I wanna know what love is

Yes, I know. A ridiculous song, and an even worse pick-up line.

That was my work-out music this morning, and then – because, you know, Valentine’s – Susan and I listened to my new Ed Sheeran album.

In one of his songs, he says something like “I can’t love you unless I love me first” or some such thing.

Whatever it was, it was the same sentiment as “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all” which plagued the airwaves in the late 80’s. I am not sure if it was more offensive philosophically or aesthetically, but that is neither here nor there.

It goes back to 1 John.

I just finished preaching through 1 John. You can’t preach through 1 John without meditating on the nature and definitions of love. I like precision, and as a minister I believe we need to be precise in our words. I strive for precision, not sound-bites. So I think about words.

John tells us that “God is love.” Love is an essential attribute of God. God cannot be divested of love any more than God can be divested of Godhead. God’s attributes and his essence are identical, to put it into theological terms.

If you would like to learn more about this (and I think you should) I would recommend this excellent book by James Dolezal.

This means that there was never a time when God didn’t know what love was, for God is love, and God’s knowledge of himself is perfect.

Which leads to the next question – if God is love, and this is identical to his nature, then whom did God love before he created the heavens and the earth. We, of course, do not believe that creation is eternal. There was a time before creation where there was only God – before time and space and angels and men. God is the eternal I AM.

So whom did he love before he created? Love must involve a lover and a loved. There must be more than on person in order for there to be love. So whom did God love? The answer lies in the Trinity.

Jesus prayed,  “For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

So here is where my mind is going after Ed Sheeran and Whitney Houston: is self-love possible? By the very nature of love, the subject must reach out to an object outside of itself. To say that one must love oneself is to say that one must somehow divide into knower and known, subject and object, lover and loved, and turn love back on itself. Is love simply dissociation made into a virtue?

I think we must be precise in our language. Love, by it’s very definition, needs a lover and a loved. Two parties, at a minimum. Narcissus staring at himself at the pool is a mental disorder, not love. He has divided himself into subject and reflection, and has become an object of pity rather than a healthy human in God’s image.

In the words of Dylan – “He worships at the altar of a stagnant pool and when he sees his own reflection he’s fulfilled.”

So what should we call it? Dylan’s image certainly wouldn’t make a good valentine’s card. I don’t think “love” is the right word. It is a mental disorder, not love.

I think I know what they are getting at when they say, “love yourself”. But I would ask for more precision. I think that the world has enough narcissism. But at the same time, a person filled with shame and self-loathing is stuck unable to reach out of themselves to fully love another being.

So there is some truth to saying, “Love yourself”, it is just that the language is wrong.

How did Jesus put it:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
(Matt 22:36-40)

And there, I think, is the key. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. But, it might be asked, how does one do that without first becoming a narcissist?

The answer, I believe, is in the first commandment. Love God.

If you love God, you also recognize and acknowledge the good gifts that God has given you. You refuse to despise and loathe your body, for God made it. You don’t reject the abilities God has given you, but understand that you have many good gifts given to you by your good Father in heaven.

You also know that Jesus came into the world to bear your sin and shame, so that is taken away and you have been born again. You are no longer the “worst sinner you know” but a child of the king, cleansed, sanctified, and in the process of being conformed to the image of God’s son.

This means that you are in the process of becoming more and more beautiful. You are chosen by God, loved by God, given every good gift by God.

So perhaps instead of saying “love yourself”, you should say, “loved by God.”

We love him because he first loved us, after all.

What this does is nip arrogance in the bud, condemn narcissism, and lifts our head above our own reflection to see that there is a whole other world besides the one in our head. There are people out there who need your kindness and love. There are people who need the glass of cold water from your hand and the meal from your larder. There are empty seats at your table. And you can only fill those seats in your heart when you look up and see the beauty and goodness and bounty of our loving God.

Correct perspective also nips shame in the bud. Forgiveness wipes the record clean and the new garments of Christ’s righteousness are made perfectly for you. A bespoke suit.

You are dressed for reception in the halls of the great king, who loves you and gave himself for you.

Isn’t this far, far better than “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”

I apologize for getting Foreigner stuck in your head.


Filed under Love

4 responses to “I wanna know what love is

  1. LOL, kind of funny how our posts just crossed in the newsfeed, Sam! I too wrote about self love, mirrors, and faith. We’re almost in agreement, there’s a bit of like mindedness going on. 🙂

  2. Personally, I am no more fond of “love yourself” than I am of “forgive yourself.” Both are faulty and imprecise perspectives, imo. GOD is the Author of both love and forgiveness—without Him, neither exist. Therefore, it it precise and correct to have the perspective that since God loves me, my proper response is to **accept** that Truth. As is accepting the truth of God’s forgiveness to me as I respond to my need to repent. Nothing else is necessary to add to HIS love or forgiveness. Neither of them is any more true or made any more effective by a misguided idea that I am to ‘love myself’ and/or ‘forgive myself.’ What I am to do is respond in gratitude through acceptance that His love and forgiveness are e.n.o.u.g.h.

  3. Anu Riley

    I love that “Foreigner” song! Thank you for putting it in my head :-).

    Every time I read your blog, what you write resonates so strongly with me. Things that the Lord has already laid on my heart, but without a doubt—I get more and better insight from reading your thoughts.

    I recall hearing a long ago sermon about how the Trinity loved each other before we were ever created. Love cannot exist in a vacuum.

    “Love, by it’s very definition, needs a lover and a loved. Two parties, at a minimum.”

    Before I met the Lord, I had no idea what love was. I had never felt loved, nor had I ever loved anyone. So when it comes to the two greatest commandments, I was already a bust. I couldn’t bring anything to the table!

    It’s not as though I was “instantly” enlightening when I did become born again, though. It has probably taken a decade to get rid of all my stupid notions about love, and then another good decade to try to build up what is love—-as He sees it and defines it.

    The only way to understand what love is to Him, is to get to know Him—-since He defines Himself as Love. That is how you learn what love is, and just as importantly—-what it is NOT love.

    The two greatest commandments could be studied and re-studied over and over again. Only a few words, but so much packed in there.

    I couldn’t believe how much your words about the first and second commandment clicked with me.

    I believe they work together, too, as you put it. The first commandment is first simply because we can’t obey the second one, without actively engaging in the first one. You cannot love others unless the love of the Lord and for the Lord is working in you.

    If you stick to the first one, you will naturally obey the second, because loving the Lord will teach you how much loving others matters to Him.

    And if you obey the second one, you are honoring the first one as well. Because nothing matters more to the Lord than how we treat each other

    But then I realized that you cannot claim to obey the first commandment and neglect the second one. And try to justify it by saying—isn’t loving the Lord the most important thing? It IS the first commandment, after all.

    The second commandment isn’t secondary, just because it’s listed as second. It’s no different than the foolish argument that the male gender is prized higher, because Adam was formed first, and Eve second.

    It’s fair to wonder why God didn’t create both male and female at the same time—-to avoid foolish and false thinking like that. Or, why He didn’t put BOTH commandments into one—-for the same reason.

    We have a tendency to twist and distort what is beautiful into something ugly and wrong. However, posts like yours will hopefully reach those that need to hear it.

    Luke 6 almost always hits me in a hard place. Loving others that love you is no different than what non Christians do. It doesn’t set you apart from them.

    I’ll stop there, because that will go into a whole different arena—what it means to love our enemies! I think that verse has been twisted in ways that doesn’t reflect the heart of the Word, and has probably caused a lot of additional pain and suffering.

    I very much know what it means to hate yourself, be rejected constantly—and in essence—-experience the deep pain of feeling unloved and unwanted. Those are the kinds of experiences that can very much turn a person “off” from loving others! And very much despise the very concept of love, because it seemingly brings mostly heartache and loneliness.

    It’s too easy to point to the Word and tell such persons—you have to love others. Just do it. Adding shame and guilt to the already heavy burdened!

    I’ve been on that “ledge” constantly (metaphorically) Pushed to the edge, pushed away by people, and pushed down by those you tried to love.

    I come away with the same conclusion: don’t jump off that ledge. Go into His arms. No One knows better how it feels to be rejected, hated for no sound reason and despised. No One knows better the very high price we often pay in our attempts at loving others (He paid the ultimate price). And no One can fill and refill you with all the love you need, to heal and to (hopefully) attempt to love others again.


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