Love is one of the most complex words to define. It probably would have been wiser to follow the Greek’s lead and come up with a few words to define the various aspects of love but it does remain one of humanity’s most beautiful ideals, key motivations, money makers and inspirations.
When I consider today’s culture, I think our main reference to love is a rather flimsy and conditional practice, driven from an emotional base of personal well being. I can often love an item of clothing one day, only to discard it for something else a year or two down the track. How many artists can you recall that sing about love from a multitude of facets? Falling in love, how great love is, the challenge of love or about picking up the pieces after the break-up of love.
Paul details the character and broader definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. This famous love chapter is a rich source of insight into what love is, however it too is often interpreted through an emotional lens i.e. love in the form of patience, kindness, honesty and long suffering depends on our emotional well-being. This definition of love that Paul writes to the Corinthian church about therefore sets a very high, and somewhat unrealistic bar to reach.
If God is Love or Love is God (1 John), and this Trinitarian God models love, then we can read that passage from Corinthians in a different way - that God is patient, God is kind, God is humble, God is slow to anger, persevering, not the keeper of wrongs, is hopeful and faithful. God always protects. But through the same emotional lens, this subtly implies that God’s love comes from an emotional centre as well, causing us underlying anxiety to completely trust the Divine character. Will God be patient with me today, does God feel kind or angry instead?
But if God is also creator, than this description by Paul is more than character traits. They are the very foundations of the universe. Patience, kindness, peace, hope, endurance, protection etc are the very core of the created order, making love a huge, solid foundation on which we live, breath and have our being. That’s why Paul encouraged the Ephesians to be ‘rooted and established in love’ and to ‘grasp how wide and long and high and deep’ Christ’s love is.
When the Psalmist wrote that God’s love endures forever, I suggest they weren’t referencing love in an emotional context but rather, love being the very fabric, the very building blocks of the created world. It puts God and love in a very difference context, a context that we can trust in, have faith in and hope in, build our life in. It endures forever because as the foundation of our very existence, love literally can’t go anyway. Therefore we can all confidently say, ‘we are literally in love’.
Still, this is good in theory. It’s still pretty challenging living life with this understanding of love. Rather than being rooted in love, we often find ourselves being rooted in the circumstances of our day-to-day lives. These daily situations are like apples that dangle before us, that we are often happy or enticed to grab and eat. These apples, which we hope will help define our sense of self, who we are or how we feel about ourselves, are not necessarily bad - apples are delicious and tasty and yummy - but they are also seasonal, and can often leave us drifting rather than rooted in something solid. It’s a case of mistaken identity of what love is.
Rather than being defined and rooted in these more surface things, by having faith and hope to sink deeper, beyond them, allows us to discover we’re actually rooted to something bigger, more solid, eternal and foundational – true love.
By being rooted in this love, you discover the real you which is in union with God. This real you, is who you were in the mind and heart of God before you were born. It's who you are before you did anything right or wrong, made any decisions for good or bad. Your identity before you gained or lost any status or reputation or group affiliation. That is the love God is talking about being rooted in.
"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Children love lots of things. Their insatiable love for life means that they engage and grab love in any and every way possible. Growing up into adulthood, we hopefully begin to understand that love, true love, comes from one source. However, that source is big enough and broad enough to hold all creation and everything we love. It is also helps us see ourselves and each other as we truly are, not as mere reflections. Helps us know the world as it fully is known from the viewpoint of Love.