What Love Is
Or what love isn’t. Considering Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Ever wonder what God intended for us to do through Love?
Paul Simon says there are at least 50 ways to leave your lover. I’ll have to take his word for it. I’ve been on the receiving end of three – and two I’ve used myself. The idea that there are at least 50 ways suggests something about our narcissistic world – but I digress.
Today’s topic really is “what love is,” not what it isn’t.
Love is the fruit of life, it is fundamentally human, and it’s a gift from God. Love is also a feeling that makes most folks wanna go out and do something really nasty. How’s that for contrast?
A scientist recently discovered the very hormone, pheromone, or whatever, that causes people to fall in love. “Body chemistry” anyone? Soon, they’ll find a way to bottle the stuff and sell it in convenient ‘ready-to-use’ pocket-sized capsules - oh wait, they have that already. Isn’t it called Viagra or something like that?
Webster defines Love as a strong affection or liking for someone or something. Thing? Well, I suppose you can love a thing, like a car, a boat, or a can of soup. Another dictionary says that Love is a profound affection or devotion – still could be just about anything. I found this eloquent perspective from Kim Stanley Robinson’s marvelous trilogy about the colonization of Mars (yep, the planet). In Red Mars, one of the main characters says, “You love who you love when you love them. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.”
One of the most honest answers I’ve heard lately comes from my good friend Brent. “Love is what you ain’t got, and if you got it you don’t know it until she’s up and off with somebody else.” Completely honest in that country ballad sort of way.
But beyond melancholic mush, isn’t there something more?
There’s always the other Paul (the Apostle, not the pop singer); author of the so-called “Love Verse” otherwise known as 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
That’s one of my favorite passages, mainly because of what comes next:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Puts a nice spin on what Christianity should be about – “not self-seeking, not-easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” The Apostle Paul had a bead on something important – but I wish I had a better understanding for his motive for writing those passages. I can only assume that he heard or saw something that triggered the inspiration. Maybe this last bit is a clue:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
The ancient Greeks came up with the word Agape; an all-purpose noun that defines all positive feelings carried by a strong human motive. Nice. Thus, “love” becomes more than romance, but a delicacy of humanity, of brotherly love, of self-sacrifice and selfless understanding. Take the word “Love” out of 1 Corinthians 13 and replace it with “agape” and then maybe you’ll see something else that the elder apostle was aiming at in those passages. Maybe what Paul was trying to do was give emphasis to what was written in John 15:13.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Yes, Love most certainly has a romantic angle and it is one of the strongest emotions humans can experience, but so is Hate. How easy we are to anger when people do things we do not like – how spontaneous we are when we think that someone has cut against our beliefs and our ideals. But if we follow Paul’s advice, shouldn’t we be just as spontaneous with patience and understanding?
Kinda gives you pause about how we should Love, whom we love, and why. At least it does for me.