It is common for presidents to invoke God and/or Biblical passages in their inaugurals (Lincoln was very good at it in particular) but I have a bone to pick with our new President on his usage of 1 Cor 13:
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
This is undoubtably a reference to 1 Cor 13:11: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. The problem is the context of 1 Cor 13:8-12 (all Standard Version):
(8) Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (11) When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (12) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
The passage right before this one is a discourse on love that is often said at weddings (it wasn’t at mine, thankfully, as I knew this comes right after it). Love, and the metaphor of child to man, as well as “the mirror dimly” are in the context of 1 Cor 13:10’s but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. That is a reference to Paul’s particular version of the second coming/judgment. The childish ways, the imperfect vision via the mirror, prophesies, speaking in tongues, and knowledge, being worldly things, will all “pass away” when “the perfect comes.” In other words, it’s eschatological!
I don’t think Obama meant to use 1 Cor 13:11 in its orignal eschatogical context, of course. He was using the passage in a generic sense, as a turning point, to call the nation to service and greater responsiblity in light of our democratic traditions -not calling for us to prepare for the end times and final judgment when the Messiah returns, as Paul is. The passage has a shallower, out-of-context “Stop acting like a kid and grow up” interpretation that Obama’s leaning on and that most people would pick up on even if they weren’t Christians.
Maybe I’m being too sensitive here, but I’ve been writing an article on 1 John, which is stuffed to the gills with eschatological ‘world is passing on’ thinking to let our new President slide on accidentally calling on all Americans to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
BTW, I liked the ‘nonbelievers’ mention in the speech, even though in his litany of religions he forgot the big Eastern three – Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.