Friday, December 27, 2013


Things run out.  The oil in the ground; the food we can grow; the days of our lives.  The nature of this blog (or maybe of its author) is to focus attention on such limits.  To live wisely is to live within bounds.  "So teach us to number our days", says the psalm attributed to Moses, "that we may gain a heart of wisdom". (Psalm 90:12)

Not just our physical resources run out.  Our emotional strength, our ability to forgive, even to pity.  There are limits to all of these, perhaps closer to the surface than we realize.  In Chesterton's story The Chief Mourner of Marne, the characters claim to "forgive" a crime whose nature they do not understand.  When realization dawns on them, they swing over to the opposite side like a door slamming. "There is a limit to human charity" cries the most sympathetic of them, 'trembling all over'.

Christians (in Chesterton's story represented by Father Brown) make the outrageous claim that there is one inexhaustible force at work in the world: the love of God.  Unlike "human charity",  Love never ends. (I Cor 13:8)  Christmas is the sign and token and proclamation that this love - electing, purifying, creative - has come among us and will persist - patiently, and at great cost - in bringing to fulfillment human beings and the world in which they share.  This love will not let go.  This love will not give up.  This love will not run out.  This love will win.

So, if I speak in the tongues of scientists and activists, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have prophetic powers, and my climate model is more accurate than any other; and if I have faith enough for geoengineering, but have not love, I am nothing.

And if I give away all that I have, and live off the grid an an ecovillage, and return my body to the cycle of nature through cremation, but have not love, I gain nothing.

For natural resources may be exhausted; tongues will cease; as for knowledge, it too will pass away.

But love never ends. 

Photo by Flickr user Fiona Shields, licensed under Creative Commons

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