Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Messy and Complex Reality of Love

Please feel free to use this Prezi to help understanding.

It’s spring, and love is in the air. At least it’s supposed to be. But here in Southern California, the heat waves followed by wind storms are more likely to aggravate people than to cheer them up. In fact, the general cheer and benevolence during Christmas seems much more love-saturated than the season when school is weighing heavy upon minds and people are looking for new jobs. Even St. Valentine’s Day passed several months ago, and ‘Ring by spring’ didn’t actualize for many of my friends. For those following the liturgical calendar, it is the second week of Easter with today commemorating Saints Philip and James, but the majority of the world couldn’t care less that Philip showed love to countless people by proclaiming the love of God incarnate, dying, and living evermore—first to the Ethiopian official and then across the ancient world. Nor do they care that James was the first martyr, beheaded for his love of Jesus.

Tonight I teach the junior high of my church about love. But they’ve been taught be hundreds of thousands of television commercials, movies, magazines, tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook posts, UpWorthy videos, vines, novels, friends, moms, weddings, store aisles, coffee mugs, jean pockets, tattoos, billboards, demons, and sinful hearts that love… is romance, and romance feels like helium in my stomach and a swelling sponge for my heart. And it is my job to begin to undo everything they’ve ever been taught and likely will be taught about love. Pray for me.

For the world around us, love is easy. And if it’s not easy, then it’s not love. It’s something that happens to you, not something you have to strive toward… in fact, if you’re working toward it, then you aren’t loving, you’re pretending. Hypocrite.

Information on love abounds. Thankfully, there is a small subversive strand that attempts to open the floodgates and let forth the messy and complex reality of love. The romantic comedy is dead, being female doesn’t automatically mean you get eligible bachelor #1, God is love, but love is not God, and every medium I criticized above has the occasional rebel within. And of course there are the teachers and leaders who have been telling us for years that love isn’t simple, and it isn’t simply about romance: D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God  and C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves… along with much of either of their writings. Gerald Bray’s recent theology book God is Love, John Piper, Francis Chan, and plenty of others who attempt to expose the reality of love in all its glories. The problem is that the many who love God and communicate his love are a small battalion in comparison to the world superpower they inhabit. They are like rebels that do not need to be silenced because the whole culture has been deafened anyway.


Well to Those Who Can Hear

To you who can hear, and not simply listen, I want to help you see the immensity of love. It is not simply a river flowing from source to destination. It is like an ocean, wild and unpredictable. Vast and deep as it curious.

God is love. (I Jn.4.8)

But God in his Triune being gives and receives a deserved love. The Father loves the Son because the Son deserves love. The Spirit loves the Son because the Son deserves love. The Son loves the Father because the Father deserves love. The Spirit loves the Father because the Father deserves love. The Father loves the Spirit because the Spirit deserves love. The Son loves the Spirit because the Spirit deserves love. Each person of the Trinity is wholly, and beautiful perfect and worthy of infinite glory and love. But… the way the Son loves the Father is different than the way the Spirit loves the Father, and the way the Father loves the Spirit is different than the way the Son loves the Spirit, etc. The essence of their love (ie. That it is love) remains unchanged, but the way it plays out is intimately nuanced. The Father did not love the Spirit by raising him from the dead, and the Son did not love the Father by sending him among the disciples.

So love can be love even if it does not look the same when it changes recipient.

But God does not only love himself… in fact, he is much too unpredictable, unfathomable, and wonderful for that. God crosses the essential divide and loves something that is entirely different, entirely other than himself. (Consider our post on Creator & Creature to realize the ‘insanity’ of this.)

God loves with Charity (often in Christian circles αγαπη) all creation. All of it. He gives charity love to all, realized in (1) creation, (2) provision, (3) sustaining power, and (4+) anything I forgot at the moment. In God’s charity love toward ALL, he pursues the ultimate good of the object in the context of all objects. Get it? You and I are not the only individuals at play in the world and time. Nor is an animal the only thing at play. Like a beautiful tapestry, God is weaving together the ultimate good for his ultimate glory which may result in the displacement/disprivilege of certain things (ie. We don’t always get what we want). All creation includes Angels—both elect and fallen, animals, living nature, unliving nature, and unliving unnature… and humans.

Does God love the fallen angels? Yes. They continue to exist, right? He continues to provide life and breath and being? This fits into God’s charity love. Hatred, if you remember, is still a form of love

God loves animals. “Not a single sparrow drops to the earth without his permission.” Ninevah had “many cattle as well.” Noah was saved with the animals on the ark. There are commandments about animals in Leviticus. And in fact, God’s love toward animals is slightly fuller/greater than his love towards nature and unnature. Elm and Willow tree seeds were not commanded to pass in the ark.

But God does love living nature (plants, trees, grass, flowers). “He clothes the lilies of the field” in great splendor! “Creation groans” for redemption. He set man in the garden to tend it. He takes delight in the works of his hands.

And God loves unliving nature (rocks, dirt, cliffs and caverns). He established the foundations of the earth (I’d reference it, but there’d be too many verses… and though it’s usually stated incidentally: God is in charge, it has inferential value). It is he who calls forth planets to stand (Is.48). Things are a ‘pleasant aroma’ to him (anthropomorphic language, sure, but do you mean to tell me that he created the scent of roses indifferently?).

And God loves unliving unnature. Songs are created by man… therefore one step removed from the ‘natural’ process. It does not ‘live’ in the ordinary sense, nor is it made directly by God. But we make a joyful noise in worship, and it is pleasant to him. And what of the benevolent widow who gave out of poverty? It was for the Temple Tax. Jesus praised her faith, but her faith found concrete expression in physical presentation.

God loves vastly.



But what of Humans?

God created humans in the image of God, crowning them with glory and honor. He has placed a particular favor (over and above his charity-creational-provisional-sustaining-love) upon humankind.

“Are you not much more valuable?” he asks with reference to the sparrow and the grass.

But of Humans there are two kinds: sheep and goats: redeemed and unredeemed. Upon the unredeemed his wrath and hate still rests even while “he causes rain to fall…on the ungodly.” But upon the redeemed, he has loved with a redemptive love. What is love? To lay down his life for his friend. To serve them. What is love? “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” God loves his bride with a redemptive, and dare I say erotic love—one that is pictured in the love of a groom for a bride. In Hosea’s reconciliation with the whore. In Solomon’s love for the Shunnamite. And not just this, but as a Father loves a child. Pictured in the redemption from Egypt in the Exodus. In the parable of the prodigal father. Of course, the pictures abound: priesthood, kingdom, building edifices.

But even of the redeemed, there are two types of people… those who “abide in his love” (Jn.15) and those who do not. The faithful and the unfaithful. Toward the faithful there is pleasure and great joy. The joy of brotherly love and camaraderie, moving toward the goal together. And toward the other there is rebuke, discipline, and chastisement.

The love of God is complex indeed.


But what of Humans… Who love?

But the love of God is not all there is. What of humans who love others? As humans, we get our source of identity and action from the identity and action of God.

And so our love of God is a love he deserves. It is worship-love.

And our love of angels is one of honor. Of fallen angels: respectful hatred. Of elect angels: respectful mimicry and of hospitality.

Toward animals, we take our cue from God who has crossed essential divides, and we love. Both pets and nonpets in a charity-love. Pursuing the ultimate good of the object in the context of all objects. Destroying termites is valid. Unnecessarily harming rabbits is not. Naming pets and redeeming them is good. Disciplining them in misbehavior is good. Cherishing our family pets is also good.

We are stewards of living nature, caring for it. Of nonliving nature, utilizing it for the good of others. And of unliving unnature as a means for loving everything appropriately.

And humans love other humans. Christians are required to love our enemies, those who hate us; those who hate God. We must still provide charity love in provision and sustaining them. We must love.

And we must love our nonenemies. We must love our friends with a brotherly love (φιλη), standing side-by-side looking towards the goal. Brotherly love must be given toward all who believe because we all have the goal of the glory of God. We have an assumed love toward our families, but while assumed it cannot be forgotten… we must constantly provide and sustain them, living for their good. Toward our parents, an honorable love. Toward our children, a providing love. Toward our siblings, a brotherly love. And we must love our spouse (who is part of our family, and who is the closest friend) with a love that throws myself to death’s gate for their sake.




Love is immense and complex, because love is the relationship between my relationship to anyone and anything. It looks different towards different things and at different times. It is colored by wisdom in any given situation which may result in the apparent bad of one recipient in order for the ultimate good of another in the context of all. Love is no simple thing. Fortunately we have a God who loves us, even when we fail to love him and others.



Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. Go, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, and baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This command I leave with you, love one another. If someone does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? Husbands, love your wives… do not exasperate your children. Children, honor your father and mother, and it will go well with you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. There is no flaw or defect in you. I lay down my life for my sheep. I say to you, love your enemies; do good to those who persecute you. Repent and believe. God is love.