Every year I spend the month of February thinking about love. It began as a rebellion based on my loathing of Valentine’s Day, but it has matured into a practice that has helped reframe my thinking, convicted me of my skewed ideas about love, and ultimately given me a renewed affection for God. The word “love” is thrown around in our culture, not just in the month of February, but constantly: in our music, movies, books, t-shirt slogans, and even politics. I’d hazard to say we are obsessed with the idea of Love, and yet, we have no real consensus of what it actually is.
The world’s talk about love is confusing.
Kierkegaard’s observations are as true today as they were some 170 years ago.
On the one hand we say “Love is love”, but we have not taken the time to define what we mean. It’s a bit like saying “water is water”, and some of us are referring to all forms of water: lakes, ponds, creeks, puddles; while others are referring to water that is drinkable. This may seem unimportant, after all, who cares whether I am talking about water in general, or a river in particular? Except our definitions of love, like water, can be life-altering. The ocean is buoyant, powerful, and beautiful, but if it is the only water you have access to, it will kill you. Likewise, romantic love–the most commonly mentioned love in our society–is beautiful, powerful, and even buoyant in its extreme highs of affection, but if it is our sole source and definition of love, it will kill our souls. What’s more, it will kill itself if it loses the the source that makes it a type of love at all.
We carelessly throw the word ‘love’ around like Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty,
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less’.
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make a word mean different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty ‘which is to be master–that’s all.’
-Through the Looking Glass
Using words with our own made up definitions is as Humpty Dumpty says, our declaration as ‘master’, and it is just as preposterous when we do it as when Carroll’s egg-shaped farcical character does. We find ourselves in confusion when we try and take our place as masters of any aspect of the universe, but Love in particular is something humans can hardly claim mastery over. It is God who is master of the universe, and as Kierkegaard wrote:
There is a genuine conflict between what God and the world understand by love.
In our attempts to define love separately from God (and narrowly in romance) we have landed in a confusion that is not unlike the backwards, illogical world of Carroll’s Looking Glass. As a result of our confusion we are unable to properly give or receive love. We mistake love for affection, or arousal, or comfortable feelings. But if Francis Schaeffer is right in saying, “God’s character is the moral absolute of the universe,” than He is the definition of Love, not our wimpy feelings characterized in romantic movies or pithy slogans.
What do we know of Love then?
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:10
Love then is not about how we feel, it is not about us at all. Love is active, self-giving…sacrificial to the point of death. Love is about God: what he has done for us, and who he is. If we are to love in any right capacity we must begin and end with Him.
The God-relationship is the mark whereby love towards men is recognized as genuine love. As soon as a love-relationship does not lead me to God, and as soon as I in a love-relationship do not lead another person to God, this love, even if it were the most blissful and joyous attachment, even if it were the highest good in the lover’s earthly life, nevertheless is not true love.
Any experience we have with another can only rightly be called Love if the source is God’s love toward us, and the aim is knowing and glorifying him more, those that don’t are like salt-water: they will not satisfy our longings and will eventually kill us.
Love is love then, but only when it is found in the dying breath of God who said, “forgive them, they know not what they do.”