Copyright 1994 by Release Magazine, reproduced with permission
Virtues are funny things. They are the fruit of faith and, whenever paraded, become parodies of themselves and the worst kind of vanity imaginable. When they are not the fruit of faith they become its greatest obstacle. Virtues are most vital when invisible and most sharply imaged when they are not the focus of our attentions. They are evidence of their Source (and ours) and not the generators of it (or us).
Take, for example, wisdom. Wisdom has at its source the "fear of the Lord" - the highest regard and reverence for Him. The tendency among many of us, though, is to confuse wisdom with omniscience and to think ourselves wise in proportion to how much stuff we know. God calls us to be wise and provides us with Christ. We pressure ourselves to be all-knowing and fret over where Cain got his wife and how the earth can be as young as the scriptures claim when geologists say that it takes millions of years more than that to produce a barrel of oil. We tend to suspect that wisdom lies in the ability to answer imponderables rather than in Christ. And we sometimes end in self-contempt and even abandonment of our faith, not because our faith is false, but because we focused on a wisdom that is not a virtue but a vanity.
It is the same way with strength. God calls us to "be strong" and we mistake that for a call to omnipotence. We confuse strength to endure trials with an ability to walk unfrustrated through life. We convince ourselves that if we were strong we would never fail, never tire, never hurt, never need. We being to measure strength in terms of ease of progress, equate power with success, endurability with invincibility and inevitably, when our illusions of omnipotence is shattered, we condemn ourselves for being weak.
God has called us to be lovers and we frequently think that He meant us to be saviors. So we "love" as long as we see "results." We give of ourselves as long as our investments pay off, but if the ones we love do not respond, we tend to despair and blame ourselves and even resent those we pretend to love. Because we love someone, we want them to be free of addictions, of sin, of self - and that is as it should be. But it might be that our love for them and our desire for their well-being will not make them well. And, if that is the case, their lack of response no more negates the reality of love than their quickness to respond would confirm it.
Love is a virtue and not a feeling. It is fed and fired by God - not by the favorable response of the beloved. Even when it doesn't seem to make a dime's worth of difference to the ones on whom it lavished, it is still the most prized of all virtues because it is at the heart of the very character of God. By loving we participate in His Life and Essence. When we stoop to bait and buy good behavior we are no longer loving as God loves. We are manipulating and cheapening the dignity of the person whom we are called - not to save, not even to change - but to love. If real salvation is possible (and we know it is) it is because real love is there. And love is real, love that is truly a virtue and not just an act - agape love - gushes from God through those who know Him. It is not strung alone by those who don't.
In a world where quantitative values have obscured the reality of qualitative values - where we long to measure progress and chart growth, it is easy to give in to the temptation to judge ourselves and to try to walk by sight. But into that confused and meaningless effort God speaks with His great, still and small voice, with his Christ. He speaks through these invisible virtues with which His people shine and in the light of their lives this desperate, smug world sees not strength, wisdom, or even love, but Him who is the source of these things and the savior of humankind. Let us in whom He dwells look also to Him so we can shine more brightly.