Charity Seeketh Not Her Own

I’ve been reading the famous charity passages in both 1 Corinthians 13, and Moroni 7.  I’m fascinated by these passages.  They are clearly important in the world of Mormon doctrine.  Like the Sermon on the Mount and some Isaiah passages, the Moroni incarnation of the charity doctrine is in part a repetition from the Bible.  Also, the phrase "charity never faileth", found in both books of scripture, is the motto chosen for the Relief Society, and one of the first scriptural exhortations that most people memorize just by sheer repetition in church and visual media.   The Book of Mormon clarification that "charity is the pure love of Christ" is the basis of our doctrine linking the spiritual gift of charity to the outward manifestations of good works.  This is important, basic doctrine, rightly emphasized, and always inspiring.

And so, I’ve been examining these scriptures; comparing the Biblical and Book of Mormon versions, and trying to decipher the meaning of each.  One particular phrase won’t leave my mind:  "charity…seeketh not her own."  This is another of the phrases found in both the Bible and Book of Mormon.  In both places, it is listed as one of the clarifying definitions of the word charity.  The Biblical list includes:  "Charity sufferth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.  Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.  Charity never faileth…"  The Book of Mormon list is similar, but not an exact repitition:  "Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."  And again, my mind wanders back to "charity…seeketh not her own."

On first glance, this seems to be an exhortation crying against the dangers of selfishness.  But either our definition of selfishness has somehow come to encompass a less broad sphere than it should, or we’re not reading "seeketh not her own" broadly enough.  I really don’t believe that this particular scripture is only warning against refusing to share toys, or taking the last piece of pineapple pizza, or grabbing at attention at the expense of others.  I think that rather, "seeketh not her own" is a broad plea for inclusion; a doctrinal explication of the nuanced parables of Christ that plead for uncomfortable involvement and acceptance for those that we find to be "others."  Jesus Christ was a master at provoking His audience to uncomfortable conclusions.  The Good Samaritan made a hero out of a racial outcast.  The parable of the day laborers in Matthew 20 contained a chastening for faithful followers who murmured against the equal heavenly reward offered to new converts.  The nuance of the parables finds a doctrinal voice in the idea that charity "seeketh not her own."  If we are really reading this scripture with the broadness intended by the Author, an Author who continually seeks to prick our consciences, would this not be the clear scriptural exhortation against racism, strident nationalism, sexism, classism, and all other harmful and judgmental -isms that plague our society?  The kind of -isms that lead to hate crimes, unjust wars, emotional abuse, and persistent and debilitating exclusion etc. etc. 

The spiritual assurance that we seek from our caring God is that He love and accept us despite our sins, failings, sadnesses, and persistent imperfections.  We want that peace and assurance for ourselves.  I really believe that He asks us, in our own human and flawed way, to try and extend that love and acceptance to others despite their sins, failings, sadnesses and persistent imperfections.  And despite  religious beliefs, despite race, despite physical appearance, despite intelligence, despite nationality, despite poverty, despite gender, despite persistent and incurable (at least mortally incurable) humanness.  In an age when religion is often the butt of jokes and suspicion, maybe we should be trying harder to reach and seek out and love those different from us, rather than seeking after our own, creating comfortable spheres of existence, absent any "others."          

Comments

  1. Lamonte John says:

    “If we are really reading this scripture with the broadness intended by the Author, an Author who continually seeks to prick our consciences, would this not be the clear scriptural exhortation against racism, strident nationalism, sexism, classism, and all other harmful and judgmental -isms that plague our society?”

    I totally agree with your beautifully rendered premise that this scripture means more than we have typically and traditionally understood or allowed it to mean. There are certainly other scriptures that also have additional meaning when we seriously contemplate them. I suppose that is one reason we are exhorted to do just that on a regular basis. Thank you for helping us to see more clearly.

  2. Karen,

    I wish you were on the West Coast so you could be part of the Sunstone West panel on Truths in the Book of Mormon. I echo LJ’s sentiments. Don’t you want to enjoy the experience of San Francisco in late April???

  3. i believe the importance of charity finds its greatest value in conjunction with free will. christ spoke up against the rigid commandment-keeping morality of the pharisees (as is the case with much of mormondom today). in it’s place christ gave only one commandment: to love.

    if we live only by commandments, we are restricting our free-will and limiting ourselves to the allowance of an authority. the whole “keep the commandments or be punished” attitude (which goes along with the “keep the commandments and be rewarded” attitude) makes us no difference than an oppressed slave whose owner punishes and rewards by obeyance to his rule.

    charity, on the other hand, cannot be obeyed. it has to come from within, entirely of free-will. by freely loving, the commandments become an arbitrary guidline that merely parallel our own actions, but have no actual power over us. it is through love, that we actually are free.

  4. Karen, you’ve written something really thoughtful here — thanks. I like the connection that you’re implicitly making between selfishness and exclusion. Christ’s mantra was “come unto me,” and I wonder if that’s part of why charity is His pure love, open to all. Can we be truly charitable if we pick and choose the objects of this love?

  5. Nice post, Karen. I’ve found a good way to spur comments is to put a pointed question right up front or at the end that prods people to respond. For this post, I might thrown this at people: Is charity or love ever really disinterested or unselfish?

    The scriptural citations you discuss suggest getting to truly disinterested charity (or “love unfeigned”) is much more difficult than we naively expect. Just last night I heard Jacques Derrida (on the Derrida documentary that came out last year) say, “l’amour, c’est narcissisme.” That’s a bit strong, but the scriptures do seem to be saying that often love is a bit selfish, don’t they?

  6. out where the thunder roars ….a broad plea for inclusion

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,807 other followers