And in the End

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Throughout July we’re taking an in-depth look at Proverbs, the Bible’s one-of-a-kind book about our never-ending need for wisdom.

In the summer of 1969, the world’s most famous rock band was falling apart.

Splintered by long-simmering creative and relational spats, the Beatles somehow recorded Abbey Road, which fans and critics eventually came to regard as a masterpiece.  It was the last time the Fab Four gathered to make music in the same room at the same time. 

The album is noteworthy for the medley (also known as the Long One) that takes up the last 16-plus minutes of Side Two.  Paul McCartney and producer George Martin, intrigued by the idea of patching together a series of short tunes to make something grander, dipped into the Beatles songwriting vault from previous years.

They found snippets of songs that had never been fully fleshed out (Mean Mr. Mustard) as well as promising ideas that had never been officially recorded (Golden Slumbers).  There’s a song in which the band complains about not being properly compensated (You Never Give Me Your Money), a tune commemorating King Louis XIV of France (Sun King), and an offbeat number about a groupie wearing a plastic outfit who once went out with John Lennon (Polythene Pam).  There’s even a ballad recounting the time a desperate female admirer broke into Paul’s house (She Came in Through theBathroom Window).  Some of the songs are fast, others slow; some are tender, others off the wall. 

When the editing was done, nine tunes – each of them a half-minute to four minutes in length – had been cobbled together to create the medley.  McCartney wrote the last one, The End, from scratch.  It features the only drum solo in the Beatles’ entire repertoire (Ringo had to be talked into it, since he disdained such fads) and enthusiastic guitar improvisations from John, Paul, and George. 

The End marked “the end” in several senses of the word.  It was the end of the medley, the end of Abbey Road, and the end of the Beatles – the very last song they recorded collectively.  It also represented a thematic end – an artistic final statement after a decade of rocking and rolling. McCartney, aware of the fact that Shakespeare had wrapped up several of his compositions with rhyming couplets, decided to write one of his own: 

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to
The love you make.

Lennon, who was certainly not McCartney’s best friend at the end of their time with the Beatles, was unimpressed with the medley.  “It’s junk,” he later said, “just bits of songs thrown together.”

Others have disagreed.  Critics have hailed it as a brilliant farewell.  And not a few fans of the group, even after more than half a century, have said that if they have only 17 minutes left to live, this is what they want to hear.  Here’s the full medley (just in case you haven’t listened to it since you got up this morning).   

If the patchwork quilt approach worked for the Long One, it also seems to be at the heart of the book of Proverbs.

The 500 or so one-sentence proverbs that fill chapters 10 through 31 are not arranged thematically.  They appear randomly strung together.  Reading such back-to-back nuggets of wisdom can feel jarring.  Consider this block of verses chosen at random from Proverbs 18:9-13: 

“One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.” Message: Don’t be lazy.  “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Message: Wise people trust God.  “The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale.” Message: Rich people had better rethink their ultimate security.  “Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” Message: If we don’t humble ourselves, circumstances will do the job for us.  “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” Message:  Listen, listen, listen.

Disconnected as they seem, what do these verses have in common?  They are all components of a life well-lived, of a life in pursuit of wisdom. 

Here we need to address an important question: 

Are all the proverbs in the book of Proverbs created equal – or are there a few that rise above the rest and give greater meaning to the whole?

One such candidate is Proverbs 10:12:  “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.”  That’s an unusually powerful statement, especially because it resonates with New Testament texts like I Peter 4:7 (“Love covers over a multitude of sins”), not to mention Paul’s assurance that if we love God and love people, we fulfill every demand of the Old Testament (Romans 13:8-10).

In the end…life is all about love.

Which brings us back to Paul McCartney’s famous couplet:  “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” 

That’s a simple declaration of the Law of Reciprocity.  What you give is what you get.  As a software programmer might put it, GIGO:  Garbage In, Garbage Out.  Whatever you deposit is exactly what you get back, no more and no less. 

If that’s true – if that’s how love works in the universe – then all of us are sunk. 

Think about our relationship with God.  If the love we receive from God “is equal to” the love we send his way, then God help us all.  For none of us even remotely loves God deeply, continually, and unconditionally – which is the only kind of love that can possibly save us from our addictions, selfishness, and pride. 

One of my friends calls his mother every Sunday evening.  Their conversations always end the same way.  He says, “Love you, Mom.”  And she always answers, “I loved you first.”

God loved us first.  The apostle John makes that clear in I John 4:10:  “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us…”  When John declares a few verses later that God is Love, we can imagine our creator as a kind of fountain that never stops flowing.  God provides the tide of love that floats every human boat. 

When Proverbs tells us that love covers over all wrongs, we can receive that as a challenge to love each other as never before – and never to lose our conviction that love will ultimately conquer hatred.

But the only love that can possibly drown our sorrows and sins won’t come from us.

In the end, it’s all about our willingness to humbly receive God’s love and then give it away.

Or, as Paul McCartney put it in another song, “All you need is love.”

His love.