Reflection on Love (Biblical)

If you’ve heard of how the Bible talks about love, then you may have wondered how that connects to how we commonly talk about love. There are some big differences about how the Bible discusses love, and how popular secular culture talks about love. So, I thought a few words would be helpful.

Biblical Conception of Love

The Christian notion of love is one that is not emotional, in the sense that though love may be felt, the feeling itself is not the most important part. For instance, consider the light of the sun. You can feel it on your skin. However, the feeling of the suns rays should not be confused with the light itself. The light from the sun exists whether or not the light is felt, just as the room still exists, even if you close your eyes. Likewise, love may be felt, when we’re in our proper frame of mind, but we are commanded to love regardless of our emotions at a given time.

However, if love is an emotion (and nothing else), then love is no suitable basis for anything; not marriage, not righteousness; not parenting, not anything. If love is fundamentally an emotion then the Christian doctrine is false. Love is connected to God’s very nature, and therefore reflects humanity’s unfallen nature too.

Saying that love is an emotion is not merely an inconsequential opinion, but it reflects a belief that undermines all the fabric of ethics, marriage, politics, and all of human life. It is that serious.

If you do not grasp the objective nature of love, then you will always be confused with the responsibilities and realities of the goodness and sorrows of this life.

Relevant Interrelatedness of Love

Loving your spouse, or your neighbor, or even your human enemies, is a commandment (Matthew 5:43). This commandment does not take account for the ephemeral feelings of the individual, but simply requires obedience to God. One might wonder how can this be. However, if love is not primarily an emotion, it isn’t very mysterious. Love your wife and be faithful, whether you are temporarily discontent or not. That is what an honorable person does. Love your neighbor, whether they are nice to you or not. Love your enemies, whether you dislike them or not.

If this seems strange, then there is maybe a kind of confusion in how we conceive the concept of love. You can place your wife’s health and goodness before your own, or your child, for instance, no matter how you feel at a given time. It is definitely hard, and that is why we revere those that do it well. You can treat your neighbor in a way that encourages their health and goodness, despite ephemeral childishness, irrationality, and pettiness. You can even sincerely pray for your enemies’ salvation and goodness, no matter your practical antagonism. That is to say, the Christian conception of love is transcendent–beyond–mere feelings. Perhaps this should be a dividing line between adults and children: adults can get past the feeling, and live up to the duty of love. It isn’t easy, and that is why it is a mark of the mature.

Influence of Concepts to Virtue or Vice of Love

Since God is love, and we’re designed as the Image of God, we must be loving or cease to exist fully (i.e. we get diminished when we act contrary to love). Loving is a duty. If we do not love, then we cannot be full. However, the objective nature of love has a deep bearing on what hate is too. Just as we must love what is good, we must hate what is evil. This is not contradictory. Love indicates priority, and high priority connects to love, and low priority connects to hate. There is no contradiction in hating the sin of a person while simultaneously loving their being, their existence, and their health. And since human health is objective also, hating sin is just as simple as hating poison. Poison is objectively adverse to health, as poison countermands the structure and functioning of human physiology.

4 Aspects of Christian love:

  1. Love is not merely emotional (‘feeling love’, and ‘love itself’, are different things)
  2. Love has a rational dimension
  3. Love has a dimension of character (what you love reveals your character)
  4. Love transforms you (you become, in some sense, what you love)

Virtue is excelling in human activity and acts of love is the purpose of human activity. Vice is demonstrating human activity gone wrong; it is a kind of weakness, ignorance, and imbalance. Vice is not hating itself, but an imbalance that often leads to hating the wrongs things (and understanding hate, too, as nothing but emotion, this would be a similar mistake).

So, let us love what is “true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8.

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