I bet most of us have had the conversation (or heard the conversation) about ‘love is not a feeling’. You know, the one where your parent or a preacher or a more mature friend waxes lyrical about how in today’s western culture we mistakenly associate love with mushy, gooey, lovely feelings and then feel our love for someone has passed or died when those stomach fireworks are no longer going on. Don’t get me wrong, I totally agree with the sentiment that love is not primarily a feeling, (although I dearly hope that any future husband of mine might actually marry me because of some things he finds lovely and pleasing in me, not just inspite of all my flaws! (“well dear, you’re certainly not much to look at but don’t worry, I’m going to grit my teeth and propose marriage to you anyway because I love you”!!)
But all this begs the question, well what is love then? And lots of people have lots of answers to that too. What strikes me, and what I come back to time and time again, is that love in it’s most simple but toughest form, is the overwhelming desire for somebody’s (or something’s) good. That includes their physical, emotional, spiritual and mental good at the very least. This is so simple but profound because it means love is no longer a selfish thing that is satisfying the lover’s needs. It’s possible to do all sorts of things for someone’s good that may have no benefit for you and may even be detrimental to you. They may never even know what you have done for them in secret. Certainly Jesus was not feeling all mushy and gooey on the cross. This definition of love also means that it’s ok to be cross with someone, to discipline them (in an appropriate way if this is your role) or to sometimes be brutally honest and blunt/harsh with them as long as the prime motive is always to help them flourish. In fact, love sometimes requires these things, even at the risk of the person reacting badly to you as a result. I regularly see Jesus acting this way in the gospels.
This ties in with another point. Again, if you’ve been to church for a fair length of time (I don’t presuppose that most of us have to be fair, but if you have) then you will also probably have heard a preacher say that when God looks at Christians, he sees Jesus and therefore he does not see our flaws, we are truly pristine and wonderful creatures in his eyes. To be honest, this idea is supposed to be comforting but it just grates on me and makes me distinctly uncomfortable. It’s like God is wearing some cosmic rose-tinted specs and not seeing reality at all. The whole point is that I want God to see me in reality, otherwise how can he really love the real me? How can he help me in my difficulties and out of my flaws? Who of us really wants a partner who puts their fingers in their ears when we try to express our brokenness to them, and sings loudly so they can continue to believe we are perfect? Surely what we crave is someone who will be absolutely clear about our failings but love us unwaveringly anyway. How else will intimacy and honesty develop?
The only way that someone could have that kind of honest love for another person (I am convinced), would be if they could already see something wonderful in their beloved but could also see their beloved’s potential and who they could be, perhaps the glorious being they were created to become. That person would not let go of that vision and would continue to do all they could to help the other flourish and develop into their glory. That’s how a mother sees her child isn’t it, the baby she once held in her arms so clean and fresh, full of potential? She will continue to believe in the goodness of her child and the possibility of its redemption to the end, even if the child has grown up and royally screwed up its own life. That’s how I reckon God sees us – not perfect creatures now, but the perfect creatures we could be because we have the seed for that in us already. I guess the seed is his image and God continues to love the real us in the now in order that we might develop into the truly glorious us. Every little bit of beauty and flourishing in us is a complete joy to him. The kiss gradually turns the frog into the prince. Forget the rose tinted specs, that’s the kind of love I need and, I believe, the kind of love he gives.