My mother’s favorite song was a 2007 Virginia Gentlemen recording of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” So when my wife sent me a video of Pentatonix, another a capella group, performing this song, their beautiful rendition was bittersweet. In listening to it, the line, “love is not a victory march” jumped out at me. How true that felt when listening to this song and missing my mother! But, how can I reconcile the pain I feel as a result of my love for my deceased mother with the fact that “God is love” (1 John 4:8)?
I think we all long for the joy in love, whether it is in a relationship with a human being, with a beloved pet, or even the love of a beloved activity or organization. We want the Hollywood version in which we live “happily ever after.” We have been conditioned to believe that love is nothing short of perpetual and increasingly intense joy, and as soon as that begins to diminish, then either love itself is a fraud or whatever we loved is.
Of course, that definition of love is accurate, just not human.
The truth is we are all fraudulent, as is anything in this world. Only God and a relationship with Him can bring the eternal joy we crave, and we only get fleeting traces of that pure joy while here on Earth. We should cling to those moments and use them as encouragement, because this life is not meant to be easy (John 16:33). Furthermore, if we examine a passage that is so often quoted in wedding scenes in those romanticized Hollywood takes on love, we begin to see that love is entirely different from the carefree, self-centered version we’ve convinced ourselves it is.
“Love is patient.” (1 Corinthians 13:4)
Wonderful. We all revel in the idea of people being patient with us. The thought that someone would stick by our sides through thick and thin, through all our mistakes, through all our selfishness, through all our anger, greed, and hatred, is a wonderful idea. Now, put yourself on the other end of the relationship. It’s easy to be loved, but to love seems impossible. Of course, that is because we are fallible people loving other fallible people in a corrupt world. No wonder love needs to be patient!
“Love does not insist on its own way.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)
Not getting your way is difficult. Some people cope with it better than others, then some people are like me. Regardless, we all have a vision or at least an inkling of how we would like things to go, and when there are even minor deviations, we feel somehow wronged. Certainly, my mother’s battle with cancer and her death when I was only 30 years old was a major deviation for me. I love my mother, and I never wanted her to leave me. If I had my way, she would be here for my entire life. Because I did not get my way, my heart aches, but that is not love. Believing that my mother is with God, and that God loves her more perfectly than I ever could, warms my heart where it has grown cold in my grief. That is true love. Absent God’s perfect love and left to try to love my way, I imagine the anger and bitterness would grow to strangle all the love from my heart until I didn’t love a single thing. I certainly have begun to fall into that trap of unlove a few times in my life.
“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7)
Out of context, you might replace the “it” with several words before “love” because we don’t often associate love with struggle. Love, we’ve convinced ourselves, is supposed to be fun and without trial, and yet we know our most fundamental loving relationships, that of our parents, will be challenged throughout our lives – at the very least either by our untimely death or by theirs. In fact, there is not a single truly loving relationship in our lives that remains immune from difficulty, and if anything, our closest relationships meet the most strife. Without love, we would reach a breaking point and lose those relationships, but with love, we can overcome anything.
The truth is that love is difficult for our human hearts. Love takes purposeful effort and perseverance to be true. At least, it does while we live on this Earth. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we lost the ability to live in a state of eternal bliss. We opened the door to sin and evil, and so we have to fight for God in our lives and fight against the enticements of the Devil. This battle is beautifully expressed in the next line of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” after the titular line of this blog.
“It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
Hallelujah, by definition, is an expression of rejoicing or worship, but due to our sinfulness, we cannot sing a perfect song of love for God. As Cohen points out, even David and Samson, both great men in the Bible, had the Hallelujah drawn from their lips. In other words, they fell to temptation and broke their faith in God. Even the greatest examples in human history could only offer a love that was tainted and impure.
Still, we seek love. We seek the joy for which we were designed. Fortunately, if we continue through 1 Corinthians 13 to its concluding paragraph, we see a future in which God’s perfect love will be restored in us.
“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophecy only in part, but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)
In other words, this world in its limited knowledge and expression will come to an end for us. Maybe Earth will continue spinning on its axis and rotating around the sun when we die, but for us it will end. When that day comes, through Christ, we can remove the impediment of sin in our hearts and love completely for the first time in our existence. We can find the Hollywood definition of love we’ve spent our lives seeking. Our Hallelujah can finally be unbroken, and for all eternity, love will be a victory march.