through us.
So, as we analyze the God Formula, it might be wise to add another letter to the mix: the letter D, to represent ourselves. When we can see ourselves in the formula, then we will have come full circle. The more we become like God, the more we will exhibit all the qualities of Love: patience, kindness, humility, forgiveness, truthfulness, protectiveness, trust, hope, perseverance, steadfastness.
In fact, Jesus gave us a similar formula for this relationship, when he said, "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." (John 14:20 NIV).
Now, there's a formula!