Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is Love? Part 1

Valentine's Day is quickly approaching. I'm doing a Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another conference again this Valentine's Day, so I'm thinking about love and marriage more intensely right now. I thought I'd share excerpts from the book for your consideration. In these posts, I'll lay out my definition/ description of love. I know these posts are longer than usual, but don't let that scare you.

Let me begin my description by pointing out that love is a neutral term. Love is not virtuous by mere definition. It can either be virtuous or sinful, beautiful or baneful. When I say "virtuous" love, I mean God-pleasing love as opposed to a love that displeases God. Jesus loved his disciples (see John 15:9) and that love pleased God. Therefore it was virtuous. Religious hypocrites love to show off in front of others (see Mat. 6:5) and that love does not please God. Therefore it is not virtuous. The ability to love flows from God, as man is made in his image. However, man has always had the capacity to bestow that love on whatever object he chooses. The only discriminator between virtuous and non-virtuous love is whether the motive, object, extent and fruit of love pleases God or displeases God. As I use the word love, I mean it in this general, neutral sense.

I describe love with the phrase "progression of phases" because I think love develops along a chain from one phase to the next. It's sequential. I think love (both virtuous and sinful) follows a certain reproducible pattern every time. From the beginning of the progression to the end, as long as the sequence is followed, any point along the chain could be called love. That doesn't mean that the love is sufficient. It may just be a good start. For instance, the first phase on the progression is affection. Love that remains an affection would fall far short of God's pleasure. But it could still be called love (as we'll see). I will try to show how this progression of phases helps explain the rich variety of love displayed in Scripture. As we look at the broad spectrum of love (both virtuous and sinful) in the Bible, the progression of phases seems to describe it every time. Love as sequential progression seems to be Scriptural (it doesn't contradict any text), experientially valid (you'll find yourself saying, "That is how it happens."), reasonable (it makes sense), and helpful (for life and counseling). So here is the progression: All love begins with an affection... from there it may or may not develop into a desire... if a desire is strong enough, it may or may not proceed to an inclination of focus... and from there, it might or might not overflow in an action toward or on behalf of the beloved object. Over the next several posts, I'll unfold each step in this progression.

All Love Begins With an Affection

All love begins with an affection. At first this may sound extreme. All love begins with an affection? Yes. Maybe we've always thought of love as a verb. Love is something we do. As we survey the Bible, we see that love is often a verb. I can buy that. I agree that love involves acting. Love feels. Feeling is a verb. Consider the sentence, "He rejoiced." The subject is "he" and the verb is "rejoiced." Rejoicing is something you do, though the action can be entirely inside you. The apostle Paul says love "rejoices with the truth" and "hopes all things" in 1 Corinthians 13:6-7. Rejoice and hope are verbs, yet they happen inside of us. They're in the realm of affection. To "rejoice with the truth" is to feel good inside about truth. Love has an affection for the truth. To have an affection for an object is active.

Let's look at another biblical example of this. The Old Testament prophet, Micah, had this to say: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic. 6:8). If our minds are accustomed to thinking of true love only as giving or acting, then this verse makes little sense to us. In this verse we have love sandwiched in the middle of two noble actions. "Do justice" and "walk humbly" are both actions that please God. Many people would call both those things love. But right in the middle of those two actions is the phrase "love kindness [or mercy]." Love an idea or a concept. If love is merely an action, how do we fulfill this command? How do we give ourselves to an idea? How do we serve an idea? You may think, "By doing something kind or merciful for others." I would agree that we should be kind, but that's not what Micah said. If we do something kind and merciful, we're loving the object of the kindness, not the kindness itself. Micah says we're supposed to love kindness. I think Micah is saying, "Have an affection for kindness. See its beauty or value. Be on its side. Feel good when you show kindness. But even beyond that, feel good when you see it happening all around you." Should kindness overflow into tangible action? Of course. And we'll rejoice when it does. But we also just love the idea of kindness.

By seeing love in this way, we allow for the rich variety of "love" the Bible depicts. Consider 1 John 2:15: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." First, consider that the love in this text is the same love directed toward either the world or the Father. In other words, whatever love is, it's the same thing flowing out either toward the world or toward God.
The next thing to consider is the question, "What is love in this text?" It is not likely that love in this context deals with the realm of action alone. The love here may result in giving ourselves over to the world or to God. But I have a hard time believing that God is pleased with a person who lusts after women, yet never actually approaches them (in fact Jesus says it's sin in Mat. 5:28). In other words, if love is merely action -- giving or serving -- then until we act on our covetousness, we're doing fine. No, in reality, we're damned for the feeling, not just the acting.

If there's an alternative given between love for the world and love for God, then why would we give ourselves to the world instead of to God? Or why would we love God instead of the world? The answer seems obvious. Because we want to. Why would we want to? Because we have an affection for one or the other. 1 John 2:15-16 is in the realm of motivation. Consider the next verse. "For all that is in the world -- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions -- is not from the Father but is from the world" (1 John 2:16). We see in verse 16 that loving the world is described as desires. If love in John's mind was nothing more than action or giving, then why would he bring up desires at all? It must at least be because love is connected in some way to the desires. The question I ask then is, "What causes a person to desire the world over God?" Affection is my answer.

Love for the world and love for God are incompatible because there's no qualitative difference between love for the world and love for the Father. Wherever our affection flows, action follows. The reason so many Christians love the world is because they think love for God and love for the world are two different concepts. Therefore, the most carnal of Christians can claim to "love God with all my heart" because love for God is heavenly while love for the world is a different concept altogether. Clearly Paul didn't think this was so. "For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica" (2 Tim. 4:10, emphasis mine). Paul was clearly seeing a deficiency in Demas because he loved (agapáō) the world rather than God. John obviously thought love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive -- because it's the same love directed to different objects (the world vs. God).

Affection Flows From a Sense of Beauty or Value

Why does someone love the world, or God, or his wife, or little dog Fido, or steak, or his favorite sports team? The answer seems clear -- there's an affection for those things. The question that then begs to be asked is why does someone love his own wife and not someone else's, or why might he start loving someone else's wife? Because he has a sense of beauty or value in his wife, or in someone else's wife. So affection flows from a sense of beauty or value. The greater the sense of value, the stronger the affection. I love steak. I love steak smothered with sour cream, mushrooms, onions and steak sauce. As I've eaten this blessed concoction, I've often asked myself why I love steak. Why do I desire it? Why do I prioritize finances to eat it? Why do I love steak and not asparagus? Why do I love telling the world how much I love steak? Now, I'm going to use steak as a running illustration (please don't mistake this as an inordinate love for steak). I love steak because I've tasted it. I've smelled it on the grill. I've seen the grill marks and perfect proportion as it sets on the plate. I've heard it sizzling and felt its tenderness as I cut into it. I love steak because I have an affection for steak. I have an affection for steak because I sense the beauty or value of steak. I see, smell, taste, touch and hear steak. All five senses are enlivened in a good steak-eating experience. I don't love asparagus because I have no affection for asparagus. I have no affection for asparagus because I do not sense the beauty or value of asparagus. I think it tastes like dirt. It looks like a weed. It smells like grass. It feels nasty to cut into and even worse to chew. And all I've heard about its nutritional value doesn't override my other senses! Do you see how my affections are based on values derived from sense?

Why do the majority of people in the world not love God? God commands it, yet they disobey him. Why? It's simple. Non-Christians do not have an affection for God. Now why would a non-Christian have no affection for God? God is infinitely beautiful and altogether lovely and deeply worthy of affection. Nonetheless, God's perfections don't register in the mind of a non-Christian. Non-Christians have no sense of the beauty or value of God. Seeing, they don't see and hearing, they don't hear. Explaining God's perfections to a non-Christian is like trying to explain the color blue to a boy born blind. How can he relate? We have a sense (sight) that he doesn't have and that makes all the difference in the world in appreciating beauty and assessing value. So a brilliant blue sky on a summer day will not likely hold much sway over the blind boy's heart. Paul is clear about this in the realm of spiritual insight: "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing (non-Christians). Their minds are blinded. They can't see the light of the gospel of Christ's glory. They have no sense of God's value! The capacity to bring in knowledge about the beauty or value of God is shut off to them. Though they may have five senses, they have no God-valuing faculty. Paul shows the exact same truth in Romans 1:18-32. Paul says everyone knows of God in verse 21. However, rather than worshiping God, verse 23 says they exchanged God's glory for things in the creation. Why would they do that? Verse 28 says they didn't see fit to acknowledge God. Why? Because they didn't value him. "Exchange" is a value word. It's what we do at Christmas with the gift we have no affection for -- we trade it in for something we sense is better. Maybe we don't like seeing an orange sweater so we exchange it for one we do like seeing -- the blue one. "See fit" is also a value phrase. We see fit to do something based on the value derived from the act. Non-Christians do not see fit to honor God because they can't identify with him. So they settle for what they can identify with, what they can appreciate -- the things of the natural world.

Faith -- the "Sixth Sense"

Non-Christians have no faculty with which to sense God's beauty, so they never love him. Christians on the other hand do have a sense of God's beauty. It is a gift of God flowing from the new birth. Faith is the sense of God's value that the world doesn't have. When we're born into this natural world, we're likely to have five senses. We likely develop the ability to see, smell, hear, taste and touch. When we're born again, we have another sense added to our natural five -- faith. In the same way as a natural man develops his five senses, a Christian develops his faith.

I think we find this in Hebrews 11:1 (and the whole rest of the chapter): "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." We also see it in John 3:3: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." We see it in Romans 1:17 where Paul lays faith over against the exchange of God's glory in 1:18-32. We find it in 2 Corinthians 4:6 where God "has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." I could give so many more examples, but I trust we're getting the point. Christians have six senses, while the natural man has five. Faith enables us to find beauty and value in God that exceeds the value of things of this world.

One of the neat things about faith is its impact on the other five senses. It takes saving faith to make the other five senses operable in the spiritual realm. In other words, as a non-Christian we can look at the creation and enjoy its benefits all the time without ever bringing glory to God. But through faith we are able to use our other five senses to bring glory to God. We can listen to music that brings joy and gratitude in our hearts for what God has done. We can taste food that points to the wedding feast to come. We can see a sunset and use it as fuel to inspire the most heart-felt worship of the one who painted it. We can hug a brother or sister in Christ whose world is falling apart. We can smell flowers in spring and contemplate on what pleasures heaven has in store.

Christians sense God's value. What's more, they always will. This is great news. This explains why it's possible to love God forever and with increasing intensity. God is infinite. It's impossible to sense our way to the bottom of God's value. God is worthy of infinite love because God is infinitely valuable. We'll never stop finding beautiful things to sense about him once he gives us the faculties to see or "taste" (see Psalm 34:8). Yet, there remains a great deficiency in love to God by Christians. What can explain this? If love begins with an affection flowing from a sense of value, and God is infinitely valuable, then why don't we love God perfectly? This too has to do with our senses. Though we have a new sense of God's glory, our sense of the world's pleasures has not disappeared. At best our sense of the world's pleasures may be kept in check, but it rarely diminishes. Christians still find things in the world valuable. We just find God valuable now, too. However, we pray that God will continue to show himself more beautiful and more glorious so that our affections for worldly things will be outweighed by God's value.

One reason we value the world is that sin is intermingled with our sense of value -- perverting and distorting it. Another reason is that senses can deceive. Take hot dogs for instance. Hot dogs may not be the most beautiful food, but they do fill us up. What if I spent 45 minutes glutting on hot dogs? Then my neighbor comes over with a steak fresh off the grill. I know steak is good, but I've already eaten. I take a bite anyway to indulge my friend. What if I vomit at the second bite? What did I vomit on? Steak. But should I have? No. Those stupid hot dogs interfered with what should have been truly valuable. This is what John is saying in 1 John 2:15-17. Love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive because both are competing affections, filling up our hearts.

Affection is Love

I describe love as a progression of phases because love begins with an affection and may or may not move on to the next phase. Love is truly love at the level of affection, even if it dies there. Though the example doesn't perfectly illustrate the point, consider a human being. A person lives along a continuum. An embryo is a person. So is an infant, a toddler, an adolescent and and adult. If a baby dies or has some sort of developmental disease, we still consider him to be human, even though he never progresses to maturity. Love begins with an affection, though at that point, it would be least mature and developed. There are times in everyday life when love doesn't move beyond affection. Let me give you a far out example. I love steak. If every cow on the face of the earth dies of disease so that no steak is produced from this day forward until Christ returns -- I will go to my grave loving steak. I don't have to go through the action of eating it to prove I love it. I go through the action of eating it because I love it! I can say, "I love steak," fifty years from now without ever eating another one. Someone may ask why I love it. I'll respond, "Because fifty years ago I saw, smelled, tasted, touched and heard it, and I found it valuable."

It's possible that love never progresses to the next phase beyond affection (though it would be incomplete). On the other hand, it may regress back to the level of affection from a more advanced phase and still be love. For example, suppose someone is married fifty years. Then his wife dies. He loved his wife. She's gone. He can't do dishes for her anymore. He can't prioritize his life around her. It does no good to desire her. However, if you asked him, "Do you love your wife?" What's he likely to say? "Yes, very much." How? He can't give to her. He can't serve her. But he still has an affection for her flowing from a memory of her beauty and value. If you asked him why he still loves her, he'd likely rattle off a few sentences of praise for who she was.

When Affection Dies, Love Dies

This description of love as a progression of phases enables us to get to the root of why love grows cold in marriage. This is incredibly practical. When affection dies, love dies. Affection is the fountain from which all love flows. It's impossible to perform the other phases along the progression and call it love if it didn't flow from an affection. Love can still be love without an action or even desire (we'll see this later) because an affection may still remain. But love cannot exist without affection. How does this apply to marriage? Suppose a couple comes to me and says, "All the love in our marriage is gone." I could tell them, "God commands you to love. You must love. I know you don't feel like it, but that's alright. If you perform these actions, the feelings of love will come back -- your feelings follow action." I could then show them from Scripture how love is giving and love is an action, send them home with a list of fifty ways to show love (because love is an action, a gift) and demand they ask God's help to do it. And I wouldn't be surprised when that doesn't fix the problem over the long haul.

As an alternative, I could look at the progression of phases and ponder what the Bible says about motivation. It's obvious in this marriage that loving actions are non-existent. I hardly need to ask why. There's no desire to perform loving actions. I could go back to the area of affections and start to probe. In my experience, there are always areas in troubled marriages where spouses simply stop finding beauty or value in one another. Love grows cold because spouses lose value. This is why actions and giving alone are not enough to fuel feelings. If a couple doesn't find any value in the marriage, they'll do dishes and have "date nights" until blue in the face and grow more bitter the whole time. I've seen this happen more than once.

If what I'm saying is true, then why does mere action seem to cause change sometimes? I do agree that demanding change can cause change at times. But that change could make the person twice the child of hell than they were before the change (see Mat. 23:15)! Changing action is not necessarily creating virtuous love. In those cases where godly change occurs, I think the dynamic follows the progression of phases. In other words, the action sparks a renewed interest in finding value, which renews a worn down affection. When that happens on its own, we say, "See, I told you if you just do the work, love happens." That's not in reality what happened at all. Instead, while the couple was focusing on their marriage, affection was restored because value was rekindled. But for those times "action counsel" doesn't work and the couple never improves relations, it's because one or both spouses are not finding value in each other or in the marriage. When value dwindles, affection dies. When affection dies, love dies.

If we're having problems getting along with our spouse, we have to go back and figure out why we've stopped finding value in him or her. Perhaps we got married out of physical attraction. When that wears off, we want someone else. Maybe we married out of necessity. When we don't feel the need anymore, we don't value our spouse anymore. Or it could be that we married to have a companion. But when our companion always wants something from us and wants to control us, then we lose the value of having that person as a companion. Maybe we're comparing our spouse to someone else's or to some dream mate from a movie or soap opera or book or pornography. When our real spouse doesn't measure up, we stop valuing him or her. Then again, we might have valued security at first. But after awhile, we realize how secure we are without our spouse, so value diminishes. There are hundreds of reasons to value someone and hundreds of reasons to stop. If we only value our spouse because he or she makes much of us, what happens when our spouse cannot make as much of us as we're used to? We may feel shafted and our value for our spouse diminishes. If we only value our spouse because he or she makes much of us, then what happens when, in bitterness, he or she starts getting jealous and acting like a brat? We get angry and our value for our spouse shrinks.

If you're in this situation right now, not valuing your spouse, keep reading these posts. Pray that God will show you what he wants you to value. It could be that the reasons you valued your spouse were all wrong. Or it could be that your spouse has changed and truly become less valuable in your eyes. It doesn't matter. If the love in your marriage feels cold, it's because the value between you and your mate is down to yard sale prices. It may not help for you to immediately try to "drum up" things to value about your spouse. It may work, or it may be incredibly discouraging. First, you're sense of value may be all out of whack. Second, it may be because your spouse really isn't that valuable at the current time. I've written this book to try and show what is truly valuable about marriage and our spouses. So keep reading on and let the Bible speak to your sense of value before you put your marriage on the chopping block or start doing all sorts of assessments.

A Biblical Example of Non-virtuous Love

Consider with me a biblical example of the interplay of value and love. In 2 Samuel 13 we read about King David's family. David had a son, Amnon. He also had a daughter, Tamar.

"Now Absalom, David's son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David's son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her" (2 Sam. 13:1-2).

We find in the text that "after a time" Amnon loved Tamar. The question I ask of this text is, "Why did Amnon love her?" There are clues. First, she was beautiful. Second, she was a virgin. Amnon loved Tamar because he had an affection for her. He had an affection for her because he valued her. He valued her because he could see she was beautiful and he obviously would have heard if she had been given to a man -- he knew she was a virgin. We have my description of love taking shape here. Did this love last? No. Why? Because the affection faded. Why? Because Amnon stopped finding value in Tamar. Amnon's love for Tamar overflowed in rape. We read on in 2 Samuel 13 that Amnon ceased to value Tamar after he raped her. Maybe it wasn't all Amnon had imagined it would be. Maybe he'd gotten what he wanted and didn't see the use in repeating. The text isn't clear as to why Amnon changed, but he did. "Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her" (2 Sam. 13:15). I am not saying Amnon's love for Tamar was noble or virtuous. It clearly wasn't (remember, the only criteria for virtuous love is that it pleases God). His affection for her could have flowed out in a desire for her purity. But it didn't. That's the power of sin to corrupt a God-given gift like love. Amnon's affection for Tamar (love) took him down all the wrong paths, at serious cost to her and himself.

Value is Determined by Pleasure Granted or Expected

Love begins as an affection flowing from a sense of beauty or value. The question I now want to ask is, "What determines what we value or to what extent we value it?" The value of an object is determined by the pleasure granted or expected from that object. To the extent that an object can further the pleasure of the one doing the loving, that object is valued. An object's value may emanate from inherent beauty or it may be derived as a means to another end. An example will illustrate this. God is inherently beautiful, or objectively beautiful in himself. So it should not be a foreign notion that every reasonable creature should have an affection (love) for God -- because he's valuable in himself. On the other hand, we have sinful man. He is unlovely in himself. He isn't inherently beautiful. Any beauty man has is derived from God. Therefore, what beauty or value does God see in man that he should have an affection (love) for us? God has an affection for man flowing from a sense of value in himself. It's not that man is inherently valuable and worthy of love. Instead, God is valuable and worthy of love. So God loves the world as a means to the end of getting glory from the world. If this sounds unreasonable, consider Paul's statement in Ephesians 5:

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).

Paul says that Christ loved the church. Everyone agrees with that. What did that love require? Christ gave himself up for her. Why did Christ die? Christ died to sanctify and cleanse the church. Why did Christ want to sanctify the church? Christ sanctified the church so that he might present the church to himself in splendor to worship him for all eternity. This was the joy set before him (see Heb. 12:2). Christ died for himself. And he died for the church. This blows away many people's conception of love. Christ had an entirely different reason for loving the church than that they were lovely. Christ had an affection for man flowing from a sense of value in himself. So man served Christ's greater end of glorifying himself. Christ valued the church for the pleasure he would gain from her. What's more, the church eternally benefits from Christ's seeking his pleasure in dying for the church. No sane person faults Christ for this! We should not feel the least bit slighted that Christ is working everything for our benefit, in spite of our unworthiness, to bring glory to himself. We should greatly rejoice that he is. We may be tempted to think that Christ didn't love the church. He just loved himself. That's not what Paul said. Jesus Christ pursued his own pleasure in the pleasure of the church. Paul called this pursuit "love."

In the above illustration of Amnon and Tamar, Amnon valued Tamar because of the pleasure he was expecting to receive from her. His affection flowed in the sinful way it did because his sense of value was perverse. He valued Tamar as a possession, something to be had for the sexual pleasure he expected to receive from her. The difference between Christ and Amnon is that Christ's love ultimately benefits the beloved by helping the beloved cherish God (which pleases God and makes the love virtuous). Jesus pursued pleasure in the ultimate pleasure of the beloved. Amnon's love consumed and did violence to the beloved and cared nothing about helping the beloved cherish God (which makes it displeasing to God and therefore sinful). Amnon pursued pleasure at the expense of the beloved. Christ's love was a fountain; Amnon's a sponge. What is your love for your spouse?

I would like to think that Amnon really just loved sex and saw his sister as an object to satisfy that love. But the biblical writer didn't say that. He wrote in 13:1 "And after a time Amnon, David's son, loved her." He didn't say Amnon loved sex. He didn't call Amnon's love "lust." He said Amnon loved Tamar. We must let the writer say what he wrote. It's alright to try to figure out why he wrote what he wrote. But it's not alright to make him say something he didn't. (Again, this proves that love is a general term, describing either a virtuous action or a sinful action depending on its relationship to God.) I think the pursuit of pleasure explains why Amnon ceased to love Tamar after he had violated her. It's interesting that Amnon wasn't just disinterested with Tamar afterwards. He was actively opposed to her. He hated her. Perhaps it was because Amnon's expectation of pleasure was seriously overinflated in his imagination. We'll see in the next section that Amnon was obsessed with Tamar. He thought of her constantly. He was fantasizing about how it would be. Then when he got his way with her, it was not the payoff he'd been expecting. So Amnon may have hated her because his expectation of pleasure had been dashed to pieces or because he expected no further pleasure could be had from her. In fact, after the deed was done, the thought of potential consequences may have come crashing down on his head. Those thoughts would not have been very pleasurable!

Another example of this relationship between value and pleasure is from the life of Moses in Hebrews 11. We looked at him in the last chapter. Moses had to choose between the fleeting treasures and pleasures of sinful Egypt, or the reproach of Christ. Moses made his choice by considering the reward he'd receive from both. He chose Christ over sin because he valued Christ over sin because his expectation of pleasure from Christ was greater than the pleasure he expected from sin. The reason I think he thought the reproach of Christ would bring greater pleasure than sin was because sin's pleasures are fleeting. They will eventually end and become anti-pleasure. So by faith Moses chose everlasting pleasure over temporary pleasure because everlasting pleasure is of necessity more valuable than temporary pleasure.

This is also John's argument in 1 John 2:15-17. John says not to love the world or the things in the world because the world will end along with its desires. In other words, the pleasure that the things of the world can give is fleeting and temporary. There will come a day when the world's pleasures will come to an end and become anti-pleasure. Seeking pleasure in the things of the world isn't nearly hedonistic enough because the promises of worldly pleasures are not powerful enough. John says the one who does the will of God abides forever. We saw in the last chapter what the will of God is -- to be happy in him through the gospel forever.

We must discipline our minds to constantly weigh competing pleasures. When the temporary pleasures of the world call out to us, we cannot allow ourselves to coast right into them. We must consider their promises, assess their payoff in the end and choose according to what is truly valuable. To a mind awakened to the value of God through faith, God's way will win out if considered long enough, because the eternal pleasures of God's way are better than the fleeting pleasures of the world's way.

It's important to point out at this point that we value based on pleasure granted or expected. Not every choice we make ends up in pleasure. Our decision may solidly backfire on us. If I go to a skydiving school and learn to jump out of an airplane, there is a real chance that the parachute won't open or a line may snap or I could crash into a tree and break my leg. I'm not setting out to kill myself. I'm setting out to get pleasure. However, my choice could result in anti-pleasure. But I'm expecting pleasure, not pain. If I go to a night club in a quest for a one-night-stand, I am expecting pleasure. I am not going in expecting to get a sexually transmitted disease. I may end up with one that could cause serious agony and death. I'm not setting out on a quest for agony. I'm setting out on a quest for pleasure. However, the quest may end in agony. But I'm expecting pleasure, not pain. This dynamic explains why we do the things we do, even when they seem really stupid to those around us. This explains why so many couples won't quit fighting or being selfish, even though it makes them miserable. Both spouses are expecting to get their way. They're not setting out to be upset. They're setting out to be happy. They're just going about it all wrong, and it backfires on them. We don't generally set out to ruin our lives with our choices. We set out to better our lives through heaping on more pleasure and it backfires on us. This shouldn't lead us to stop pursuing pleasure since we can't. It should provoke us to start seeking it in the only place it can be found in durable and ultimate form -- God.

Loving the Unseen Christ

We can see the relationship between love, joy and faith in 1 Peter 1:8-9. In this chapter, Peter is reflecting on the trials and joys of the Christian life when he considers the love that his readers have for Christ. Peter points out that, "though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet. 1:8-9). Notice here that it seems somewhat strange to love someone we've never seen. That's why Peter points it out with the word "though." Consider this illustration. If I run around the block, no one may notice. But what if I have a broken leg and run around the block? Would that seem peculiar? Probably. Someone may even say, "Though he has a broken leg, he's running around the block." The word "though" in that sentence points out something out of the ordinary that may keep an act from being done. It's not normal to run on broken legs. In other words, it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to see a guy running around the block. But it is out of the ordinary to see a guy running around the block with a broken leg. Peter is saying something similar about his readers' love. It isn't extraordinary to love someone. It is more extraordinary to love someone you've never seen. That's why Peter seems pleased that his readers love Jesus without having to see him.

Peter seems to be saying here that love is in some measure usually based on physical sense -- in this case, sense of sight. You see Jesus and you love him. If you want to love Jesus, you have to see him. The capacity to love seems related to the ability to assess something lovely. That assessment comes through senses. If you don't have that capacity to assess, you can't decide to love. Now what would enable Peter's readers to love Jesus without seeing him? What would give them the ability to assess something lovely about Jesus that would make it extraordinary? I think it's clear from the text that the answer is faith. Peter calls his readers' joyful, believing love for Jesus "faith" in verse 9. Peter's readers assessed the value of Jesus through the eyes of faith. Faith was the sense by which they could assess Jesus' value.

The love with which these early Christians loved Jesus was fueled by inexpressible joy. Through faith, they could rejoice in the promises of salvation given by Jesus and that sustained them through the most extreme trials. They valued Jesus because Jesus brought them such intense joy that it couldn't be fully expressed. It couldn't have been the sight of Jesus that brought them such great joy, like the sight of a super-model. They'd never seen him. It was what Jesus had done for them through the gospel that provoked such radical joy. And they sensed that, not through sight, but through faith. So we can see the relationship between love, joy and faith in this text. Love flows from a sense of beauty or value. Beauty or value is based on the joy granted or expected from an object. Faith is the "sixth sense" that enables virtuous love to flow without the aid of the physical senses.

I know what I'm saying may be new to you and require intense thought. Don't give up, keep thinking with me. Let me recap my thoughts about love to this point. 1) Love is best described as a progression of phases. 2) Love begins as an affection flowing from a sense of beauty or value. 3) When affection for an object dies, love dies. 4) An object's value is determined by the pleasure granted or expected. Let's move along to the next phase tomorrow.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

I love how you describe "faith" as a sixth sense that God imparts to us at regeneration. And I love how God heightens our original five senses when he gives us the gift of faith. He is such a good God. May He continue to heighten our appreciation of just how good as we gaze upon His beauty.