“I Hope It’s Okay That I Have An Unemotional Love For You”

November 11, 2010

What sent me into my little twitter spasm about love this afternoon?  It was when the guy on Christian radio peddled the unquestioned wisdom of popular psychology: “Love isn’t an emotion.  It’s an act of the will.”

Why do Christian counselors say such things?  Why do so many of us believe them when they do?  I think this particular overstatement about love is frequently made and readily believed because it gives us hope for our broken relationships.  We think that if we don’t have to feel something in order to love, then we can do something to fix the relationship.  The only problem with this line of thinking is that it isn’t true.

Biblical love for God and neighbor has an emotional element to it.  Jesus tells us that love for God involves our heart and soul, not just our mind and strength (Mark 12:30).  Jesus also predicates neighbor love on the assumption that we care about our own well-being (Mark 12:31).  And when Paul famously describes love, he does so in terms that are impossible to fulfill merely volitionally (1 Cor 13:4-7).  How does one not envy or boast or act irritably, or show kindness and rejoice with the truth, without feeling something?

Maybe Jesus and Paul talked about love the way they did because they didn’t have PhD’s in psychology.  Whatever the reason, I think we should side with them rather than with popular counseling.  What they teach us is that emotion, though not the sum of love, is an integral part of love for both God and neighbor.

There went our hope, right?  I mean, if biblical love involves feeling certain things and not just doing certain things, doesn’t that squash the hope of fixing our broken relationships?  Not at all.  In fact, it pushes us in the direction of genuine hope.  It pushes us, as should all of our deficiencies, into the arms of Jesus.  Our inadequacies in love are meant to turn us away from ourselves and toward our Savior.

Here is real hope, believer: you have been united to the One who is love.  In Christ, not only are your failures in love forgiven, but in him you can find the ability to love (volitionally and emotionally) the way you have been called to love both God and neighbor.  As always, this is a matter of faith.  The fruit of love grows as we learn to rely on the indwelling Spirit (Gal 5:22).

So, please, let’s stop shrinking love down into something we think is manageable.  God’s love is too big and beautiful for that.

How, then, should we counsel each other when we just aren’t feelin’ the luv, man?  I would suggest three things.  First, we should repent over our failure to love.  Second, we should spend some time pondering our union with Jesus, whose very nature is love and whose Spirit lives within us.  Third, with our eyes on Jesus, we should begin doing acts of love while asking God to bring our emotions into line with those acts.  C. S. Lewis was right, I think, when he observed that “when you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”  This is not hypocritical.  It’s only hypocrisy if we act without caring about our hearts.

Thus concludes my twitter rant, which has now spilled out onto this blog.  As an old man in my church likes to pray, “Lord, somehow, someway, use this for your glory.”  May that glory be a love that feels as well as does.

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