Comments Off on Forever

To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
“Love” and “forever” go together like macaroni and cheese. 
Do a quick inventory of your favorite pop and rock songs, and you’ll discover that lovers routinely make eternal promises to each other.
Jackie Wilson tells the world, “(Your love keeps lifting me) Higher and Higher.”  Natalie Cole declares, “This Will Be an Everlasting Love.”  The husband and wife team of Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille, better known as The Captain and Tennille, proclaim, “Love Will Keep Us Together.”  The Beatles cut right to the chase: “All You Need is Love.” 
Roberta Flack sings, “I knew our joy would fill the earth and last ‘til the end of time, my love, the first time, ever I saw your face.”  In his song If, crooner David Gates describes a love that will outlast even the demise of our planet: “If the world should stop revolvin’, spinnin’ slowly down to die, I’d spend the end with you, and when the world was through, then one by one, the stars would all go out.  Then you and I would simply fly away.” 
We’re so used to hearing songs that include something on the order of, “Baby, I’m gonna love ya forever” that we hardly notice the words any more. 
Maybe we should.
After all, it’s no secret that artists and musicians have a very hard time living out their own poetic promises.  The Captain and Tennille’s biggest hit may have gone to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975 and won the Grammy for Record of the Year, but love did not keep them together. They divorced after what she, at least, described as a loveless marriage.
The rest of us aren’t doing much better.  Even though most couples on their wedding day promise to stay together “’til death do us part,” about half of all American marriages will falter.
Songwriter Michael Martin Murphey laments this relational track record with the lyrics, “So what’s the glory in living, doesn’t anybody ever stay together anymore?  And if love never lasts forever, tell me what’s forever for?” 
Can you imagine wedding partners making conditional promises to each other?  They look into each other’s eyes and say, “I’ll stick it out with you, as long as you don’t get cancer.  Or as long as your parents don’t drive me crazy.  Or as long as you don’t develop annoying habits or do something awful with your hair.” People who are getting married have no more insight into their future health, finances, and emotional stability than anyone else.  Yet with their eyes wide open they promise a love that will last forever. 
Why do we do that?  And why do we keep writing songs about love that is supposed to go beyond the boundaries of space and time?
In his book Signals of Transcendence, Os Guinness suggests that people make promises of eternal love because this is how God made us. 
We are crafted in God’s image.  Since God is love (I John 4:16), we can’t help yearning for experiences of lasting security and significance – gifts that God alone is able to give. 
All of us are acquainted with the fact that a secular culture can come up with a million ways to mock love.  It can be reduced to hormones.  Or schmaltz.  Or Hallmark cards.  Or a cheap series of hookups.  Or Miracle Max in The Princess Bride affirming that there’s nothing greater than true love – except perhaps for an MLT, a mutton-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich.
But something happens when humans fall in love.  Even skeptics who assert that this world is all there is soon begin to chafe that this world is not enough.     
Love, says Guinness, “stakes everything on eternity actually existing.”  If we have tasted something of true love – whether for a marriage partner, children, grandchildren, or our dearest friends – Death now seems a hundred times worse.  Now we know it will separate us from the ones we love.
Unless there’s a God of love who actually raises the dead. 
If you’ve attended more than few weddings, you’ve probably heard the elegant expression of love embedded in I Corinthians 13.  This text has become so familiar, unfortunately, that many of us begin to tune out as soon as we hear the words, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels…”  We need fresh ears and fresh hearts.  Sometimes it helps to hear a fresh translation.  Here’s how the British scholar J.B. Phillips rendered verse seven and the beginning of verse eight of the apostle Paul’s most famous chapter:
“Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything.  It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen” (I Corinthians 13:7). 
Or as traditional translations put it, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.”  In other words, it’s forever.   
The songwriter asks us, “If love doesn’t last forever, then what’s forever for?”
That is definitely the right question.
And the answer comes from the One who assures us that his love isn’t just the greatest thing in this world.
We will enjoy it forever in the next world, too.