I was debating whether to post such a semi-surly post here on Christmas Eve. By the time I was done typing, I saw that it was basically a rant. But this one has been bothering me for a long time, and its thought was going to interfere with anything else I tried to write so I figured I'd better just get it over with.
I have lost track of how many times I have heard Christian leaders (and their followers) comment on the greatest commandments: Love the LORD your God ... Love your neighbor ... and fairly quickly say this: "Love is not a feeling." I googled for posts where "love your neighbor" and "not a feeling" were posted together. Hundreds of them, and that's only the ones containing those exact phrases. Naturally google doesn't count the dozens of times I've heard it in sermons and Bible classes.
Excuse me, but: YES, love is a feeling. It's worth noticing that love is more than a feeling: it's also our decision, our action, our gift from God. But I think "love is not a feeling" is one of the most wrong-headed pieces of nonsense that we tolerate in the church as if it were wise. We love with "heart, mind, soul, and strength"; this is for God and also for our neighbors, since love of God and love of neighbor cannot rightly be separated. We love not just with mind, soul, and strength, but with heart also.
Can you command love? Well, the law does command love so obviously you can. Does it make sense to command love? In the sense that the law shows what God really considers the fulfillment of righteousness, it makes sense. Does anyone expect love to be generated in obedience to a command? Of course not; in this case the law shows us how wrong-hearted we are. It shows how little we actually appreciate God and neighbor that such love is not already present in us. The lack of love highlights our sinful hearts plainly. And the fact that we can limp along without love in our hearts ("love is not a feeling") but still manage the actions as an effort of will, this is a step in the right direction, but a halting and imperfect step that rightly should embarrass us with its pathetic and cold-hearted nature.
If there's one thing worse than not loving our neighbors, it's pretending that we love our neighbors when we don't because after all "love is not a feeling." Nonsense. We're sinners. We have fallen short of the glory of God. We do not love either God or neighbor as we should. And loving our neighbors -- yes, with our hearts too -- is God's desire for us.
(Steps back off of soap box.) I feel better. Next time I hear someone say that, I'll be better prepared for a calmer disagreement, more prepared to challenge the continuing repetition of something false and damaging. Take care & God bless.