February 14, 2017

What Is Love?

"...baby, don't hurt me...don't hurt me...no more..."  --Dee Dee Halligan, performed by Haddaway

Sorry, but that's proper primary response to the question, "What is love," just like this is the proper primary response to the question, "What/Who are you?" (note:  headbutt optional).

You know, I'm all for the message that the highest, purest form of love is that which God has for us. In fact, I preached right along that line this past Sunday.

But, as we proclaim that message, both on Valentine's Day and throughout the year, we really need to be careful not to create false equivalences.

For example, the comparison is drawn in Scripture that marriage is a reflection of God's relationship with His people.  But, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge the fact that, often in modern Christian society—and, especially on this day of the year—we tend to co-opt that comparison to tell singles that the presence of God's love should fill and negate the need for relational and marital love. 

Oh, you've heard it before.  In fact, you may have seen it today on social media.

"Single on Valentine's Day?  Not overflowing with happiness over that?  Just let Jesus be your Valentine!  He's all you need, anyway!"

"Well, isn't it true that Jesus is all we need?" you ask.  Actually, no; at least, not the way it's intended in that phrase.

Now, don't label me a heretic just yet.  It's certainly true that:

  • the crucified, risen Christ is all that's necessary for our salvation.
  • the written Word reveals God's will to us concerning all things that are necessary for our salvation (that specification of "for our salvation" is a finer point at which the Church of the Nazarene parts company with many of our protestant sister denominations).
  • God, in His grace and goodness, as the Sovereign Creator & Sustainer Of The Universe and the Owner of the cattle on a thousand hills, provides certain of His blessings to all of humanity,
  • the Lord promises to provide all things to His followers.

But, that's just the point:  He will give us "all things," as in all of the things we need.  It's a plural direct object, meaning that there are multiple things we need, graciously provided by the hand of one God.

"Jesus is all we need" is no more the complete answer for humanity's longing for companionship than it is for humanity's need for food.  

In the perfect, sinless environment of Eden, Adam still had to eat, and he still needed human companionship.  Consider the fact that in Genesis 2:18, Adam's lack in this respect is the one thing in all of a pre-sin creation that God says is "not good."  Thus, God created Eve as an equal possessor of His image, an equal servant in His Kingdom, and an equal companion to Adam.

Jesus will provide all of our needs; and He, personally, is absolutely our deepest, greatest need.  It's only when we have Him that all of the other things we need can be everything they're meant to be.  But, that doesn't make Him our only need.  In fact, the fact that we need so many things, and that He is willing and able to provide them, highlights God's greatness all the more.

So, having established all that, let's be real: this cliché we've used for so long in Christian circles, “Let Jesus be your Valentine,” honestly skews and cheapens both forms of love; and, that's a crying shame.

If God's love is higher than all other forms of love, if it's broader in its scope and deeper in its impact,  if it's the greater reality which all other forms of love are meant to reflect, then where do we get off thinking that we can flippantly relegate it to the status of nothing more than essentially a palette swap for marital love in an attempt to "fix" the loneliness expressed by our fellow human being?

In fact, if we ought to just be happy and content and downplay or deny the longing for relationship because "Jesus is all we need," then it would seem that you married folks who repeat this cliché to your single friends and acquaintances have rejected the all-sufficiency of God's love by getting married.  Either that, or you just get to have your cake and eat it, too.  😉

I realize that those are overly-exaggerated points.  But, hyperbole can help to get a point across; and, my point is this:  we've got to be more careful with our words and phrases, especially when imparting them to others.

By the way, to be absolutely clear, this isn't some new problem brought on by the rise of social media and memes. The fact is that American society has long placed such a high value on personal comfort that we're willing say anything to make others feel good.  For most people, that's because seeing others not feel good makes them not feel good, and that's unacceptable.

But, then again, I'm just a middle-aged single guy.  What do I know about love?

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