The Shape of Love
Created on: 28th July 2021
As humans, love drives our deepest desires and needs, seeking it and finding it is as necessary as our daily bread, from the day we are born to the day we breathe our last. Those cut off from love by ill-chance or trauma view the world from the outside, lonely and longing to find their way in. Love is the ocean in which we were made to swim.
What is love?
Love, we are told, requires the inclusion of everybody and the approval of everything, to exclude or rank certain behaviours is to ‘judge’ and to ‘judge’ is to infringe on the ‘rights’ or ‘identity’ of others and to be unloving.
Love then, in the modern world, is to tolerate, accept and applaud every human behaviour, especially where it pertains to human relationships. Loving inclusion and acceptance is the ultimate good; no racism, no sexism, no ‘phobias.’
It has not always been this way, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus for example, identified goodness with pleasure, The greater the pleasure the greater the good. Life was to be lived to experience and spread pleasure. In more recent times the Utilitarian philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill refined this to say that an action is right if it promotes happiness and the greatest happiness to the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ was written into the American Declaration of Independence as a self-evident right. But if love, not pleasure, is the greatest good, pursuing and spreading pleasure or happiness is a standard that falls short. That which is loving must be that which produces benefit for all and causes no harm; love is a relational standard by which to live.
LOVE-THE ABSOLUTE MEASURE
If love is the moral absolute, it is the standard against which all actions, or inactions, are measured. All action has consequence, the action which is loving gives a beneficent outcome, that which is unloving a maleficent one. If love is the absolute, we must live in a moral universe created by a moral God, for it is illogical to have an absolute relational morality in an uncreated and impersonal universe. Further than that, since love is relational, God who called the universe into being must be relational within Himself prior to the Creation or He would not Himself know love. We therefore, beings made to swim in an ocean of love, are made in His image and likeness and are moral beings. All we do or do not do is measured by love. Love therefore creates the moral shape of our universe, what is that shape?
What is love?
The Apostle Paul famously described love in his first letter to the church in Corinth1, first in the negative by describing what it is not and then in reference to other virtues such as hope, faith and endurance. In the book of Galatians2 he also describes it as the summation of eight other virtues of character. Love is relational, it cannot be observed, measured or experienced outside of the relationship between two or more persons. The essence of love is to prioritise the good of the other or of the relational unit (e.g. family, neighbourhood or community), while not neglecting to give true value to oneself. ‘Love the Lord your God… and love your neighbour as yourself,’ as the ancient commandment goes. How then can we perceive the shape of love in our daily lives? Can it be defined, spoken, drawn or written? Is there a code or law to love? How should we act or know that an action is loving or not?
LAW & LOVE
Some say that love and law are at odds with each other, even that they are in opposition, that law is the negation of love. This is by no means true, we can see that by the necessity of its own nature, by its own definition and internal logic, by the fact that the outcome of our actions can be judged as beneficent or maleficent, that love creates law. It is an inevitable consequence of the freewill which the Creator bestowed upon us when He created us in his own image and likeness, that we have the freedom and ability to act in unloving as well as loving ways. All of us in various ways take advantage of that freedom, all of us fall short of love.
If love has created law then it holds that this law gives shape and form to love. Love is not anarchic or whimsical, shapeless or chaotic.
According to Jesus of Nazareth, the law of Moses stands true until the world ends and provides a real – if humanly impossible – way of life. It divides the right from the wrong, instructing what is loving and right, condemning that is which is unloving and wrong. Blessings or curses flow from our words and actions, from our fulfilling of the law in love or from our contradiction of it. The law instructs us in the actions of love but is not enough in itself, for without love the law itself becomes a curse. When asked which was the most important of the commandments Jesus answered without hesitation to love God and your neighbour, law comes from love, not love from law. Law without love is legalism and death – but ‘love’ without law is lawlessness, the very definition of sin and rebellion against God. One can see how serious the modern mantra of love without shape can be.
‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’ So said Jesus of Nazareth to his disciples. A command to love such as that does not sound loving, it sounds demanding – a demand to prove love through obedience. But if the commands to be kept are themselves born of love then the keeping of them is beneficial to those who do them, they are not burdensome, more than that they are freeing and a disciple’s obedience itself becomes a loving response to the command. To love truly is the only way to live free for ‘whoever sins is a slave to sin.’3
Walking the way of the law in love perfectly, as Jesus did, leads inevitably, inexorably to a climactic conclusion – an end of bitterness and blessing, of death and resurrection. No one could accuse him of any wrongdoing, neither his friends, family or enemies. In the perfection of divine love, the desire to be reconciled with those who failed in love and to spare them the maleficent, cursed, consequences of their actions, drove Jesus to the ultimate end, that is to take upon Himself the consequences of their (our) failure. In his divine love Jesus took onto himself all the sin of the world, that having paid the price in his own body, he might have the moral authority in justice to forgive those sins. At the same moment, in his death, perfecting and completing his own divine love, Jesus took to himself all the blessings of love and life, that he might dispense those blessings to all who would receive them. All authority on heaven and earth is his because of his perfection of love.
Fulfilling the law in love, drove Jesus inexorably to the Cross; so it will do for his disciples. This is the meaning of ‘deny yourself, take up your Cross daily and follow me’4, to lovingly follow the way of the law. We follow the way of Jesus Christ, ‘the Lamb slain before the foundation of the World,’5 the incarnation of divine love that leads inevitably to self-sacrifice and death, even death on a Cross.
What is the shape of love? Love is Cross shaped.
1 1 Corinthians 13, vv 4 - 7
2 Galatians 5,vv 22 & 23
3 John 8, v34
4 Luke 9, v23
5 Revelation 13, v8
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