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Monday, May 02, 2016

What is Love?

I saw an ad for a website called Christian Mingle. It's a "Christian dating service". But it's, oh, so much more. Here, you see, you can find love. That "one soulmate, that one true love, one who can share your dreams and passions, one just right for you." That, apparently, is what Christian Mingle considers to be "love".

It is the question of the ages, it seems. "What is this thing called 'love'?" Books are written about it. Songs are sung about it. Plays and movies are made about it. We all know what it is ... except we're just not entirely sure and we're even less clear.

Psychology Today says that it is "a force of nature" over which we have no control. "You cannot dictate how, when, and where love expresses itself." Love, they tell me, cannot be legislated. It cannot be turned on or off. "The real deal can never be delivered if it doesn't spring freely from the heart." tells us that, in love, "chemistry and physical attraction are important, but true love also includes commitment, trust and respect." Love is caring, attraction, attachment, commitment, and intimacy.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that love is hard to define. Plato wrote of graduated love, starting at the base lusts and moving through to Platonic love where physical contact had no bearing. We often think of graduated love ourselves, as if you start with "like" and move to "love". The Greeks referred to eros, the love of passions, storge, the love of family, philia, love built on mutual fondness, and agape. Interestingly, the last is primarily God's love for man, a love that transcends desires, family, fondness, anything lovable in the one who is loved. In short, love is complicated and actually beyond comprehension.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers a variety of views. The "Love is Union" view says that love is "the formation of (or the desire to form) some significant kind of union, a 'we.'" Another notion is love as a robust concern. This view regards love as a concern for the well being of another. Interestingly, this version of love is volitional -- you choose it. "That a person cares about or that he loves something has less to do with how things make him feel, or with his opinions about them, than with the more or less stable motivational structures that shape his preferences and that guide and limit his conduct." Another version says love is placing value on someone or something. Now, this value may be "value to me" or "valuable in itself". That is, it may be that I love because it gives me something or it may be that I love because the person or thing is valuable and should be loved. And, of course, there is the foremost, popular version that love is an emotion. Understandably, none of these approaches are comprehensive enough to avoid arguments against them or to encompass all that love is.

Most sources agree that love is variable. The Greeks, for instance, had multiple words for it because it has multiple facets. Love for pizza is not the same as love for a pet which is not the same as love for family which is not the same as love for a spouse. We get that. Love can be romance. It is often reliant on chemistry. Whatever it is, love is the most powerful emotion we feel. We often think of love in terms of physical love, but we know of platonic love as well. Here's what we all do know. Love is something you "fall in". You can "fall in love" and, sadly, "fall out of love". Everyone knows that.

Enter Jesus Christ who tells us "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matt 22:37-40) No small command, that. But apparently Jesus disagreed with our "fall in love" concept because He commanded love. He disagreed with Psychology Today because He did legislate love. If it is commanded, it can be turned on (obedience) or off (disobedience). If it can be commanded, it is not "chemistry and physical attraction" or even "the most powerful emotion we feel". Now, the emotions that we link with love may be the result of Jesus's version of love, but they are not the definition.

This is why we get such confusion when Christians talk about love. We are told, for instance, to "love your enemy". Taking the "chemistry", "respect", "better than like", "warm feelings" definition, we're really kind of stuck. "How can I love my enemy?" Worse, is it at all possible to "love your enemy" while hoping he gets caught by the police? Is it possible to "love your enemy" when he's attacking your wife or child and your only means of saving your non-enemy is lethal force? In fact, the answer to these questions is "No!" ... if your definition of love is a warm feeling. We really run into this confusion when we say that "God is love" and "God loves everybody." God has warm feelings toward everybody? How does that correlate to, oh, I don't know ... sending people to Hell, for instance? If we are going to agree that God is love and God certainly does give people the Hell they've earned, we're going to have to agree that "love" is not that warm feeling thing we typically imagine.

Jesus told His disciples, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) Love is the hallmark of all true believers, the great commandment, the basis of all God's instructions. If we don't get ourselves free of this "Love is an emotion" concept, we'll never get this. Love produces emotions, but if we are commanded to love, it is a choice. And if it is not the "warm affection" that most of our world thinks it is, how can we understand the commands we have to love -- love God, love your neighbor, love one another, love your enemy? While we're busy trying to drum up warm feelings for God, our fellow man, and those who hate us, God is waiting. Waiting for us to obey.


Craig said...

You keep acting like the Bible is a rule book or something.

Stan said...

I would say prescriptive more than descriptive.