Saint Augustine said:
Endures in adversity
It shows prudence in prosperity
It is strong in suffering
It rejoices in good deeds
It is safe in temptation
It is generous in hospitality
Cheerful among true brothers
Patient with the faithless
It is the soul of the Scriptures
The virtue in prophecy
The salvation of the mysteries
It is the strength of knowledge
The bounty of faith
It is wealth for the poor
Life for the dying
Love, is everything.
I have suffered with disease and creeping disability most of my adult life. Diagnosed with aggressive multiple sclerosis at thirty, I endured a muriate of frightening neurological symptoms for decades. I am an old man now. Looking back, I’ve come to the same conclusion: Love is everything. Even when the body fails, love remains. Love is the only possession we can take from this life.
Saint Paul wrote about love. He said that even if we were to possess all knowledge and have profound spiritual gifts, and have faith that can move mountains, if we do not have love, we are nothing.
Loveless faith is harsh, unbending, legalistic. Loveless faith lacks the love of Christ. Real love has certain characteristics. Augustine spoke of them in the passage above. Paul said:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour 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.”
My life has been a journey toward love—at times halting and uncertain, jealous and envious, often miserly in its expression. But God has been slowly teaching, wooing, chastening then blessing.
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where 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 completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a 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.”
Again, Saint Paul’s words. Saint Augustine understood. No doubt, he drew much of his understanding on love from the 13th Chapter of 1Corinthians. It has blessed and inspired humanity, and read at countless weddings.
For me, it was a passage of the holy Scriptures I kept in mind and close to my heart during my worst attacks of multiple sclerosis. And they were bad, so bad that my doctor did not think I would live more than a few years after being diagnosed. The best doctors could do nothing to stop the savage attacks and slow degeneration. My wife had to watch it all ! She was convinced she would be widowed as a young mother with two children. That’s how bad things got during the 1980s and ‘90s.
American author, lawyer and senior Fellow for the Discovery Institute’s Center for Human Exceptionalism met me. He described what he saw:
“I met Mark in the early 1990s and we became good friends. When I met him, he could barely walk using two canes because of his progressive MS. Over time, I observed his physical condition worsen, to the point he became triplegic, that is, was only able to use his left arm. He had no use of his legs whatsoever.”
In 2006, the MS also began to affect my left arm. My neurologist had exhausted all his treatment options. He resorted to administering the chemotherapy drug mitoxantrone (at that time still an experimental treatment for MS). It had some ugly side-effects and was discontinued.
During those dark days, the knowledge that I was loved, and had always been loved, became magnified—it was my comfort and my consolation. One night I was lying awake on my bed in the middle of the night, gazing at the shadowy hoist hovering above me (used to help get me out of bed). I thought about what I'd lost over the years: My career, my health, use of my body, many friends and family. The words of Job came to me:
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19.25-27)
Throughout the ages, a great sea of heavy-hearted humanity have identified with Job's words, the words of a man who lost everything: his health, his children, his wealth. His "friends" Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar taunted him under the guise of comfort. Even Job’s wife taunted him: “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die.” (2.9). And yet, even in his deepest sorrow and discouragement, Job cursed the day he was born, but not God.
Those of us who have passed through that great sea of heavy-hearted humanity, can learn much from Job. Even if we die having lost everything in this world, through faith in Jesus Christ, we will have everything in the next world. Job reminds us that although our flesh will be destroyed, we shall see God.
The love we take from this life will be perfected as we enter God's perfect love. All things will be made new for us who believe in His Son!