First published April 18, 2013
What is Love—billboards, popular magazines, television, films, books all reveal the various dynamics of romantic love – it's on display everywhere. These ideals are praised. There is certainly value in romantic love, and my question is whether I am the only one who is questioning whether this is what Love is? Is there more? Is love this narrow conception?
As a young Christian I'm also confronted with another type of Love rather than this narrow ideal. There is this dichotomy that I'm confronted with every day—What is Love? What is true Love?
As a philosophy, modern society expresses Love with 'feelings', the 'feelings of romanticism'. This involves a feeling of possessiveness and exclusivity. But even society acknowledges family Love which is different again—our children, closeness, bonds that bind, blood is thicker than water … These are valid and worthy.
As a Christian, I am faced with a different kind of Love, this encourages me to go beyond … Loving God becomes a priority, as is loving our neighbour (means anyone else). Partiality is gone and within this context is a distinct lack of exclusivity—it's a bit of a shock to a new Christian what is involved with this commandment to Love.
One person's example of Love
The apostle James says true religion, that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James chapter 1, verse 27).
Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen is an author whom I read with interest. His life inspires me, for after teaching at universities such as Yale and Harvard he dedicated his later life to care for people with disabilities.
Throughout his life he struggled with both depression and his sexuality but yet set an amazing example for others to follow of Christ like love and sacrifice. Does it make Nouwen any less loving, or less knowledgeable of love, that he was celibate? I would argue most certainly not.
In fact, I would say the love Nouwen had and gave to the poor and disabled was a kind of self sacrificial love that many people may never touch. It's graceful in its unmerited favour in an age in which for some possessive and preferential love reigns supreme. To have compassion for the weak, the vulnerable, and the powerless, is in itself subversive and is a place where the light of Christ shines through.
In this matrix of love it is not the feeling that comes first. Nouwen didn't care for the disabled because he fell in love with someone who was poor or disabled, no; love is the work of love. And the work of love is his life. The task is not to find a loveable object or person, but the task is to find the given object or person—loveable.
A highly esteemed theologian Søren Kierkegaard had a great deal to say about Love.
"With respect to love we speak continually about perfection and the perfect person. With respect to love Christianity also speaks continually about perfection and the perfect person. Alas, but we men talk about finding the perfect person in order to love him. Christianity speaks about being the perfect person who limitlessly loves the person he sees."
In my view, he seems to be saying that each of us should be working on ourselves instead of chasing the dream of the perfect object or person to love.
As none of us are perfect, there should be an inherent attempt to be a more loving person towards all—this is at least something we might be in a position to control and developed within ourselves.
The Scriptures certainly affirm that following Jesus Christ enables this endeavour to 'Love' which is aided by the Holy Spirit dwelling within each believer. For me therefore Love is of God, and pure love comes from God whether it is romantic love, family love, service to others Love or a more internal expression of Love in how we live our lives.
Peter Rope is a Financial Economics and Theology graduate from Auckland.
Peter Rope's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/peter-rope.html