understanding love

There is some debate, I’m not sure how widespread, as to what love is, what constitutes love in scripture. Most I’ve read have emphasized acts as being love as seen in scripture. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Others point out that feelings must be involved, indeed the whole person, even for the scriptural passages to make sense. Matthew Elliot presents a good case for that. But by and large it doesn’t seem like this has sparked any major debate, though Elliot seeks to demonstrate, and I think does so well and fair enough, that statements made by leading evangelical Christian voices seem to deny an element in love, in all of life in Jesus, which is essential for us, if we’re to truly follow on.

My position at this point is that we have to read everything from scripture in its context, and then bring it together. John 3:16 is referring to an act of love. Romans 5:5 talks about God’s love poured out in our hearts by the Spirit whom God has given us. There it is the experience of love. One feeling love, or having some sense of it in their hearts which means their inner beings–thought and feeling, or affections–through the working, or agency, or simply the presence of the Holy Spirit. Through whom God pours his love for us into our hearts.

Like everything else in scripture, the end of all things is holistic in the sense that it includes all of us in our totality as human beings, as well as all of creation. Beginning now in this life through Jesus. Love falls short if it is not this way. But the problem of us falling short in love is a problem of salvation, or more precisely of us working out God’s salvation through Jesus into our lives. Of course this salvation is holistic in the sense that it is to touch every part of us as people, and every area of life in the world.

Love from God works its way out in creation especially through human beings made in God’s image. We are cracked Eikons, or image bearers, to be sure, but we retain something of that image, so that our desire is to love in a holistic way. But this becomes difficult in a world, and in experience which often leaves us wounded and hurting. Too often we are hurt by those closest to us, who seem unable to love us, or return what we give in love to them. This opens up wounds which are not easily healed, though God’s salvation in Jesus is all about restoring us into the new humanity in Jesus, one in which all our created faculties are renewed and come into play.

In the end love is rooted and found in the God who is love. It is based on God’s work of salvation for us in Jesus, in his death for us as sinners. And it is known by the Spirit whom God has given us (see 1 John). We need to remain firm and become established on this bedrock truth in Jesus.

This love while full, and of God, is very human. It is as human as Jesus is, who in love and whatever else accompanied that anguish, wept over his friend Lazarus’ death. It is a love that is from God, but is for the world. Incarnational faith works itself out in a life that is more human, not less. Living as we were created to live through God’s new creation in Jesus. In a love that never lets go of the faith and hope which accompany it. Worked out in our own lives, and out from our lives–in this world. Through Jesus.