Love: A Meditation on Reality
By Rick Booye
The greatest commandment in the Law is to love God with all you’ve got, and love the people around you the same way you love yourself. Everything else in the Law hangs on these two ideas.
I am giving you a new command. You absolutely must love each other. I want you to do this in the same way I have loved you. This is how people will know that you belong to me and are my apprentices, part of my kingdom, my family. They will know because you love each other.
If I speak in tongues so impressively that angels listen in on my prayer time, but do not have love—I am nothing but a noise-maker. If I have all the Holy Spirit gifts and power you can imagine, speaking God’s direct Word, comprehending all mysterious spiritual Truth, possessing so much faith that I can literally move mountains by speaking to them, but do not have love—I am nothing. If I am the most selfless, giving, sacrificial person you have ever heard of, giving away all my substance to the poor and throwing myself on a grenade for my friends, but do not have love—I gain nothing.
–Saint Paul, apprentice and servant of Jesus
People who claim to know God, yet hate other people, simply don’t get God at all. God actually is Love in Person.
–Saint John, apprentice and servant of Jesus
If you really get what the Royal Command is, you will love the people around you like you love yourself.
–Saint James, apprentice and servant of Jesus
Since you have cleaned your souls completely by grasping and living in the Ultimate Truth, deciding in that realization to love each other, keep loving each other from your deepest inner being.
–Saint Peter, apprentice and servant of Jesus
Love is a way of knowing and living that is eternal and foundational to the universe. To not understand it is to be ignorant of something that is essential, like addition and subtraction or language. In fact, Paul says that if one does not love, one’s “knowledge” (if you can call it that) is empty, meaningless and useless (1 Cor. 13:1-7). In philosophical terms, love is its own existential epistemology (sorry for the big words). That means when we experience love in a relationship, it changes our knowing somehow. When we love (existential) it adds to or clarifies or in some way alters what and how we know (epistemology). This is true despite the fact that many people do not grasp it. When you love someone the love you feel alters how you perceive everything they say and do, which in turn changes your own knowledge structure in various ways. This then alters your internal life, and you can feel it if you know how. Have you ever thought a person completely wrong until you got to know them? Once you came to appreciate them as a person, loving them to some extent, you began to understand what they were saying in a new way, and perhaps you began to change your mind about their point of view and yours. Or, have you ever been certain that a particular idea or concept was stupid or mistaken, then discovered that someone you love and respect (these go together) believed it? Didn’t it make you take a second look at the idea?
It doesn’t always feel this way of course. We can love a person deeply and disagree with them, even believe they are flat wrong about something. In fact this is a necessary virtue in our fallen world, the ability to love somebody while disagreeing with them. But it is not fun or pleasurable to do this. And in order to make it work we must admit, assume, or pretend (three distinct and different mental processes) that the thing we disagree on is not as important as the love we have for each other—or we must make a huge personal sacrifice to express love to them. If the thing we disagree on is to us an ultimate thing, more important than our love, the relationship to that extent suffers, sometimes beyond repair (I know of Christian brothers and sisters who loved each other deeply until they discovered that they voted for different presidential candidates, at which time the “Christian love” dissipated completely). We humans would much rather agree on what is good and right, experiencing love in that context, the context of unity (Eph. 4:1-6). This is because to be complete love must entail unity at a very deep, truthful, spiritual level, where the foundational convictions of life form the mental and emotional structure of our character. When this love/unity matrix permeates one’s life and relationships, there is a deep joy, a profound peace. This is the way God is, and the way we will be someday because of what he has done at the cross.
All of this is part of the gospel. It is why, in order for us to love and be loved truly by the Lord, in order for us to know him and be known by him at that deep level, the evil in our nature and actions must be dealt with. In order for that to happen he had to love us more than we loved him, and die to remove the enmity caused by our sin. He had to make the supreme sacrifice to heal our broken relationship (2 Cor. 5:21). It is also why Jesus, the Master of Life, insists that we find our highest value, our supreme Reality, in him and his kingdom (Matt. 6:33) rather than in anything, any relationship, any priority that finds its rootage only in this age. The priorities of this age cannot unify us and provide the ground of our eternal love for each other. We will fight over money, prestige, personal fulfillment, politics, sex, ambition and any number of related issues when they become more important to us than the Lord and living his kingdom reality (see Jas.3:13-18).
Love is intuitive, but not less factual for that. Love in fact, is a fact. John Frame has written that there comes a point in all knowledge where mystery reveals its presence in our thinking and must be accepted as mystery rather than justified or explained. At that point, when asked why we “know” something, we must respond simply with the intuition—I just do. The chain of justification cannot go on infinitely. When we ask why we know something, we may offer some evidence or some authority, who in turn offers some evidence. But ultimately we simply know and trust at a deep intuitive level. When God in Christ is in us at that deep level his love permeates us. This is the main thesis of St. John’s first letter.
Love is part of the actual structure of the universe, the “is-ness” of Reality, the ontology of the cosmos (the “being-ness” of all that is). It is deeper in the universe than physics because it existed in the Trinity in eternity past, before there was what we call matter, space or time. The reasoning that leads us here is theological rather than philosophical or “scientific.” God is the Creator and sustainer of the universe (Gen.1:1; Heb. 1:1-3), and he is love (1 John 4:7-8). As the Three in One, he has always loved in unity and perfection. Augustine pointed out that even if we knew nothing of the Trinity (the tri-personality of God) we would need to postulate some sort of multi-personality in him based on John’s statement that God is Love. For love to exist at all there must be more than one person. This being the case, we should understand the cosmos as a relational matrix before we consider it as a material reality, which is why love and loyalty are intuitively more important to us than quantum physics and general relativity. On your death bed you will not regret failing to plumb the depths of superstring theory (a current idea in physics about how the universe works). But you may regret not spending time with your family. Why? Because in some way we cannot measure the universe runs on love and loyalty, not just molecules and motion. And that love and loyalty begins with a reconciled relationship with the One from whose Mind the entire universe came and who sustains it all at all times.
The gospel is the news that the ultimate relationship we need with the Author of all Reality has been healed by God himself in Christ, the king of loving Reality (2 Cor. 5:16-21). The love he has for us (even while we were enemies) is the standard power and the very life force of our never-ending experience with him and each other. This is why in this age loving is a command (John 13:34), forgiveness is not an option (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:35), God’s deep eternal affection for us flows in and through Christ (Rom. 8:38), and the greatest of all eternal, cosmic, mysterious forces is … Love (1 Cor. 13:8-13).
All of this sounds a bit odd to our ears, doesn’t it? Perhaps this is because we don’t think of love as a hard science, a serious discipline like say, microbiology or astrophysics, or plumbing. Neither do we consider it an acquired skill worth the effort to learn, like sewing, art, accounting, counseling, first aid, firefighting, or cooking. Our culture does not consider love a crucial, serious, factual, practical peace of knowledge about reality. To us it is a fleeting feeling, something we fall into (and out of), a gentle, desirable, uncontrollable sentiment rather than a firm fact of practical life. When our kids ask about how the world works, we do not think of sitting them down for a sobering chat about the Facts of Love. There are no college courses devoted solely to it, even in Christian institutions. In our culture it is a value rather than a fact, which is to say it is good in a way, but not necessary to progress, wisdom, knowledge, culture, art, or success in life. If it were, there would be courses, seminars, whole departments devoted to its development. You could get a Master’s degree in it, or a Ph.D. It would have cash value.
This is not to say that we ignore love. Far from it. We write songs about it, which are mostly sentimental (not to say sappy), and put it into most movies, where it usually takes the shape of romance. And (oddly) we honor the willingness to kill and/or die for it at times. These intuitions we all seem to share about the importance of love force their way to the surface in our prayers, tears, anger, struggles, and relational traumas. We sense how crucial love is to life at one level. But when we need to discuss facts, figures, or the elements of “hard reality,” which become practical wisdom, how to get ahead, make a living, deal with the world, we send love into the other room while the grownups talk, right?
This is especially the case among men, who can appreciate love, especially when it is coming their way in the form of romance or home life, but who would not usually put love at the top of their list of manly traits, things they work hard at and sacrifice for, like muscle, power, intellect, or wealth. There are no cable shows on how men love, like there are for instance on how they fight. FX doesn’t have any movies that make men want to become more sacrificial, team up to exercise selflessness under stress, or win great spirit victories by letting themselves be victimized for others (a very Jesus idea). For many men love is something valuable to protect, by violence if necessary (?). But unless it is defined as sexual prowess (the opposite of real love), it is not something they long to be really good at.
But this is not how Jesus sees things. Which means it is not how God sees things. Which means it is not how things really are. Which means our view is out of phase with the ultimate power in the universe. No wonder life flounders in our world. Most of us are pitiably, disastrously wrong in our notions about love. The same is true, by the way, about faith and hope, the other two divine realities that Paul says are eternal and foundational to understanding life (1 Cor. 13:13). Faith in our world usually means the absence of and/or rejection of knowledge, understanding, expertise (precisely the opposite of what the Bible means by it). Hope usually means wishful thinking (again, the opposite of what God means by it). And Love usually means sensuality, sexuality, or sentimentality (so far out on the fringes of the biblical meaning that it renders the word useless).
So, what is God doing in this age, in his kingdom purpose, in the personal attention he gives to our lives and character as Christians? He is teaching us to love, truthfully, sacrificially, against the odds, in all our relationships beginning with the most intimate, by using forgiveness as power, patience as skill, and prayer as an antidote for the hate fantasies that dominate our angry minds at times (1 Tim.1:5). Spiritual warfare focuses on stopping us from loving each other and those around us and thus taking our thoughts captive, away from Jesus, his kingdom, his rightness. We must grasp ever more tightly the reality of Christ’s lordship in the here and how and dare to live out his primary command (John 13:34) even when it seems dark all around and everything in our minds demands we lash out (Ps.37:8). The deepest reality in the universe is God himself, in Christ. And the essence of his person is love. His love is eternal, alive, and will win the day. We have much to learn. John 3:16.
 John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (New Jersey: P&R Publishing) 346.