On love

February 14, 2007 at 9:47 pm Leave a comment

Going into the grocery story Sunday night, I had to fight my way through a sea of red and pink. The Valentine’s Day paraphernalia were everywhere: hearts of all sizes and shades, long-stemmed roses freshly picked, overstuffed teddy bears, and of course hordes of chocolate.

hearts.jpgIf an alien were dropped on our planet and were asked to define love with nothing to go on but our Valentine’s Day commercialism, I wonder what he’d say? Probably the essence of love was passionate feelings, emotional attraction, and a bunch of warm fuzzies running through one’s body.

But of course that definition would be a bit short of the mark.

Like or love?

One of the best insights I’ve ever heard on love came from a slim little volume entitled The God You Thought You Knew. In it, author Richard Neil makes the point that there is a world of difference between the emotion of “like” and the committed action of “love”:

Like is defined by my feelings; love is defined by your need. Like can change with circumstances; love is constant and never changes…Love is a principle that never fails.

Interestingly, as Neil points out, God never commands like in the Bible. God defines the greatest form of love as the act of sacrificing oneself for another (John 15:13), and he tells us to follow this model, but he never tells us we need to like it or feel warm and fuzzy about it. He asks for action, not feeling (2 John 1:6)—presumably because we cannot make ourselves like or enjoy something by an act of will.

This idea puts a new spin on loving one’s enemies: If love requires feelings, I just can’t do it–and it’s easy to feel guilty about that. But it’s quite freeing to know that God never said I needed to feel warm fuzzies about my enemies.

Loving without reason
neil-book.jpgA careful read of the Bible’s depiction of love yields another surprise: The Bible never gives us any reason why we should love others, beyond the fact that God loved us first. Nor does he give any reason why he himself loves us—God tells us simply that he chose to love us, but not based on any specified criteria.

Neil quotes Deuteronomy 7:7-8, describing God’s choice to love Israel:

The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand…

According to Neil, there is a good rationale for God not to give a reason for loving: After all, anytime someone can give a reason for loving, he or she can also give a reason for not loving.

If I love you because you are beautiful or smart or kind, or because you make me feel good about myself, then whenever you stop doing or being these things, I have lost my reason for loving you.

But this is not the way God works. He loves us not because of our character, but because of his own: “God is love” (1 John 4:16). His followers, I suppose, are called to nothing less.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Profile

profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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