Sunday, April 28, 2013

What is love, really?


Love.  No single subject has been written more about in all of the history of written language.  It is hard to turn on your favorite music station and not hear a song about love.  The greeting card industry has made a sizable fortune on this topic alone.  And in our day and age nothing seems to be more misunderstood.

Recently I had a friend post about love on their social media account.  Their post underscored a deep misunderstanding of love as well as what God had to say about the matter.  Their approach was basically 'If you loved me you would accept me just the way I am.  God does, why don't you".  This friend is a homosexual.

How do I, as a Christian, begin to even answer such a statement?  God says that he does not condone homosexuality.  Not only does he not condone it, he outright condemns it:

...understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers,the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine... 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

and 

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

First let me point out that these passages are not all inclusive of the things that God hates or that will bar us from sharing in his eternal kingdom.  Basically what they are saying is "If you continue living in sin you will have no part in his Kingdom."   The reason these passages list what they do is that these things have always been considered sin and the writer (in both cases the Apostle Paul) is making it clear that the same God who gave us the Law is the same God who gave us Jesus.  And this God, although expressing to us his love through the deepest and most profound way by sacrificing his Son on our behalf is the very same God who will righteously judge everyone on the last day.   And that is where the crux of the misunderstanding of love comes in.  Who is God?

It is true that God is love.  It is also true and a necessary element to properly understanding and relating to God that he is just and holy.  To pretend to understand God as love but to refuse to even look at what it means that he is also holy is to set yourself up for a world of heart, both in your understanding of God and your relationship with others.

What I mean is this: if you insist that God is love and ignore his holiness you will insist that everyone demonstrate their love to you using this lopsided view of God.  You will tend to think along the lines of "Either you accept what I do or you don't love me.  You will either love me and accept all I do, or you will hate me".  Nothing about this statement may be true concerning the other person's love (or lack thereof) towards you, but because of how you've defined what love really is you will never get the chance to hear that dialog out.  You've basically poisoned the wells. 

It is true that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  If we stop there we may come to the conclusion that if someone doesn't demonstrate love towards me the way I want then they don't love me.  But the bible says more about love.  It  says, "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength" right before it says to love your neighbor as yourself.  So the question must be asked, "What does it mean to love God?" which is intimately tied into the question of "Who is God?"

The bible has a lot to say about this.  I don't have time in this post to go over it all but one verse in particular will suffice to make my point clear:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26

Whoa!  How does this even make sense?!  The answer is easy and it comes as the result of understand what it means to love God.  Everywhere the bible tells us that loving God is top priority.  Above all else we must love him and that there is no room for second place.  Even our loving our neighbor must be a consequence of loving God.  

In the case of the  above quote our love for God must be so great, so all consuming that even our love for our family will seem like hatred.  Not that we would actually hate all over them, but that from their perspective it will appear this way.  

How do you think a family (or anyone) feels when you go from hanging out with them, going to parties, talking about any subject that comes to mind, joking, etc. to all of a sudden wanting to spend time with other Christians more than family, ceasing to go to parties on the weekend so that, among other reasons, you can attend church Sunday morning or telling these family members, whom you love, that unless they too repent they will spend eternity in hell?  How do you think that makes them feel?  Probably just like my friend mentioned in the beginning of this post.  Like they are being hated.  

We must love our neighbors.  It doesn't matter if they are friends, family or enemies.  It doesn't matter if they love us back or they are trying to kill us.  We must love them.  And although this love does not have limits it does have rules.  If I truly do love you I will tell you who God is.  That he is a loving God who literally sacrificed EVERYTHING for you.  And if I truly do love you I will also tell you that he is a holy God and that the reason he sacrificed everything for you was so that you could leave your sins and follow him.  If I loved you I would tell you what these sins are so that you can know what you are supposed to be leaving.  If I really do love you I would warn you that by not turning to God and leaving these sins you will spend a sad and lonely eternity in a hell that was designed for those who decided to hold onto their own sins (regardless of how much you think you love God).  If I really did love you as I love myself, I would tell you these things.

Love, true love, isn't that I agree with everything you say or do. True love is that even though I don't agree with you I still sacrifice my life for you that you may see the truth alive in me.  You won't see many greeting cards with this sort of thing printed inside of them, but then again true love is too gritty to be captured accurately in glib and quaint little greeting card quotes.

I hope to speak more about who God is and why he must hate sin as well as what his love towards us really entails in future posts.