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July 17, 2008

Food for thought

In asserting the emotions of God, love isn't going to require much proof. The only argument it gets within Christianity is whether it's actually an emotion. Plenty of preachers, teachers, and writers have emphasized that love is not a feeling, but that's because they're trying to emphasize (usually in a message about marriage or enemies -- or both) that love is constant and unfailing, even on your worst days when you've lost that lovin' feeling. But if you try to talk about love without using any emotional terminology, it sounds very sterile and, to be honest, unloving. Everyone knows that while love may not always be accompanied by warm, fuzzy feelings, it had better be deeply ingrained with compassionate and affectionate sentiments much of the time. Otherwise, who really cares if they have it?

It's important to emphasize the emotions of love, because a lot of Christians have the idea that "love is an action." In truth, it's much more than an action. A supervisor, servant, or caretaker can do what's best for someone without having any love whatsoever for that person. People can behave in the interest of others out of commitment to a promise or contract without any love behind their actions at all. Love involves action -- it has to translate into practical life if it's real -- but most genuine forms of love can't be reduced to that. Feelings have to be involved at some level.

When applied to God, the result of the "love is an action" belief is a relationship with a deity who will do what's best for us even though he wishes he didn't have to. He may love us, but he doesn't like us. With that definition of love, we can easily feel like the problem child that the Father has to put up with, though he doesn't really enjoy being with us very much. It's all duty and no pleasure.

-- Chris Tiegreen, Feeling like God, pp. 40-41

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Rolley Haggard

This is good stuff. And it’s biblical, though many of us stumble right over it. We seem to conclude that agape love is merely action with or without emotion, and we defend it by such passages as, “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). But there is another passage which says, “if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor (action) BUT HAVE NOT LOVE (emotion), I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).

One of my most treasured epiphanies was learning that the Father not only LOVES me, but that He also LIKES me. Whereas it is possible to LOVE people IN SPITE OF who they are, we LIKE them BECAUSE OF who they are. What a profound difference!

James Willis

It sounds like you're confusing what love is and forgetting the limitations of speaking about love in English. I agree that we cannot separate love from emotion, but as always emotion is not the driving force behind love. Love based on emotions is the stuff the world considers true love, but Biblical Love is a commitment, a bond that cannot be broken. If we have such a commitment and bond there will be emotion, but emotion is not capable of sustaining love.

Rolley Haggard

James, I agree with what you're saying. The nuance here is that sacrificial actions alone do not prove one loves biblically. As has been stated, it is possible to perform sacrificial acts for others without loving, but it is not possible to love without performing sacrificial acts for others. The all-important difference is motive. Why do I perform my sacrificial acts for others? In order to get something in return? To be justified by works? To earn brownie points with God? To appear holy to others? To feel good about myself? To soothe a guilty conscience? To convince myself that I’m a pretty good fellow? To fulfill obligations the default of which would make me appear uncompassionate? To climb the social ladder? To be nominated to the diaconate? Simply because “that’s what committed Christians do”? All these motivations are so much “wood, hay, and stubble”. According to 1 Corinthians 13 the only acceptable motivation is because I love the person I’m sacrificing for. Such love requires the focus to be on them, not on me and my act. In other words, I do it because I value (read “love”) them, not because I want something in return.

That’s why it is so important that we LIKE people as well as “LOVE” them. You can counterfeit the “LOVE” bit and fool yourself. It’s not so easy to counterfeit the LIKE bit. You usually know whether you LIKE someone or not. And if you don’t LIKE them, you surely can’t LOVE them – not biblically anyway.

Someone has said, “you are no closer to God than you are to the person you like least.” Compare that with 1 John 4:20. It works.

Steve (SBK)

Good thoughts.
I think it is a reminder to being more holistic, rather than segregating our thoughts and actions and emotions.
We tend to compartmentalize very quickly and easily... especially when we understand something to make sense or something "that works".

In God, "duty" and "pleasure" are integrated... which is how it should be with us. Perhaps at times, one or the other aspects has supremacy, but they balance and "feed-off" each other. A duty doesn't seem like such when we receive pleasure from it (say, at the time or in reflection). And we actually obtain (different kinds of) pleasure by doing what we ought.
Anyway, it all reminds me of God's faithfulness and his 'pursuit' of us.
We aren't just a chore yet we won't be dropped when the next pretty thing comes along.
(cf. *the* poem referenced here: http://thepoint.breakpoint.org/2007/09/blog-a-book-mom.html , or fully, here: http://www.bartleby.com/236/239.html )

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