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Monday, February 22, 2016

What Love Does: Looking at it a Week after Valentine’s

A week after the world has celebrated love on Valentine’s Day, you may not be feeling like celebrating it anymore. Are you feeling all empty and disappointed after the hype has faded? Have the marketers’ concocted Cupid’s arrows worn off? If yes, then perhaps this brief look at love is meant for you to be pointed in the right direction.

What defines true love? And can true love be defined in words, or is there more to it? What measure of one’s own experience—either good or bad—constitutes true love? If all we’re relying on to understand love—to know what it means to love and be loved—are only post-modern, media driven, and capitalist ideas, then we shall truly be disappointed with this one virtue that has been called the greatest of all virtues, love.

Love however, is not defined by capitalism, emotionalism, sensualism, or any other -ism. In the context of your own relationships—whether romantic or otherwise—after the hype surrounding Valentine’s Day has abated you may be asking questions like, “Is what I am experiencing really love? How can I differentiate between real love and counterfeit love?” These would be good questions to ask at a time when everyone chooses to define and describe love however they please.
7 Facets of a Priceless Diamond...

There are many marks of true love, in fact, too many of them to write about here. I will define 7 prominent facets of true love—something I pray will fuel your thinking and acting as you pursue true love. For the sake of clarity I am not calling it merely “love” but “true love,” to distinguish this virtue from the subjective and personalized definitions that are rampant. I am calling it “true” love, because love can never be separated from the truth. If love is ever severed from truth, you will find in your experience that it ultimately leaves you empty and hopeless. Indeed you will find that it is not love at all. In truth and love however—that is, in true love—there is satisfaction and hope. Here are 7 things true love does: 

1. True love removes loneliness 

In his book on love, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis recognizes that, 

“We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.” [1]

The world is full of lonely people looking to be loved—people seeking physical, emotional and intellectual fulfillment from the wrong people and places. In other words, there are people who are not alone, who are always surrounded by people, and yet sometimes they feel lonely. Maybe you have a spouse: you are with them every day and so you're not technically alone, but you still feel lonely. Whether you have or do not have a spouse or a group of friends, being alone is something we will all have to face up to at some point. It is a comfort to know when we are alone there is a way through which we do not have to experience loneliness. No ordinary, natural love though, can remove loneliness. It requires supernatural, true love to remove loneliness. 

2. True love exposes lust and makes life meaningful

There is a so-called love that people profess for other people. “So-called,” I say because this love is eventually revealed to be something else—a serving of one’s own purposes and pleasures, otherwise known as lust. Shakespeare described lust this way:

Past reason hunted and, no sooner had,
Past reason hated.
Lust is never reasonable. Lustful people are mostly always capricious in their pursuits and in the end their pursuits turn out to make life meaningless. Something or someone must be had, and the one hunting their object never knows why. Maybe this sounds like you or someone you know. If you think it does, and are inclined to move past lust, you certainly can because true love is different. “Contrast is the mother of clarity,”[2] says Os Guiness. When true love steps into the picture, being seen in others and experienced for ourselves, we see lust by contrast for what it really is. Also, because by its very nature true love is meaningful, true love always adds meaning to the larger picture of life.

3. True love waits

One of the dominant characteristics of our culture is that everything must be “instant.” We live in the “Age of the Instant:” instant pictures (Instagram!), instant coffee, instant customer service etcetera. When everything else is instant, we expect instant love! But when everything else is instant, there is something else that is instant, and that is impatience. We are instantly impatient. We hate to wait. No sooner than we realize that so-called love is not working out, than we move on to the next option. When we do not wait or cannot wait, we prove that we really do not love what (or who) we cannot wait for. True love is different. True love waits and reveals the value and worth we place on people or situations by our willingness to wait.

4. True love forgives

Central to true love is it’s willingness to look past imperfections, failures, and being wronged. True love forgives, erases the slate clean and is willing to start over again any number of times. In a world of hatred, strife, war, and selfish individualism, what people need the most is to be forgiven and to forgive in turn. In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, what Jean Valjean experienced when apprehend by the authorities and dragged back to the bishop’s house was forgiveness. He did in fact steal the bishop’s silver. However, when the authorities sought to verify this from the bishop, instead of adding misery to an already miserable life, the bishop chose to forgive, saying he gave the silver to Valjean and proceeding to further ask Valjean why he left behind the other pieces. People who seek to get even all the time, do not truly love. But people who have true love forgive, because they have been forgiven. Have you been forgiven and can you forgive in turn?

5. True love elevates the lowly

Not only does counterfeit love seek to get even and remain unforgiving, but it seeks to trample upon people and keep them in “their proper place.” True love on the other hand seeks to bring people who are helpless and stuck in the pit of despair to a higher level of existence, where they experience freedom. William Wilberforce proved that he was truly loved and that he in turn truly loved, by his dogged persistence in abolishing the slave trade in England. Of aristocratic standing, Wilberforce could have excused the gruesome business of slave trading by reasoning that people of another race and color were merely serving their station in life. Instead, there was a burning within his heart that sought to bring the lowly to his own station, so to speak. From whence that burning to right the wrong of the inhuman slavery?—The burning was from true love! What was true of Wilberforce and slavery can also be true of us in our everyday relationships if and when we experience true love.

6. True love gives and saves life

Love and life by very essence can never be severed. True love always seeks to give, save, and protect life. People who seek to end the lives of other people for their own selfish reasons wrongly claim to love and be loved. They can perhaps rightly claim to love themselves. But when you love only yourself and exclude the other, you will be ultimately left alone, and lonely. How is it that people who knowingly stand for the destroying of unborn infants, and people who stand for the marital union of two people incapable of producing children, claim to make these stands in the name of love? Both bents of mind when pushed to their final logical conclusions reveal that the end goal is to stop life being produced. And where there is no life, what or who then remains to be loved? For love to find expression there must be people alive to love. Only true love can give and save life. True love loves life.

7. True love centers itself on the other

In our sex-crazed culture the philosophy of so-called love that’s being propagated runs along these lines: “What’s in it for me? How can I get out of this relationship what I want for myself, when I want it? How can I have sex outside marriage, remain disease free, have a happy and peaceful disposition, a balanced social life, and protect all my vested interests at the same time?” Wanting to delight a lover and give them pleasure never crosses the mind when the central focus is on the self. Giving pleasure to a potential spouse or husband or wife is a non-issue when self is at the center. Taking pleasure from them for ourselves becomes the central issue. Counterfeit love is always self-centered. When true love comes into the picture—and it can for you—it turns the tables and centers our lives on the other, on seeking their joy, which when fulfilled then becomes the reason for our joy.

God is . . .

These 7 facets of this priceless diamond will shine only when held up to the light. In the light of God, the love of God shines brilliantly. The Bible says that God is Light. The Bible also says that God is Love. It takes the light of God to reveal the love of God. Only God is big enough to do all of these things which evince true love. And in Jesus Christ the light of God and the love of God converge to prove that no one can love like God loves, and no one can truly love until they have been loved by God. Please carefully consider these words of Jesus Christ as they relate to these 7 characteristics of love.

The love of Jesus removes loneliness. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23) When God makes His home with you, He is with you always and everywhere. You will never be alone, or lonely. He does not merely receive you as a house guest, but what makes it home is being made part of the family. He receives us as His Sons or daughters: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1)

The love of Jesus exposes lust and makes life meaningful. The Bible says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:16)

Jesus shows us the difference between the kind of life He gives and the kind of life the world offers when He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) An abundant life is a life saturated with meaning that only Jesus can give us.

The love of Jesus is a patient love that does not give up. God pursues us in love much before we ever respond in belief to His Son Jesus Christ. When we finally do respond in love to Him, it proves His patient and pursuing love for us. And so the Bible says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Once we have been apprehended by His love, Jesus does not stop pursuing us in love though. He proved this with His disciples when He was in this world, and the same is true of His pursuit of us today: “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)

The love of Jesus is a love that forgives the most unforgivable. Having acquitted her of her accusers, Jesus says to the woman caught in adultery, “I do not condemn you . . . Go. From now on sin no more.” Not only was he able to forgive someone who was being accused by other people, but He was able to forgive His own murderers in the face of death when He said on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Who else can forgive you and me of all we need to be forgiven of, except the one who is without fault Himself?

The love of Jesus elevates the lowly. Wilberforce took a cue from Jesus Christ in elevating lowly slaves and setting them free. Jesus elevates us from the status of slaves to sin and makes us slaves to Himself, but at the same time His friends. He says, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)

The love of Jesus gives and saves life. God gave Jesus to the world in love. Jesus gave His life for the world, so that all who believe in Him would be given back to God in life and never have to face eternal death. And so the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son and whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) In Jesus, a love that gives life awaits you.

The love of Jesus is other centered. The love and life of Jesus is centered on those for whom He came to die for. Jesus expressed this love of His in word, and finally in deed at the cross when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:13-14

Have you responded to God’s love? Have you experienced true love? Not until you have responded to God’s love will you have experienced true love in human relationships. God’s love is a love that will last beyond Valentine’s Day. It is a costly love that cost God the life of His Son Jesus Christ, so that we could be forgiven of our sins against God. Yet, it is a free love­—free to all who will receive and believe. Receive the love of God found in Jesus Christ. See what a difference it will make in life, and to all the other loves. All the other loves—brotherly or friendship love, romantic love, and parental love—will be fulfilling and meaningful only if they are built on the foundation of God’s unconditional love.

"Either we serve the unconditional
Or some Hitlerian monster will supply
An iron convention to do evil by." W.H. Auden

© Kenny Damara, 2016

[1] Lewis. C.S. The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1960. Pg. 2
[2] Guiness, Os. The Call. TN: Nashville, W Publishing Group, 2003.

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