“Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.”
Contemporary Christian culture loves love. While previous generations primarily conceived and spoke of God in terms of his power, or justice, or even wrath, we love that “God is love.” Our language, whether from the pulpit or across the dinner table is saturated with ‘love-language.’ Unsurprisingly, then, we’ve also become quite fond of reading and writing on the topic, as is evidenced by the recent popularity of books about love. In one of these titles, Love Does, Bog Goff explains how love incites us to “do.” In another, more controversial book, Love Wins, Rob Bell challenges readers with the quality and range of God’s love—how far and wide it covers us, how it affects our ethics, how we in turn show it to the world. Both books hit the New York Times Best Seller List. It appears just about everyone wants to understand love.
What I find fascinating about these two books is their focus on love’s movement. Most of us realize that saying, “I love you” to someone carries a much greater weight, if that person also sees our actions prove those words to be true. But what must not be missed is that in order for you and I to express true and loving action, love must first exist within and move out from a heart that is true.
In their book, Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society, my friends Timothy Willard and Jason Locy describe love as an aspect of “The Language of God.” They show how the “Language of Culture,” which consists of technological progress, consumption, and celebrity culture, often operates in direct contradiction to love in that it encourages individuals to live for themselves.
The Language of Culture says, “Use technology to build your own platform, because in a world where celebrity fame equals cultural currency you need to get all you can.” So, we mirror a culture that emphasizes self-promotion, greed, and material success as the epitome of self-development. The culture says if you love yourself the right way then you’ll want these “things,” and it points to things that satisfy an individual.
For the Christian, however, a love that moves is a love that simmers in our souls first. It’s a love that exists as a result of our creator’s love for us. Because of his love for us, we, in turn, yearn with affection for Him and move in love and good deeds for one another. “We love because He first loved us.”
Without that anchoring concept of love our energy for people and things can get confusing. Listen to how David Nagel links his thoughts to Saint Augustine in helping to frame real love.
“Problems don’t arise because we need things, or because we love things, or because of the things themselves that we love and need. Problems arise when we fail to grasp the nature of the objects that we need and love, the manner in which we love them, and the expectations we have regarding the outcome of our love .”
Because of these actual differences in things, the outcome of loving each actual thing will be different. There is a divinely designed fit between our needs, the character of the things that can satisfy them and the way we should love them in order to be satisfied. Even though each thing God made is good, delightful, legitimate, and a source of satisfaction as an object of our love, we must not expect more from it than its unique nature can provide. We must give love and praise to things apportioned to their worth.
According to Augustine, “ There is a scale of value stretching from earthly to heavenly realities, from the visible to the invisible; and the inequality between these goods make possible the existence of them all.” God is one thing, angles area another; as are people, red oaks, squash, rocks, and dirt, each item fits in God’s overall scheme of creation. The nature of things in hierarchy is unchangeable and so is the kind of satisfaction it can provide when we are related to it through love.”
The love God has for us and the return love we have for Him stands in a unique relationship. It should have no equal. We were created with a desire to be loved. But that is not all.