Originally Published January 14, 2013
Love God. Love others. Love – It’s everywhere these days. Books, preachers, psychologists, and the public in general advocate the spread of this powerful virtue on nearly a universal scale. After all, who can oppose love without being an antagonistic “hater” of the good of society?
But what does it mean to love others? Does it mean to get an ooey gooey euphoria when we think about society? Does it mean to change a person’s life?
The “Love Movement” has been a serious crusade of the Christian Church for a number of years now, although it certainly is not exclusive to the Church. Love is promoted in the Bible as a “type” of God’s presence among men and as a work of ministry which Christ demands. I’ve seen this movement grow from it’s beginnings in the early ’90’s, yet something about it just doesn’t seem to fit, something that I’ve never before been quite able to put my finger on…
One part of this movement that has never set well with me as a Christian is the fact that love seems to be, dare I say, worshipped among Christians as a form of God, and that all other aspects of God, Christian doctrine, and Scripture are excluded. Christianity becomes summed to merely one verse – “If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (I John 4.12). It’s like an extreme form of tunnel vision that worships a Virtue rather than the Creator of Virtue, which puts me in mind of Paul’s warning – “…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1.25b ESV). Christ Himself warned that in the latter days, some will come to Him seeking recognition for their works of righteousness only to hear Him say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7.23b). Because of these things ringing in my head, I grew greatly concerned for the movement of love that had taken over the Church.
But as I voiced my concerns, I was quickly labeled as a “hater” and a “legalist” who is an antagonist of Christ’s work in today’s world. I realized that people (Christians) would not hear what I had to say unless they were forced to hear by a much stronger argument than the concerns of a renegade Christian scholar. Thus, this is the result of my investigations, an argument which is not without challenge but is strong enough to force the reader to question this movement before welcoming it with open arms.
Biblical Take On Love
The topic of Love is addressed in several places in the Bible, most notably in I Corinthians 13 and the epistles of St John. In these Scriptures, Love is portrayed in two ways: as a noun and as a verb.
Love As Evidence
St Paul lists Love as the “greatest” of three things which help us, an incomplete creature, to understand God.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. I Cor 13.4-13
Even though this passage is often used to promote the action of love, it is merely a description of love – a thing, or evidence of something greater. Nowhere here does St Paul promote active love.
Love As Action
Though St Paul did not associate the description of love with action in I Corinthians 13, Christ did so in giving His “new commandment” to His disciples.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. St John 13.34-35
St John echoes Christ’s words as he addresses the action of love in his epistles.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. I John 4.11-12
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. I John 3.11
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. I John 3.18
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever love has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. I John 4.7-8
Here, St John is clearly telling us that we are to actively love our fellow man. This suggests that love is itself an entity which has power in itself – a Virtue which has the power to change. Yet this is contradictory with what St Paul implied when he listed love along with hope and faith, neither of which can be attained by human power. Where is the discrepancy?
St John tells us himself, so long as we read beyond the tunnel vision of love:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. I John 5.13
Thus, the answer is clear. Active love is for the purpose of assurance and knowledge – not at all as a superpower to change the world. This forces us to question whether love is a means of experiencing God, or if it is a result of experiencing Him. From a careful examination of the Scripture, I believe it is clear that the Bible teaches love as evidence of the salvation transformation rather than as a means of sanctification, and certainly not as a force which will change the world. We cannot by our own will or actions force divine love into our lives any more than we can muster the faith to move mountains or the hope beyond the grave.
The Love Movement
So since the love in the Bible is merely evidence of God in a person’s life, what are we to think about this “love movement” which boasts that love is all it takes to make a better world? Since love is the nature of God, can love be promoted apart from God? Worship of the Virtue of Love is nothing new. I grew up in the ’80’s in the fallout from the hippy movement of the ’60’s and ’70’s. Love was the central theme then, just as it is now. “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles became a standard voice for the movement.
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game/It’s easy
There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time – It’s easy
All you need is love, all you need is love, all you need is love, love, love is all you need.
It was such a beautiful thought – the world being changed, one loving person at a time. So what was the Beatle’s thoughts on God?
Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try
No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today.
Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one. – “Imagine,” John Lennon
“Love” in the ’60’s was a very real thing. It was the central theme of free sex, free drugs, free community, peace, and harmony across the world. Yet where was God? Anywhere but among them.
So if actively propagating love in society via the individual can bring about change apart from the work of God, this forces us to ask a couple of questions: (1) What is its purpose? (2) What is its means?
Of course, these questions can be answered from an infinite number of possible angles. As a scientist, I tend to look at trends in the animal kingdom and how humans are like/dislike higher animals. My angle on this is biological altruism. It is common in the animal kingdom for individuals to act forthe good of the group at their own expense. Some examples can be seen in vampire bats which return to the colony and regurgitate blood for non-related weaker members of the colony which cannot feed for themselves, monkeys that give alarm calls at the cost of drawing attention from predators, and hymenopterans (ants, bees, wasps, etc.) which exist entirely by drones selflessly serving the queen with no benefit to themselves apart from the good of the colony. Why do these animals do these things? Who can say what goes on in the mind of an animal, but the reality is that they act in a selfless manner which benefits their group or species. Evolutionists claim this is part of the “survivalist” nature. I disagree with Evolution Theory, but I do believe from natural evidence that selfless actions can certainly be an animalistic instinct rather than a divine attribute. This forces the possibility for the purpose of “social love” as low as an ant’s mindless instinct to exist.
So what is the means of social love? How does it work? Why does it work? In my earlier years, the term “hedonism” brought pictures of unrestrained sex orgies, gluttony, and just about every other Cardinal sin in the book. After I began researching the philosophy of hedonism, I realized that I was very wrong in that assumption. Hedonism is simply a philosophical approach stating that human motives and actions are driven by pleasures and pains, whether physical, emotional, psychological, or whatever. Hedonism is a complex study with several variants, but essentially, it is the propagation of good in society by promoting pleasure and goodness. It attributes value to pleasure itself, as well as the objects of pleasure, and however much value can be propagated in society is relational to the value of society itself.
So how does hedonism relate to social love? Again, this is debatable, but I believe that the trends of promoting this altruistic, animalistic social love is a hedonistic effort to “make the world a better place.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes Love (agape) as
“the sort of love God has for us persons, as well as our love for God and, by extension, of our love for each other – a kind of brotherly love. […] Rather than responding to antecedent value in its object, agape instead is supposed to create value in its object and therefore to initiate our fellowship with God.”
The Stanford description of agape is similar to those held by the Christian community in the sense that value is imparted to fallen man by the love of God. I believe this to be true in the sense of God’s love for mankind. But it is easy for mankind to assume the next step that man’s love for others can place value in them, which is very incorrect. This is where humanistic hedonism can come into play – the notion that we have the power to create a better world through love, even love apart from God. This is the element of the love movement that has troubled me greatly and evaded me until now.
Conclusion: The Christian’s Part
So what is the Christian to do? Are we to continue in love at the risk of fueling a humanistic hedonism that ultimately rejects the God of love? Are we to refrain from loving our fellow man?
I have only my own answer to this question. But I refuse to accept that humanism should hijack such a critical part of the Christian walk and faith as love. I am thus left with the recourse to
surgically dissect the motives and purposes of my own love. Do I love at the expense of the other attributes of God and of the other elements of my Faith? Do I love as a means to change the world or reach Christlikeness, or do I simply observe love as evidence of a greater divine work in me? Do I try to force myself to love divinely, which is destined to fail in a pit of hypocrisy?
Do I feel, as though I were God, that I have the power to impart value on another person by loving them?