Love by any definition is not love

February 2, 2010

This post by Michael Hidalgo really struck a chord with me today:

John, in his first letter says, “God is love.” Much has been made about this statement in theological circles. But there is one question that seems to be asked the most, “What is love?”

This is not the first time this question, or one like it has been asked. Many of us are familiar with the scene. Girl and boy meet and fall head over heals for each other. They cannot stop thinking or talking about each other to their friends. One of them eventually asks a wise person the age-old question, “How do you know when you are in love?”

The sage never responds quickly. Words seem to stumble out of the sage’s mouth, something to the effect, “Well … you will just know … you know?” But they do not know, because the wise person does not know, you know? (If you would like to see an example of this from 80’s cinema see the movie Sixteen Candles.)

There is a lot that can be said in response the question about falling in love. Some do not believe you fall in love, some say that love is not a feeling, others say love is a choice, and still there are some who contend love is an emotion. What most will agree on is this: love is real. Yet, as real as love is, it is something that seems to defy explanation. Maybe this is how it should be.

Many of us we have trouble staying in this place. We live in a world where people want to explain everything. We want to understand, define, or box in. Be warned. If someone can explain love then it is something, but it is probably not love. We live our lives according to dogmas, laws, and rationalism; all of which seek to define, simplify, and categorize everything.

Perhaps we ought not to apply our systematic ways of thinking to such things as love. Love seems to defy the contours of such thinking. Love was never meant to be understood or explained. It gives to us a mystery right here in the midst of our everyday lives.

We have a hard time living within mystery. We have lost wonder and awe is on life support. Maybe this is why there is such a shortage of love in this world. We have something that we believe we have nailed down, yet no one can seem to find it. The inability to grasp love is reflected in the enmity, exclusiveness, bigotry, judgmentalism, and “us-and-them” thinking that permeates our world. Rather than try to define love, we should spend our years becoming acquainted with it.

Which brings us back to John and his saying, “God is love.” Stanley Grenz said, “God is his essence is love.” Perhaps we should spend more time getting to know God and being acquainted with God, rather than simply trying to explain him. I know many Christians that speak of a “personal relationship” with God, yet their relationship is built on doctrine, their knowledge is based on their ability to successfully defend their brand of belief, and their faith is nothing more than mental ascent.

This is not a relationship. How many of us base our marriages, familial relationships, or friendships on laws, doctrine, or dogma? Our best relationships are rooted in love for the other not on what we can explain about the person.

Imagine a Christianity that spoke of relationship with God built on love (which he is), a knowledge that reflected deep intimacy with Jesus, and faith that clung tenaciously to the person that God reveals himself to be, while at the same time letting go of our own agendas. Imagine a Christianity that basked in the mystery, awe, and wonder of God. Imagine a Christianity that did not draw boundaries of opposition or walls of defensiveness, but one that engaged all human beings with dignity, honor, and respect. Imagine a Christianity that was a source of reconciliation rather than division. Imagine a Christianity that was bent on peace rather than one that passively accepted violence as a “necessary evil.”

As I imagine love – real, true love – this is what I imagine. This is not an attempt to define love, but an attempt to live within it and to know the God who is love more intimately. I suspect that if our world saw love lived out more and more we may stop trying to define it and simply start wanting more of it.



  1. Dude. One of the sharpest and most awesome strings of thought I’ve read of yours. Thanks for this.

  2. yea man, this guy is al and chris’ pastor. He is insanely good at completely thoughts.

  3. I really liked this, Josh. Thanks for posting.

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