Monday, October 26, 2009

Without Love

My husband and I watched Sean Penn's brilliantly provactive and heartbreaking film Into the Wild a few weeks ago. I have been thinking about it periodically ever since. (Incidentally, I highly recommend it, but be prepared to be deeply touched.)

One scene that I keep turning over in my head is when the protagonist, Chris, meets a woman named Jan for the first time. He is complaining to her about the hypocrisy and other shortcomings of his parents. Jan, a mother of a teenage son herself, challenges him, "Come on. You look like a loved kid. Be fair."

In response, Chris paraphrases Henry David Thoreau: "Rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth."

There was a time in my life, when I was about the age Chris is in this scene, when I would have cheered him on. There was nothing in the world more important to me than Truth--that elusive enlightenment that I oscillated between thinking I alone knew and fearing would evade me forever.

I still search for Truth. Everyday. I believe in Truth. I believe that, in addition to our personal truths that exist in varying shades of gray (such as "my story" of how something happened, which inevitably will be told differently by every witness to the event), there are absolute truths. These are the underlying truths of the universe and our existence. I may think I know some of them; I may resign myself to the fact that others will remain shrouded in mystery for me in this life. I may find, one day, that I misinterpretted some of them. I may find that I got them all wrong, but I will spend my life seeking them.

Nonetheless, I have come to believe that Truth cannot be the ultimate end of my life, the pinnacle of my quest on this earth. For one thing, I don't think I will ever grasp all Truth. I don't think I'm meant to. But, apart from this, I also have found that Truth when sought alone above all other things can be cold, and the seeker of Truth can be cruel.

To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13 (and Henry David Thoreau): Rather than tongues, than prophecy, than knowledge, than faith, than sacrifice...than truth, give me love.

Yes, we may have talents and gifts without love. We may have knowledge and faith. We may sacrifice, and we may find truth, but without love, all these things are meaningless. Without love, we are, as St. Paul says, nothing. To have love does not negate the need to seek truth, but truth without love is, ultimately, meaningless.

Christopher McCandless realized this by the end of his journey into the wild. I learned it, myself, after an adventure and a wilderness of sorts. It is one of those truths that I do not think we can know utterly by instinct. We have to learn it through experience in order to truly embrace it as our own truth. Yet, it was always true and remains true, an absolute truth if you will. If only we all didn't have to go into the wild to learn it. But, then, perhaps we all need to.


  1. Truth and love without each other are ineffective and meaningless. They must always go together, or we miss the point. Good post.

  2. so, so beautiful, Bethany. Thank you for this post. There is a quote I love that I just thought of (forgive me, it reveals my yoga, granola side :)

    "When I see that I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I see that I am everything, that is love. And between these two my life moves."

    Truth often reveals how little we know, but love? Love reveals how much we know, how big and expansive we are, and how much we have to give.

  3. Oh man, yes. In high school I was all about truth. All about it... to the point where love was sorely lacking. From what I've heard, developmentally we tend to go through that "truth" phrase while we're trying to sort things out in our teen years. But love... love is so important!


  4. I would agree that truth without love is meaningless.

    God's word tells us that we are to pray for others, make sure other Christians don't fall away from the faith, and to build each other up. We know these simple facts are true, but without love, one won't be able to perform them very well, or at all.

    Christ even taught us that the greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as to love yourself. Truth alone cannot generate love.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post!


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