What is Love Anyway? (2/5)
As human beings, made in the image of God, we all have inherent value and worth. In a sense, we are all lovable. Yet, the conversation about love starts before us (otherwise it rests on us to determine what is or isn’t love). God, the Creator of all things, is the source of love. God is love. (1 John 4:8) His character and nature is love. He loves us primarily because love is a reflection of who He is, not because of how loveable we are or aren’t.
This is not meant to offend you by saying that you and I are not so loveable, I hope you will consider why this is some of the best news you’ve read today! It means that the God of the universe loves you not based on how good or bad you are, but on who He is.
God loves us because of who He is, not because of what we do. He is able to love without condition because He is satisfied in Himself.
[Take a deep breath and relax]
For God to love us regardless of our performance, that also means He loves us despite of our performance. For example, the Bible tells us we are to love God and love our neighbor. It’s a command. And we can’t do either perfectly. A thought for today: have you loved God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind today? Have you put Him first above all things (simply because He is worthy of that primary spot in your heart)? Yeah, me neither.
I’m not boasting, I’m confessing. In spite of my poor performance in loving God, He continues to love and pursue me. The same is true for you, regardless of what you believe about Him at this time!
This is where I’d like to begin the conversation in seeking to figure out what love is -- with God. God, whose very nature is love, loves all people regardless of their ability or desire to love Him. In Hebrew, God is described as having a hesed love toward His image bearers. Roughly translated, it means God loves us because He loves us! Some my say that is circular reasoning, but I would say it simply defies logic. God’s love is the most glorious “because I said so” that you’ll ever read. God does not need a reason to love us; He loves us simply because He is God.
It is God’s character and nature that gives us an insight into what love is. Perhaps the Apostle Paul summed up this aspect of love well when he wrote, “[love] does not insist on its own way.” (1 Cor. 13:5)
And that my friends is the first aspect of love that I believe is so needed in today’s conversation. Love does not insist on having its own way. In our society, it is so common to feel justified in walking away from people who do not return your care. Or maybe more common, to quit caring for people who do not agree with you.
That’s So Meta...
Love that does not seek its own way is somewhat meta-relational. It is a higher ideal that stretches over and above (beyond even) relationships. To love this way would require a motivation beyond what you receive within the relationship.
Think about it. What exactly does God get back in return from us relationally? On our best days, He gets our worship and on our worst days, He is ignored. But God is so committed to a definition of love that is beyond a tit-for-tat relationship. He does not have emotional swings based on how well we are returning His love and He certainly does not seek to force us into loving Him (contrary to what you may have heard or thought).
To love that way, I believe God would require some assurance about Himself. He would need to be secure in His own identity. Regardless of what others think of Him or how we act toward Him, He would need to be fully complete and assured in Himself. He does not need to check Instagram to see how many likes He has so He can feel good about Himself. He already is comfortable with who He is. He is love, fully complete in Himself. His identity does not rest in others approval.
All of us want to receive unconditional love, yet not all of us are secure enough in our identity to love others unconditionally. That’s a big difference between us humans and our Creator. To love without condition would require us to love without expectation of receiving something in return. But for most us, we receive validation, approval, and acceptance only when our loving acts are reciprocated. By nature, we are wrapped up in assessing how we feel, and by nurture we are taught to value our feelings above all else.
So, when it comes to loving others, we sometimes have ulterior motivations or hidden agendas, even if subconsciously. That motivation is to, in return, feel validated, approved of, accepted, loved, important, valuable, etc. Sure, we want to seek the good of others, yet when our affirmation of others isn’t returned, we can question their love for us or even our value.
Ever send a nice text message to someone and not have them reply? How long before you start moving beyond thinking, “I hope they are OK,” to, “Why are they ignoring me?” “What did I do to them to deserve this?”
For most of us, the “silent treatment” is like death. We lose ourselves over not having our loving acts come back to us in the way we like (or makes us feel good about ourselves). In short, our love insists on its own way. This view of love is fully transactional and is really stunted. Our love is conditioned on whether it is returned or not as opposed to loving because we are loving. We love because we want to be loved, not always because we are loved. The aim of our love is to receive love which sets us up for failing to actually love anyone.
It is this self-focus that subjects us to the tyranny of seeing love as transactional. In order to find liberation from this cycle, we need to love from a place of being loved rather than love in order to be loved. But how can we do that? We'll take a look at that in the next blog.