Everyone agrees that’s what we really need. But this Valentine’s Day reveals we aren’t so sure as a culture about what love really is. This weekend saw the release of the painfully romantic, critically panned date movie, “50 Shades Darker.” Protest signs at myriad political demonstrations graphically commend: “Love, not Hate.” Images of cuddly puppies, kittens and even cows punctuate personal posts on Facebook. And churches continue to remind us to love God first, and our neighbors as ourselves, and even to love our enemies. How do we sort out all this celebration of love? What does this word of the day even mean? Is it ultimately one thing, or several things sharing a limited English vocabulary? Is love rooted in desire, or proximity, attachment or aspiration? And what of the energies ad campaigns harness as motivators for promoting products of all kinds? “I just love that fast, red car.”
Since “love” in all its splendor is basic to the life of the Christian community and beyond it, I decided to take some classes on “Doctrines of Love.” Of course for Christians love centers not just in the familiar commandments, but in the person of Jesus- his teaching, his behavior, his personal influence. For us the compassionate Jesus embodies God. And he is, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase, “the man for others.”
Having searched the traditions, it seems to me we need as much clarity as possible about what this love involves. Ultimately I was looking for a way to define what Christians mean by “love” -accurately and in the fewest possible words. After ruminating through much history, philosophy, psychology and theology, I eventually chiseled out ten words.
(If anyone should have comments, corrections or suggestions about this definition and its uses, I would really like to hear from you.)
I think for Christians:
LOVE IS ACTING IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE OTHER
Here is a bit of expansion on the key words:
Acting. Even from the deepest streams of emotion, love is an action that always seems to come first. Feelings follow behavior. That is, one does something, hopefully the right thing, and new feelings blossom. Often changes, transformations may take place. (Reflection should demonstrate this.)
The Best Interests. To discern what is best often requires sifting through good and better options, as well as the poor ones. To listen and reflect on situations draws one out of self interest and focuses on the otherness of persons and even things.
The Other. Christian love is not just projecting my desires, wishes or needs -though this projection may bring me out of self and into closer contact or encounter with another. Even self-love, when it is healthy, asks one to reach out to an “otherness” within.
For me this is a crucial issue. Again, your response is welcomed.
May the blessings of loving always be yours, Carroll+