Have you noticed that we tend to throw the word love around a bit?
We will apply this word love to just about anything. We love our cleaners, we love our cars, we love our coffee, we love our detergent, we love our restaurants and some of us even love our jobs…sometimes…
And while we use the word loosely in most scenarios, probably the most dangerous place we throw around the word is in relationships. Let’s think about some really great love songs for a second. Everybody loves a great love song, right?
Let’s start at Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do With it?
What’s love got to do with it/What’s love but a second-hand emotion/What’s love got to do with it/who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?
Right. Love is exclusively an emotion whose risk out-weights its benefit. Why be intimate, lay your heart out in front of another person and be known, if that can give you the chance of rejection? Who wants that? Geez, lets just have sex. There’s no risk in that, right? We cannot even convince ourselves of this anymore- at least in moments of clarity.
But I’ve never been a Tina Turner fan anyhow, let’s think about some songs on my ipod.
What about Sting and the Police’s Every Breath You Take?
Every step you take/every move you make/I’ll be watching you/Can’t you see, you belong to me/And my poor heart aches/with every step you take.
On second thought, that’s sounding a bit more of a song by a guy behind a telescope than a man in love. Forget about that one, let’s try another.
How about the Reverend Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together? Now there’s a great love song, if ever there was one.
Why, Baby Why/Why people break up/then turn around and make up/I just can’t see/You’d never do that to me/Would you baby/Staying around you is all I see
Wait a minute- that sounds a bit insecure and passive-aggressive, doesn’t it? You’d never leave me, baby…right?…I mean…I already closed off the entire rest of the world just to focus on you…don’t let me down now!!!
Well, Bob Dylan has to be the best songwriter of all times, right? Let’s take a song covered not only by George Harrison, but also another of my favorites, Derek Webb, If Not For You.
If not for you babe I’d lay awake all night/and wait for the morning light/But it would not be new/If not for you
I have to say this is my favorite of the bunch, but wow. That’s next to hopeless. If you leave me baby, I don’t even want the morning to come. I just want to wallow in my misery.
Love, to us, is some crazy combination of an out-dated, second-hand, creepy, insecure, weak, miserable and self-focused feeling. Sometimes being in love can feel like walking on the moon and sometimes love can come back and leave us tangled up in blue.
There is one thing in common about our understanding of love, particularly in this community. Love is an emotion. When it is returned, we dance and when it is unrequited we mourn. We have all been there, right?
At the end of the day, as funny as it is to see a guy saying that he loves “lamp”, we don’t really have a better definition of love. We are every bit as lost in the conversation. We have developed our own definition over time, experience, emotional highs and lows, trauma, abuse and top-40 exposure.
It any wonder, then, that we have no idea what it means when John, the Apostle of love, says God is love?
Really God? You are love? Why did the waters swallow up over 18,000 Japanese last week? And why did the take the lives of over 150 New Zealanders just a few weeks before that? Why is there so much revolution in Egypt? Or destruction in Lybia? If God is love, why is my home state of California looking down the barrel of a 12.2 % unemployment rate? And we aren’t far behind in Alabama at 9.3. 1 of 10 people out of a job.
And, let’s be honest, we have very little need and far less impulse to look outside and ask the same question. If God is love, then why am I looking at a divorce? If God is love, then why is my job so miserable? Why is prison looming if God loves me? If God is love, and marriage is the picture of that, why is my marriage like this? If God is love, then why is my life looking less and less like the one I want as the years march by?
ǝʌol sı poƃ
And, you know, it is subtle, but we have just flipped John’s statement on its head. We have it upside down. John does not say Love defines God. Do you see that shift? When we say God is love, what we are really meaning is that God is now defined by our flawed and grotesque understanding of what love is.
If God was defined by love on our own terms, we would have a God who spent his time falling in-between euphoria and depression, right? What if God was counting on your actions or mine to feel happy about himself? Can you imagine anything more idiotic than the God of the universe basing his whole life upon whether or not you obey him today?
If God is love according to our standards then he is not much of a God. He is more like a very powerful, albeit emotionally unstable king. And even if, for some unknown reason, we feel like we want this type of love from God, our experience tells us plainly and without dispute that this love only works when times are convenient.
Our homemade God will not drive away fear. He will only fill us with more and more reasons to fear the coming day.
This is getting down to the root of our conversation over the past month or so here. Bonhoeffer challenged us: That is the first commandment, the entire gospel. “Fear God”- instead of the many things which you fear. Here now is the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, assuring us that God, in his love, casts out our fear.
So, just to be clear, we should stop being afraid and fear God, then the love of God will cast out our fear? Confused? Well, maybe we are on to something after all.