What is love?
The poets have never stopped contemplating it. Song writers write, singers sing, actors act… they write about love, they sing about love, they portray love as best they can. But mankind still cannot understand its depths.
Philosophers habitually avoid the subject, preferring topics such as good versus evil, morality, existentialism, and politics. They methodically dissect society and man, cutting both into bite-sized pieces for analysis, then reconstructing them in an attempt to achieve some level of cohesiveness in their design or description.
And this I've noticed: Man is an optimist. Look at every great societal movement in history. Common to them all is an overriding optimism on the part of their adherents. We humans are pre-wired for optimism, and I believe this is why we seem to jump toward the latest philosophy that seems to offer an explanation for our own internal experience while offering better days ahead for those who subscribe.
So we have movements to solve the problems of hunger, poverty, oppression, racial inequalty, gender inequality, social inequality… the list goes on. And all these movements gain traction, for they are about things we understand and have either experienced or seen first hand. Furthermore, we can each put our finger on just how to solve the problem, though we may disagree on what is the best solution.
We all know there is a lack of love in our world. Most of us have experienced a lack of love. So where is the Love Movement, and if it's out there, why hasn't it gained any traction?
Firstly, love is intangible. Unlike racial equality, it cannot be guaranteed through legislative mandate. And unlike food or money, it cannot be collected and redistributed.
Secondly, we don't understand love, so we can't conceive a plan whereby it's proper distribution might be overseen. Love is elusive. Even if we recognize it when we see it, we don't know where it came from, that we might harness its power.
Thirdly, love is individual, not societal. A society does not have love. Only individuals have love. Love is the one needed commodity that cannot be acquired by force, coercion, taxation, theft, or manipulation of any kind. It furthermore cannot even be earned. Love is the ultimate voluntary thing of value. You can ask for it, but that's as far as it goes.
- Did you shame your husband into loving you? Congratulations… you lose. Whatever you got, it wasn't love. It was something else.
- Did you pay that woman to love you? Congratulations, "John." But it wasn't love, and everyone knows it. It was something else.
Love is about giving, whereas all these social movements are about taking—under the guise of giving. The government might give to the poor, but never without taking what it gives from someone else. It either takes first, then gives, or it gives, and then takes later, with interest. This is not to say that taking (or, more properly, receiving) and giving is necessarily wrong. The example serves only to illustrate the difference between love and stuff. It seems pretty basic, but we often confuse the two.
"I buy you everything you need and want," said the indifferent husband. "How can you say I don't love you?" His wife may not be able to articulate her objection, but her heart somehow knows that it is love that is lacking. She can demand stuff and get it, but if she demands love, she'll only get something else—usually stuff, but not love. As for love, she can ask for it, but that's as far as it goes.
What is love?
As long as this husband continues striving to prove his love by providing stuff, he has not proven his love. He has only proven stuff. But here's the really slippery part. Here's the proof that we don't understand love: The fact that he's only proven stuff, not love, doesn't prove a lack of love. Read it again. The fact that he seeks to prove his love by providing stuff does not prove that he does not love her. It only shows his lack of understanding of what proves love.
What proves love?
I would like to present a biblical definition of love. You may at this point write me off as just another religious shill, but before you go, let me challenge you to find a better source. Go ahead, ask the poets. Enjoy the swim.
The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
—1 John 4:8 HCSB
In this sentence love is a verb, as well as a noun. The obvious implication is that the one who is the noun is the one who is always, consistently doing the verb. Thus we can learn the definition of the noun by looking at the actions of the one who is doing the verb. The other obvious implication is this: If I know God, my chances of loving are increased.
I believe that we were created with a permanently embedded subconscious desire to know God, for which human has never cried out for love? Who among us was born wanting nothing to do with love? None. Our desire for love is universal. It is the one thing that transcends all social, racial, ethnic, sexual, moral, and ethical borders. Everybody needs love. Everybody needs God.
Of course there are those who, having had a bad experience, have rejected the pursuit of love. Thus we have poetic examples such as,
- The Prison of Love
- Love stinks
- I Hate Myself for Loving You.
I've known individuals who grew up in the church and have since rejected God, and in every case it is clear that their church failed to express God's love. Interestingly, even having forsaken the notion of God's existence, most of these individuals still seek love. What they don't realize is that they are still seeking God, because God is love.
So why is love so elusive? It is because in order to find it, you must meet God. In order to apprehend love, it's nuances, it's power, it's permanence, it's strength which is stronger than death, it's determination, it's boldness, it's jealousy, it's righteous indignation… in order to understand love, you must meet God, for God is love.
Another outward manifestation of our built-in God-seeking mechanism is found in that we often expect others to be God, while thinking that we just want them to love us. It comes out differently in men versus women. A weak and silly man (who is really still a boy) asks his woman to provide all his needs for personal fulfillment and self-identity. He depends on her for those things, and he would be lost and adrift without her. He wants her to be God for him. (Side note: fulfilling this role is not what a woman needs, nor is it constructive of a sound relationship. Unfortunately, society has trained most men and women well for these roles.)
As described in the biblical account of mankind's fall after the creation, the woman's natural tendancy is to look to her husband (instead of to God) to fulfill her needs which only God Himself can meet. She wants him to be her God. She says she wants him to love her, but her real search goes beyond love. She is seeking God.
We all seek God. Some of us know it, some do not. We all know when we are seeking love, but we can't always tell, in any given instance, whether it is actually God whom we seek.
And what are the two most prevalent psychoses that seem to plague mankind in our day? I would say it is
- Narcissism, and
Granted, these are artificial diagnostic constructs, being "invented," as it were, by observers of human nature and behavior. But what is at the center? Is it not love? Yes. Love.
We don't know what love is, but we know we need it. And we will desperately pursue it, even while feigning indifference. Secretly, at least, we seek, desire, and long for love.
So what can a man or a woman do, who earnestly desires to be a lover of others? How can we love well, in view of the fact that no one on earth can tell us what love is? How can one reach beyond and above the trite little sayings and sound bites?
And furthermore, what steps can we take in order to see and recognize love when it comes our way? This onus falls upon ourselves, does it not? Is it not our own responsibility to recognize the love of those who desire to love us? If it's not ours, then who's is it!?
And here we have my final observation: the plurality of love. Love cannot exist apart from a lover and a beloved. The single man finds a wife, and in so doing, finds an object of his love. (In this regard, a wife should not object to being an object!) A single woman finds a husband, and in so doing, finds an object of her love. (Most husbands, unless they are fools, do not object to this objectification.)
Both may have been very loving individuals, but their lovingness, until they met, had no target, and thus was potential, but not actual. Now, being married, there is an object—a target—for their love. But the dynamics of love now depend on the participation of two individuals. Whichever way it's going, there is a love giver and a love receiver; and both are called to responsibility in each respective role.
Here's my point: Far too often, we hear (and say!) the statement, "If he loved me, he would… " or, "If she loved me, she would… " you may fill in the blank.
Hey, man, what you're failing to recognize is your own responsibilty in the act of receiving the love of your wife. And woman, the same goes for you. You have a responsibilty to recognize your husband's expression of love, even when it might seem like something else.
Love cannot prevail, pervade, and proliferate in an environment where either the lover or the beloved is failing to meet his or her respective responsibilties. Love needs both for actuality. It may potentially exist, but it cannot be actual without both: a lover, and a beloved; a giver, and a receiver.
Here's something we know intuitively: God might be love, if He exists, but unless and until I acknowledge His existence, His love (hypothetical or otherwise) cannot have any effect upon me or my life unless and until I acknowledge His existence. This is simple logic, with which the atheist and the believer alike can agree. Similarly, a husband might love his wife, but unless and until she can bring herself to recognize his love, it will not enhance their relationship. And that goes both ways.
I think that those who believe they are trapped in a loveless marriage should consider these things. It might not be loveless afterall. It's possible that you don't recognize the love that is there, right in front of you.
Christians at large must admit that we often fail to recognize God's love even as He sends it our way. God has not failed at love. It is us who fail to receive it.
According to the bible, man was created in God's own image. If God is love, then surely we have each, within ourselves, a vestige of the capacity and potential to love. What else explains the endless search of the poets? For hidden beneath the surface of their search for love is the search for the ability to express love! It's there if you care to look. Man is searching for an object of his love, as well as requisition. Could it be that we, in fact, are that object for God, Himself? Could it be that we are the object of God's love—and that He is patiently waiting for us to respond in kind?
I think so.
I am thoroughly so convinced.