What is Love?
We live in a culture enthralled by sensation in a time in which everything is temporary. To be caught up in the moment is to be intrigued for maybe a handful of seconds before something else is thrust before one’s face. Longevity means the number of hours your iPod will play on its charge and permanency is how long it takes Sharpie to wear off. We are a throwaway culture, where everything is replaceable and nothing is repairable. Is it any wonder we don’t understand why love won’t last a lifetime when nothing else will?
Love is a funny word anymore, it doesn’t have the connotations it once did in writings from even a hundred years ago. “Love” is what is found in asinine movies where Sandra Bullock stumbles around and makes googly eyes at some overly metrosexual male lead. “Love” is what you feel when you eat chocolate. “Love” is the magical thing that you stumble across and never forget, that makes two unfaithful individuals somehow end up monogamous by the end of The Notebook for an ending that defies every shred of logic. In truth, we’re not supposed to understand what this “love” is all about… if we did, it couldn’t mean so many things… and yet, some of the most important decisions of our lives are meant to be made because of it. One begins to see why this ambiguity might become problematic.
The great modern philosopher C.S. Lewis made a very simple claim as to the nature of love; simple, and yet bold, particularly in this age 60 or so years since the time he said it. Lewis claimed, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a constant dedication to the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” In a society such as ours, drunk on emotion and high on sensation, this is a radical notion indeed! In one simple sentence, Lewis challenges everything we think we know about this thing we call “love,” but in the sudden removal of our presuppositions, all else begins to come into focus.
To paint Lewis’ assertion as a metaphor, love is like a boat that has moved across a lake. In its wake, the boat leaves an ever widening trail of ripples, and if you were in the water at the time of the boat’s passing, the ripples would be what you felt; however, the ripples are not the boat itself. You may, by the ripples, if you could not see the boat, know that the boat was nearby, but if you tried to climb out of the water by grasping at the ripples, you’d find yourself going nowhere, and getting there quite efficiently. In the same manner, affection may be a sign of love, it can be felt by those close enough to be influenced by love… but to mistake it for the thing itself would be a very grave error indeed. Like ripples, emotions are temporary, they are there one moment and gone the next, they are not consistent, and they provide no foundation to grasp on to if you find yourself in trouble.
Love, however, is not temporary… it does not waver, it does not vanish inexplicably; it is resolute, unbending, and unyielding. Love is a force to be reckoned with, it is a decision, made consciously, and does not arise by accident. It cannot be “fallen” into, and it is no mystery. Love is a habit formed consciously, an act of self sacrifice, of determining to put another’s needs before one’s own, and it is not unique to romance. Love is found in friendship, in brotherhood, in family, in patriotism, and in camaraderie. Forms of affection can be engendered by all of these sorts of relationships, but again, these feelings are a byproduct of something greater that has passed before them. A “love” that is founded upon emotion will be just as fickle and untrustworthy as the emotion itself… and thus can never be lifelong. Love is made strong by conscious exertion of a willful mind, a resolution of the heart which is not easily broken by our fickle natures.
An ancient Hebrew scholar named Paul made similar observations as to the nature of love, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” The picture painted is not of a fickle machination of a sensual people; rather, it is of a notion of permanency that eludes our sensually addled minds. Consider, though, the implications of such talk: a binding ideal, a commitment of the self to selflessness… for if the stakes are greater than just one’s own self-centered objectives, we can truly have a reason to press on past the hardships which are inevitable in life.
Too many friendships, fellowships, and households have been spoiled by the crystalline ideal of self fulfillment sustaining one too many harsh blows of reality and being shattered to pieces; but, if one’s idyllic portrait of a life well lived is one of contentment and indulgence, the life built upon that standard can only be as sturdy as the sensational nature of its foundation. Anything built by man can only be as strong as its foundation, which is why we must select for ourselves, voluntarily, a platform which can weather the roughest of storms, providing a stalwart battlement for crisis. This sort of rampart can be erected only through toil and sweat, hardship and labor, but in the end it can withstand the harshest storms life can bring its way.
There are many things in our culture which can be readily replaced, but our lives are not amongst them. Love is a great and powerful mover of men, it inspires and enchants us all unlike anything else, but we must take heed not to become lost in its enchantment. Sacrifice is the mortar which seals the bricks we lay through our toil and sweat… without it, our beautiful castles will crumble, laying waste to our efforts, shattering dreams, and leaving hearts in ruin.