Ok, so a small change from what I promised in my last post. I said I’d talk about how God loves us, but as I think about it, I realize that there is a misconception about what love is, so instead, here is a facebook note I recently wrote addressing our misconceptions:
You see it in sitcoms and movies, hear about it when your friends talk about their relationships, and probably dream about it a certain way, but what is love, really? It seems that we as people forget what love is far too easily. There are many things we forget about it, but I’m only going to go over four tonight.
1. Love is not a feeling; it’s a decision, or perhaps better said, a commitment to continually making that decision. There is certainly a wonderful feeling when you start dating someone and you get a little nervous and pretty excited whenever you see them or even when you just get a text. The way they feel when you give them a hug and the sound of their voice, the way they laugh and all their little quirks, you enjoy those things and you might feel a little giddy. But this isn’t love. This will fade. It will become normal and you’ll need something more to keep that spark going.
You may be nodding, saying, “Of course. Everyone knows that.” They might, but it’s only in their heads. How often do couples break up simply because they’re not having fun anymore or because they get bored of each other? How often is it because of a fight? Or how often because one person won’t change into who the other one wants them to be? Our relationships have become shallow, often rooted in having fun, particularly physically, and not in building that relationship, and certainly not in deciding to love that person, faults and all.
The result is that some people are only happy in the beginning of a relationship and then the “new car smell” fades and the shine wears off and you’re left, much to your surprise, with another human, as fallen and prone to selfishness as you are. Moreover, you find out that this person isn’t going to fix all your problems. He or she won’t cure your lack of self-confidence or make you change your heart (even if a few of your habits do change). You will still be you and that person will still be who he or she is. Can you decide to love that person anyway, even knowing that it’s unlikely their heart will ever change?
Yet even that deciding isn’t enough. You can change your mind, can’t you? People do it all the time, and that’s how divorce lawyers make much of their money. Love is making a commitment to love that person, even when you’re furious with or deeply hurt by him or her. It’s not ignoring mistakes and sins, but deciding that you will look past them, that you will try to find a way through the pain to a place where you can restore your relationship. If you don’t make that commitment, it’s possible to stop loving someone. It won’t happen overnight, but you can decide to stop. The pain can be too much over too long a time and you just decide to stop loving because you’re no longer feeling loved.
And yet, that’s the point. If you choose to stop loving someone, your love was conditional in the first place. It was dependent on you being loved. Which brings me to point #2:
2. Love is a gift; it can’t be earned. If you try to earn love, then you’re trying to take the greatest thing in the world and make it a paycheck. It’s our human nature, I know; we have a very difficult time accepting something for free. You might take some free things, but inside, there’s a little part of you telling you that you deserve it somehow. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a free sample at a grocery store or a lunch with a friend when they foot the bill, we either find some way to justify it or try to find some way to pay the person back. That way, we don’t owe them anything.
The problem is that attitude is what’s keeping us from both receiving and giving love as we were meant to know it. We don’t just want to pay others back for kindness shown to us, we want them to pay us back, too. Give and take. Meet me in the middle. If that person you’re in a relationship with stops loving you, the love from your side eventually stops because it was dependent on what you were getting out of it. Your love was not true-love, but a business arrangement on making each other feel good about yourselves.
True love doesn’t care whether it receives anything in return. It doesn’t disappear when it is hurt or when trust is broken. It doesn’t give up on the other person. Does that mean it gets run over sometimes? Yes, often. In fact, it once got crucified. Even that couldn’t stop it.
The problem with trying to earn love is that you never can earn the real thing and you’ll always feel like you’ve either earned more or less than you’re getting. Some people get very proud and think they deserve for others to love them and some think they’re completely unlovable. Few, if any, think the payout is equal to the work put in. This means that the majority of people aren’t satisfied in the exchange. They’re secretly keeping score and when things get out of balance, they get upset about it. The other person’s not living up to their end of the deal and so something must be done or the love will start to fade. This kind of “love” can be earned, but it is only through the constant effort of both parties and there will be clashes when one or both aren’t feeling loved as much as they are loving.
But the real thing compared to the fake is like gold compared to pyrite. It’s something that has to be experienced to be understood. It’s not about giving as much as the other person; it’s about giving your all to that other person. That means you will be hurt sometimes. It means others will stomp on you and take advantage of you. And that’s the third point of love:
3. Love requires sacrifice. In 2 Samuel 24, God sends an angel to punish the Israelites, but tells the angel to stop at the threshing floor of Araunah. David wanted to sacrifice to God there in his gratitude and Araunah offered to give him the threshing floor, but David refused and was adamant about paying the full price. Why? Because he didn’t want to offer something to God that cost him nothing. David understood that there is no love without sacrifice. Until there is a sacrifice made, what we call love is little more than happy feelings.
Jesus, God as man, offered Himself to die for us because He loved us. Before that, He offered numerous covenants, from the one He made with Adam and Eve, to the promise made to Noah, to the one He made with Abraham, to the Ten Commandments and the laws of Leviticus. Aside from the promise made to Noah, which required nothing on Noah’s part, all of these were broken by the people. He had every right to wipe us all out and start over with a new race or do anything else He wanted to us, yet He chose to grant us mercy again and again, knowing before the first sin even happened, before He even created us, what it would cost Him.
Your love for your significant other probably won’t cost you your life. What it will cost you, though, is time, money, effort when you’re exhausted, pain, wrongs that you have to forgive, anger that you have to let go, and many other things. It will take you out of your comfort zone, make you want to grow and become a better person, convict you of your sins, and mold you. And these are sacrifices, things that you give up without getting anything in return. They’re not negotiations, they’re not manipulations so you get your way next time, and they’re not things you do so you can feel better about yourself and your value in the relationship. They’re sacrifices, gifts to the other person that cost you something. Until you start making some of these sacrifices, it’s not true love, just a good feeling that costs you nothing.
4. Speaking of forgiveness, it seems many people are confusing correction with rejection. To an extent, the church could learn something from the “accept everyone” culture that is gaining prevalence in America and seems to have taken hold in many other places. We shouldn’t hate anybody. We shouldn’t tell anybody they need to change before they can be saved. We shouldn’t demand that people who don’t believe what we believe live the way we live. We’re not going to get anyone into the church that way to hear the message, much less want to become Christians. We’ll get them in by loving them.
That said, many people are turned off by the notion that becoming a Christian means you have to change your lifestyle. First off, changing the lifestyle is not to be saved; it’s to show love to God. Much like in my relationship, I’ve stopped playing video games because it was taking too much time from my work and now I have a future with someone to plan for. I didn’t do that because she gave me some ultimatum, but because I loved her and knew this would have a negative effect on our relationship.
What seems to be a bigger part of the problem is that many people, even Christians, disagree with what the Bible says on certain issues. They call them issues of the time and believe that since times have changed, so has morality. Some people bring up Old Testament law to mock Christianity (which is ridiculous because we’re not under that law anymore; it is what Jews believe, not Christians) while others point to verses in the New Testament about slaves serving their masters well as a Biblical endorsement of slavery. It’s not saying slavery is good (and this slavery is somewhat different than the brutal Roots-type slavery in the American South); it’s saying that whatever position you’re in, work to the best of your ability.
At the root of it, the law is God’s will and God doesn’t change. The law outlined in the Old Testament has been fulfilled by Jesus, and having been fulfilled perfectly, frees us all from it. The law we’re under now is simple: love God with all your heart, mind, and soul; love your neighbor as yourself; and forgive others as God forgives you (which is really part of the second one). There are other laws that fit into these, other commands we are given in the New Testament to follow. You can disagree with some of these, but that doesn’t matter, anymore than a baseball player who doesn’t like the “three strikes, you’re out” rule gets to stay at the plate after the third strike. God made the rules and your opinion on them is irrelevant because He’s infinitely more powerful than you are.
The third and biggest roadblock seems to be that people hear rejection when correction is what is meant. To an extent, it is the fault of the person giving correction in many cases, especially, as mentioned at the start of this point, when it is the church trying to correct non-Christians. But it is also often the fault of the person who needs the correction. Our society has become so accepting that it seems anyone who disagrees with an action is labeled “close-minded” or “judgmental.” We understand the parent who tells their child they can’t have cookies for every meal, even when the child doesn’t understand why not, but we consider ourselves experts on the effects of all of our decisions and the sole authority of our own personal morality, sometimes even despite a belief in God. The truth is that if God exists, and I strongly believe He does, it doesn’t matter what you or I or President Obama or the Pope thinks of the rules. It matters what He says they are. And correcting a Christian in that or a Christian explaining their views to a non-Christian is not a form of rejection, but a love that risks being rejected.