Thursday, February 19, 2009

The practical realities of love

Although there is much talk about "love", I am not sure that we have a clear idea of what love involves. We "love" a candy bar, a movie, an idea, a job, or a person. But when a Christian considers love, we consider the very nature of God. We consider the actions by which God defines himself, and the actions and attitudes he calls us to have. What defines love in this sense of holy and creative love?

Love is determined to be a blessing to the beloved.
Love delights in the good found in the beloved.
Love desires fellowship with the beloved.

If we consider love this way, it becomes more obvious that some of the things we call "love" do not meet this definition. The trivial example of a candy bar falls at the very first point: we have no goal of being a blessing to the candy bar. Instead, we will use it for our own enjoyment and will devour the candy bar. Even though the example of the candy bar is silly, it illustrates an important point: in human love such as romantic love, sometimes one person loves another in very much the same way. One person may enjoy the other, but without any wish or plan to be any help to the other person at all.

I am afraid that much Christian charity does not meet the full definition of love either. If Christian charity does not delight in the good found in the other, if it avoids fellowship, it is not fully love. There is a sense in which this kind of charity can be dehumanizing, a patronizing insult which denies any value to the object of charity. Love, by definition, seeks involvement. Any action which seeks only minimal involvement has only minimal claim to be considered as love.

Human nature being what it is, we may find ourselves tempted to stop this kind of minimally-loving charity because it only meets one of these three practical realities of love. However, one of three is better than none. The better goal would be to directly touch the lives in a human way rather than through impersonal means of a cash donation. That would involve our time and our presence -- the kinds of things which are much more likely to change lives than money which comes and goes without leaving behind even a memory of a face.

Love within our families is much the same way. Someone who does the chores but resents the people who benefit from them, or helps another person from duty but does not delight in them, or enjoys the other person but never helps them -- these are not the love to which we are called. The love to which we are called seeks out ways in which to be a blessing. It is glad for the other person, and wants to be with them.

These actions and desires that define love are the way in which God loves us.


Martin LaBar said...

This is why C. S. Lewis wrote about the four loves, or it's one reason.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Martin

I was actually considering a follow-up interacting with Lewis on that. I know that it's conventional to break down the loves that way. There's even some usefulness. But it leads to a tendency to think it's ok if the other loves in a Christian's life are *not* up to the par of Christlike love (blessing, delight, fellowship), and I think the challenge is to make all loves meet that standard even if they retain some unique features.

When I look at my own life, I can easily see God's love as corrective to supplement what is lacking in my own love.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Excellent, Anne!

Love, like faith, in fact like everything in Christianity, must be practical or it is only imaginary.

Weekend Fisher said...

Or like Paul was saying, "The only thing that remains is faith working itself out in love."

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF