The Nature of Love


shutterstock_124493413It seemed appropriate on this, Valentines Day, to reflect on the nature of Love.

In Christian Scripture, the Apostle Paul’s First Epistle to Corinthians (chapter 13) is known as the “Love Chapter.” I quote it in full here…

1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The thing I observe about Paul’s eloquent prose is that it talks about how Love is at the core of the Christian message.  Without it, says Paul, Christianity is nothing, and our words meaningless.

In fact, in reflecting upon the Gospels I do not recall a single instance where Jesus limits the ways in which we are encouraged (or allowed) to love others.  Instead, like Paul, Jesus focuses us on the importance and centrality of Love, often being an example to us of how to love others, and how our love for the other must be grounded in our Love of God.

I remember the first time I saw a young couple passionately kissing, when I was an early teen, I think.  It was a new thing for me – an unfamiliar sight, something I was not comfortable with, something that unnerved me more than a little bit.  I remember thinking “Ewwww!”  … I’m sure most of us have had similar experiences!

And then I reflect on the first time I saw (when I was much older) two men kissing – just as passionately.  I experienced the same emotions: this was something new, unfamiliar, unnerving, unsettling.  …Ewwww!

But then we must consider that we see such things through at least two lenses at the same time, the first being our “gut reactions” – which are a combination of reaction to something we’ve not seen before, plus – at least in my case – growing up in a town and time that had not yet been touched by the sexual revolution.  The second is our intellectual reaction – which, at that young age, was virtually nonexistent for me.  It takes time and experience to identify how our emotional reactions are coloring what we find the Bible and other sources are trying to teach us on any topic, including such public demonstrations of affection and love.

Love is a natural thing.  We are called to love one another, and Jesus – and the Bible – do not limit who we can love.  We are called to Love unconditionally … “Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things.  … Love never ends.”

And Paul goes on to say “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child” …And so I said “Ewwww!” to myself when I saw that boy and girl kissing!

Yes, some parts of the Bible seem to condemn certain intimate acts between persons of the same gender, but even that is disputable; and clearly, there is not an absolute nor global prohibition against such things in any case.  And also, despite all the furor about it, the Bible doesn’t even give any clear direction as to what types of marriage are permissible (or not).

The Bible never condemns us for loving one another, and I see nothing in the Bible that demands we prevent people from loving each other.  Therefore, how can loving each other be wrong, and why do we feel we need to prohibit it or stop it?

The Bible has been misinterpreted to support prohibitions against certain types of marriage in the past, such as interracial marriage.  And yet, time has shown that we are capable of learning and growing, to the point where few now remember that interracial marriage was both illegal and deemed un-Biblical in much of this country when I was a child, less then half a century ago.  We already see how rapidly this country as a whole is realizing that same gender relationships of these types need not be a threatening or unsettling thing.  They are normal, they are human, they are merely more examples of the many wonderful ways that God’s love manifests in and through us.

The Bible’s response to the question of who we can love is best summarized in Jesus’ answer to a lawyer who asked “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?”  He said…

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 8This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”  (Matthew 22:37b-40).

I doubt I’ll ever personally kiss someone of the same gender – at least not with passion, but I’m an adult now – and the discomfort of my childhood and young adulthood evaporated once I realized that the norms of my childhood were never the universal reality I thought they were.  I see more clearly now then I did then.

The Bible does not tell us who we can Love.  It calls us to love all of God’s children, and therefore, if we are called to love so freely, then how can we claim that others cannot love each other, no matter who they are, and no matter whom they love?

The Bible does not limit whom we Love, nor does it condemn those willing to love.  Instead, it teaches us how to Love.  And, as a Christian, how can I not?

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site).

Author: Allen

A would be historian turned IT Professional who responded to the call to the Ministry, and is now focused on social justice and community service. He is a father of two (ages 28 & 7). He and his wife enjoy life near Boston. You can follow Pastor Allen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PastorAllenV/ or on Twitter @allenvm3.

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