Let’s say I had an argument with my wife because of my own obtuseness and insensitivity. And, let’s just say that we therefore enjoyed the sound of silence for the evening, frustrated by one another, feeling slighted and misunderstood. Let’s say – as mere conjecture, of course – that we then crawled into bed. Now, it’s no longer hypothetical that any hopes of playful procreation have been ruled out, but going to bed angry is neither wise nor faithful to Scripture, so we pray together dutifully, and I lean over, give a kiss, and say, “I love you.”
Problem solved? Better fall asleep quick because I’m living in a dream world!
More passion for pizza than partner?
My thinking has been stirred lately by a conversation with someone struggling how to talk about love as more than a word describing a feeling or emotion to friends for whom the word has become white noise.
Culturally, “love” gets thrown around like a ball at a t-ball game – every which way, and only occasionally right. Hence, when many have heard the same word applied to pizza and a partner, it starts to become pretty cheap. We all know our love for pizza and our significant other is not the same thing, yet sometimes we’re more thrilled about seeing the pizza-pie than we are the better half.
Suddenly, or not so suddenly, in the unrelenting drift of culture, words and concepts that once stirred our depths and mean a lot to the communication of the good news of the kingdom of God become like that lost tennis ball finally discovered under the couch wrapped in dust bunnies and loose strands of hair. My friend finds himself wrestling with how to talk about that love of God that is so full of hope-filled action, but has picked up a bunch of very unhelpful and frankly shallow definitions and demonstrations.
Aspects of love
Maybe this is why God revealed himself most fully into a world with multiple words for “love.” The various Greek words – storge (affection), philia (friendship love), eros (passionate attraction), and agape (unconditional love) which the New Testament loves so much – communicate something more full and nuanced than English can or does.
Ultimately, “love” as the Bible describes it surpasses Hallmark sentimentality and, quite frankly, disturbs. In 1 Corinthians 13, there can even appear to be a contradiction at work: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (vs. 3). If I give all I have to the poor or willingly suffer (isn’t this love in action?), but have not love, I gain nothing. It seems that love is not even present in acts of love if the will is bent on self to any degree. Pride nullifies the most charitable act.
Motive (the unseen inner stirring) seems to come into this – and that makes God’s love all the more, well, love! God’s motive is not primarily return for his activity, but self-giving for the other because of covenant love. God is motivated to keep his word. God is full of it (love, that is) and is not threatened by our propensity to spurn the Lover. C.S. Lewis says, “In God, there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give.” Maybe this is why heaven erupts in celebration whenever a sinner “gets it”?
An overflowing well
Now, this gets messy and disturbingly deep for we who throw “love” around, doesn’t it? Somehow love is a redefined act overflowing from a reborn will. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant by a spring of living water welling up from within?
And, maybe that means even the “I love you” uttered not carelessly, but as a means to ensuring a good night’s sleep is meaningless if it’s only for one’s own peace of mind?
What would love that is more than a word, even more than action, but the overflow of a transformed will look like? Would it not be an immense surprise? Would it not be a covert operation of another world in this one? Would it not defy definition on the one hand and doubt on the other? Would it not awaken joy, laughter, awe, and surrender, especially among those for whom “love” has become cheap or a profound disappointment?