A friend of yours declares, “I love Macchiato!” in a café sipping his black Macchiato. “I love you honey!” A nice looking gentleman, putting his arms around his wife, whispers in her ears. A white haired veteran on Adwa anniversary, covered with Ethiopian flag, shouts, “I love Ethiopia!”A devout Christian in the midst of Sunday worship screams, “I love you sweet Jesus! You are the lover of my soul”. A young ‘College boy’ looking at his “girlfriends” eyes and scratching his head says, “Honey If you love me, you would have sex with me.” These and other examples would illustrate to you that love is anything from personal preference of impersonal things to sexual attraction. But you wonder, “What is this thing called Love?”
This is my humble invitation for fellow friends like you to travel with me through the ‘jungles’ of ‘pop’[i] (i.e. popular) intellectual meaning and arrive at biblical concept of love. As we progress in this journey of us it will lead us to a surprisingly unexpected conclusion. Subsequently, it will have a life transforming impact in our relationships. However it is my hope and prayer for you to experience this power in your relationship with your beloved[ii]. Let us begin the adventure!
I. What is this thing called love?
It is simple to show how love is the often talked but the least understood concept. Let us begin by the “pop” notion of love. “Pop” sense is a mostly unspoken assumption that you would find from any person on the street, in your class room, in the café, watching foot ball or taking a taxi. If you ask one of your friends (Please do!), “what is love?” The Person would most probably say, “Wow! Love is a feeling for your “girl/boy friend” as you kiss and have sex.” That is exactly the “pop” description that is on sell out there on our ‘Hollywood’, “Bollywood”, “Ethiowood” movies. Unsurprisingly, it is inevitable in these movies to show that they would have sex, if they are in love. Listen to the music! It would paint love as sex. To put it in a nut shell, “pop” culture would picture love as a feeling (“unconsciously feel (fall in to)”) that is “shown through” sex. What do you think buddy?
Even though the “Pop” presentation of love is simplistic, the intellectual definition would take us to the peak of complication. These attempts would ranges from famous Psychology books to books written by Christian scholars. The re-known Christian Psychiatrist Dr. Peck articulates love as acting willfully to bring about spiritual growth in once own and our beloved life.[iii]Primarily, in this definition contrary to “pop” meaning, love is not a matter of feeling but of conscious choice of the “will”. In affirming this Peck dismisses the reality of “falling in love” as “effortless” and unloving. Secondarily, he argues “extending oneself” requires effort. Finally, if you ask Dr.Peck, “what is this thing called love?” He would respond boldly: love is a willful action towards your beloved, resulting in your spiritual growth.
Astonishingly you will not find Josh McDowell very far from Dr. Peck; however he sees it from absolutely different angle. He reflects the three features of love from the lover’s perspective (That is you and me!) If you love your beloved “on (selfish) conditions” or if you always say to your beloved “If you change this, fix that, kick your friends, change ‘your this’ or ‘your that’. Josh would call you “you are ‘I love you, IF’”. If you are after what the beloved ‘has and is’ and say I love you because you are smart, beautiful, kind, ‘whatever -you-say-goes’ type and so forth. You are an “I love you, BECAUSE” person. Even if Josh entirely rejects the second idea, I (personally) disagree with his total dismissal. It is because most us have been (or will be) attracted with what we have seen in our beloved and we can’t help it but say “I love you because…”.This might serve us a bridge to start a relationship with our beloved but it is a wrong foundation for a lasting relationship. It for sure has a grain of truth!
After eliminating the previous understandings, Josh in his famous way of argument takes as to the conclusion. Josh would call you an “I love you, PERIOD” person, if you are not loving on selfish reasons or on the basis of what the beloved has or is .This type of love according to Josh McDowell is “knows a great deal about the other person… short comings …faults .., yet accepts that individual without demanding anything in return.”[iv] If Josh Mcdowell heard you saying, “Sweet heart, I don’t care who you are! I don’t care what you have! I Love you as you are and will be!” He will give you thumbs up!
As Josh Mcdowell deed the late pope John Paul II in his book Love and Responsibility, would challenge us to perceive love from different perspective. Opposed to Josh’s argument, in agreement with mine, the pope states the first case love as an attraction[v] towards the beloved’s external or internal beauty.[vi][vii]This will result in to love as desire. What the eye has seen would become the desire of heart with which I agree absolutely. This serious of events would finally result in to what the pope calls love as “unqualified goodwill”. In light of our previous definitions this is not a “feeling” as ‘pop’ definition would say, not ‘cause less love’ as Josh’s argument but love in its trinity: attraction, desire, act of good will.
If there is a God who loves us, who all the wisdom and who has all the knowledge; if he has spoken through the Bible; I (I suppose, you will also) believe the bible is highest authority on the concept love. So, according to the Bible (I.e. specially the New Testament) Phileo (translated ‘love’), the first word, can be described as pleasure. “It is a love called out of one’s heart by the pleasure one takes in the object loved …it imposes no obligations … It could become most selfish. It is a fondness which responds to something in the object loved…”[viii] This can noticed in many passages.[ix] This passages would convincingly give us an idea about that Phileo is a love that primary inspired by what Josh calls “love, BECAUSE” and focuses on feelings.
Agape (translated ‘love’), the second word, can be characterized by one word preciousness. “Agape is a love called out of one’s heart by the preciousness of the object loved…. It is a love devoid of sensuousness…”[x] (the emphasis is mine) these [xi]passages powerful bring the concept to light. Agape is a love that is God’s charter which is infused in to you as you give him your life then that is exactly the source “love, PERIOD”.
Finally, at the end of our journey through the ‘confusion’ of ‘pop’ culture and the dry land of intellectual world, we have arrived at the fountain of God’s word. Friend If you dare ask God, “God what is this thing called love?” He would probably answer it in two ways: verbally and Non-verbally. Verbally, he would say “Look at me…I am love”. I love you whether you are poor or rich, beautiful or ugly, winner or loser, smart or dummy and sane or insane .Non- verbally: He will point to the Cross!
Dear friend! From our journey above we can conclude that Love is not just a feeling but a willful act. Peck, John Paul and Josh McDowell will synonymously agree that love is not merely a feeling but arbitrarily has a feeling but it is not always the case. The biblical evidence would attribute the word phileo to the emotional ecstasy that we take in the beloved. However, it is not all about love. Agape, which is “love, Period” requires as to go beyond our feeling to a will full action .Therefore, it can be safely concluded that love is not a feeling but a willful action.
II. So ….Is it possible to love without a feeling?
YES. Tough huh! But this is where our data leads us love is not a feeling but a willful act Imagine this for a moment with me. It is always difficult to love for a person, who nags you, makes life difficult on you, hurt you, misunderstands you and even hates you. If love is a feeling, Alas! What would become of us? That is absolutely the right time to ask, “Do I… have a love for [my beloved] ….called out of my heart by her [his] preciousness to me, a love of deep devotion, sacrificial in its essence that allures me to deny myself?[xii] I dare you say “YES!” How on earth? A person, so selfish and comfort seeking like me loves a person like that? You might say, “You know what? You don’t even know how my feelings fluctuate in to peaks. Come on you don’t even know so and so?” Friends that is exactly what I felt before something happened to me!
I tell you the truth! It could not have been possible by trying my best, by Positive thinking, by sending roses to the beloved and being by getting a good counseling.[xiii] It was not possible especially when the beloved is angry at you, misunderstands, ignores and hates you….It was only and only possible on one condition, as I surrender myself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit filled me with God himself who is love. In so far as I stayed there that was DONE. Alas! The moment I start thinking about ME that is when all the problems creep in.
Dear friend!The moment You stop thinking about fixing yourselves , faking yourself, pushing yourself; the moment you give up your attempts to change yourselves and throw yourselves unconditionally at feet of Jesus and say “Have your way”; that is when you find yourself filled with the very person of God and showing unconditional love to your beloved no matter what. I dare you ask him NOW…and stay there forever.
[i] pop adj [by shortening] (1880) 1 : popular ‹~ music›: as a : of or relating to popular music ‹~ singer› b : of or relating to the popular culture disseminated through the mass media ‹~ psychology› ‹~ grammarians› ‹~ society› (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
[ii] Even though it refers to the married couples, my purpose in writing this is you the young man. Therefore, this term refers to what we traditionally call “boy friend” or “girl friend” (i.e. opposite sex relationship)
[iv] Josh McDowell and Paul Lewis, Sex: Givers and takers and Other kinds of Lovers,(Living Books,1980) ,43
[v] There is an anonymous saying which roughly goes like this: Beauty is something attracts us to the beloved but we need content to stay on.
[vi] Karol Wojtela, Love and Responsibility (Glasgow: William Collins &co .ltd,1982),73
[vii] Attraction “must not originate not to reaction to visible and physical beauty but in also deep and full appreciation of the beauty of the person”Ibid,80
[ix] Rev.22:15,Mat 6:5 ,Jn. 11:3,Jn. 16:27,Tit.3:5 and Tit.2:4
[xi] John.3:16,1Cor.13,1Jn4:8,Jn21:15-19 and Eph 5:25
[xiii] I am not denying the importance of these but by themselves they are ultimately doomed to failure.
Huggart, Joyce. Growing in to Love: before you marry .Illinois: Inter varsity press, 1982.
McDowell, Josh and Lewis, Paul. Sex: Givers and takers and Other kinds of Lovers. Living Books,1980.
Peck, M. Scott. The road less traveled: A New Psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth. New York :Touch stone book,1978.
Wojtela ,Karol. Love and Responsibility .Glasgow: William Collins &co .ltd,1982.
Wuest ,Kenneth S.“Four Greek words for Love”. Bibliotheca Sacra. Dallas, Texas: Dallas Theological Seminary .Electronic edition by Galaxy Software,1999.