14 July 2011

"Love": a few opening thoughts

by Dan Phillips

From the fragments of profound thoughts I have whirling, this should be a deep, nuanced and crisply literary post. Unfortunately, but I haven't the time to craft such a post just now. It's being that kind of a week month quarter of a year. Maybe another time. Then, I'll delete this one in favor of the more artistic post, and you and I will just whistle a little tune together, and try to forget this one ever happened.

In that more pithy and developed post, I would start with a clever, amusing story about some time when the misunderstanding of a single basic word led to disaster. And then I'd segue masterfully into my subject, which is: LOVE.

You don't need me to tell you that "love" is an important word, both in our culture and in the Bible. The problem is that English Bibles and American English speakers use that same word, "love," but with very different cargoes. In the immortal words of Iniego Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

I used to take my young 'uns to a local bookstore, where a talented young man would entertain the kids with a story and some fun every Saturday morning. He was, I think, a teacher in a state indoctrination center. One Saturday, he wore a shirt with this on it: "Love is what separates us from the Republicans." What did he mean by that? I think I know.

I can't speak for other cultures, but in America, "loving" people don't judge and they don't ever say "no"... which is to say that don't say that certain things are wrong, or shouldn't be done.

It necessarily leads to quite a tangle.

"Loving" people are against murder (except of the unborn), sexual violence (unless consensual), theft (unless warranted), tyranny (unless by their political party), oppression (unless of the views they oppose), and wealth (unless possessed by themselves or their celebrities). "Loving" people disapprove of people who disapprove of people. Well, certain people. Disapproval of homosexual behavior, for instance, is wrong because it is hateful; disapproval of disapproval of homosexual behavior is right because it is loving.

Now, I am skating atop depths right here which I'd like to develop, and to which I must return some time. But this American stance rests on so many illusions as to leave one reeling. For instance, I think of the uproar and outrage that the mainstream American media is trying to gin up against one particular presidential candidate, simply because of her and her husband's involvement in a clinic that allegedly tried to help homosexual people find freedom from their mangling and destructive passions.

As one reads the media, one becomes aware that the mere voicing of the accusation itself is damning enough, to them. I heard just newsreaders on the television Wednesday morning say that the couple were "accused of trying to help 'gay' people become 'straight.'" You see? That is an accusation. It is a bad thing to do. The subtext: because it is unloving, as defined above.

I doubt those reporters would speak of any therapist as being "accused of trying to help rapists control their impulses," or "accused of trying to help depressed people find joy," or  "accused of trying to help drug addicts beat their addiction." Not yet, anyway.

It is a reflection of the world's view of itself, which is framed in an all-encompassing matrix of deception (Jer. 17:9). The world is our great-great-grandparents' real firstborn. The world is the invisible bastard child born to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, long before Cain uttered his first cry. The world was begotten by the embrace of the foundational lie "You shall be as gods." This became the central motto. Anything, then, that affirms my godhood (over against God's godhood) is good and loving. Anything that challenges that view is bad and hateful.

It can't surprise us that God's view of love is very different. While the world's view rests on sheer and unbridled autonomy, God's rests on the truth of His Lordship. Love is at the center of both ethical systems: in the world, the autonomous self is the center. In reality, God Himself is the center. The two could not be more polar opposites or more mutually exclusive. The ramifications are countless.

Therefore, in American culture if not in others, "love" has come to mean "unconditional approval of what the world accepts."

By contrast, in the Bible "love" means something like commitment to pursue God's glory and others' good, as defined by God. That definition needs work, but I think it's a good start.

So it is that the real world, as created and ruled by God, is structured with love for God as primary, and love for fellow-man as derivative and secondary (Matt. 22:37-40). The fantasy-world, ruled over by the prince of lies, finds this ethical system offensive and repugnant... and immoral. Ironic, no?

But that is why a post like this, from nearly four years ago, caused such offense and outrage in some quarters. Actually putting God first, where theory becomes practice and affects real attitudes and real choices and real actions, is a horrible thing to the world. This is what offends the world about candidates such as the one I mentioned above: saying you are a Christian is a pardonable offense. But actually living it? Actually doing something about it? Unforgivable.

You see, the thought that anything or anyone (even God; particularly God) could take precedence over our (or anyone's) yearnings and passions and dreams... terrible! Terrible!

Ah, but that is where we have the eternal parting of the ways. If God is not God, then indeed it is a monstrous, hateful thing to try to deny anyone his desires; and chaos necessarily results.

But if God is God? If Jesus is true? Then what could be more loving than to turn someone (anyone) from damning, destructive ways to the saving and liberating knowledge of the true and living God?

"Love wins," indeed.

Defined God's way.

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

Let me just say, to try to prevent a derailing: I truly do not have a settled opinion about the candidate I mention or the clinic in question, and don't want to go down that path. My point is the MSM's reaction based on its perception of what they are and what they do.

Robert said...

Good post, Dan. I'm sure you could do a long series of posts on this subject alone.

What really disturbs me is how people have totally distorted the teaching of Jesus Christ. He was not a "community organizer" and He didn't hesitate to point out that the source of everybody's problem was sin. Instead, He confronted people's sinfulness head on and told them that they need to turn away from their deceitful hearts and turn to Him.

He died for us while we were sinners...He came down from eternal worship in Heaven to pull us from our wrong ways of self-worship into a right relationship of worshipping Him. He didn't come to pat us on the back and say we're doing just fine and He is here to make life easier. That is because we're on the path to hell if we haven't put our trust in Him and repented of our sins. And how can we repent of our sins if we aren't even confronted about them in order to point out they are actually sins? Yet people today would call that hate speech and want laws enacted to throw people in jail for calling homosexuality what it is...a sin.

Jesus shows true love for all of humanity, but even after 2,000 years people are still spitting in His face, mocking Him, and saying He should be crucified. In fact, I'd say that the contempt for Jesus has actually grown over the years. Just goes to show how depraved man is.

Thomas Louw said...

The Love of God and the love of man is totally different things but,

The greatness of God’s loves is seen in His love for Himself.

The evil of man’s love is displayed in man’s love for himself.

The one deserves love the other does not.

God’s love reaches out towards man.

Man’s love declares war against God.

DJP said...

Thomas: very well-said, and very nice, helpful addendum. Thank you.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

So loved this post, Dan.

It is funny how when a person(s) does good deeds in their own name, the general public calls you a hero, a philanthropist or an all around "nice guy." But do good deeds in the name of the Lord, and you face persecution, scorn and a real worry as to what your real motives might be (is there a catch to this) mentality?

Love is great when it comes with no strings attached. But if it is perceived as a means to persuade one of the goodness of God, they exit stage left and run like the dickens. They're glad for the help, just don't do it in God's name for heavens sake.

Herding Grasshoppers said...


I have to admit I got distracted from this post by clicking back through to the dating post (four years ago, and excellent - will use with my boys).

And I have to ask - having skimmed the comments - was that the seed for your Proverbs book?


Unknown said...

When love means "feeling squishy inside about someone," then all you get is squishy. Squishy songs, squishy cards, squishy slogans, and ultimately, squishy ethics.

When love means what God means when He uses the word, then you get something that is not at all squishy, but because it's not, the world says "that's not loving!" Particularly when it's directed at those who have been deemed by the world as more deserving of (squishy) love: minorities, homosexuals, Muslims.

So, Dan, was the day the story-reader wore that shirt the last day you attended the Saturday story time?

JackW said...

Loved it.

trogdor said...

Mary, I think the issue here is a little different. In this case it's not lamenting a good deed in the name of Christ, as in "It's nice that they're feeding the homeless, but can't they do it without all the Jesus stuff?" It's a full-on assault against the goodness of the deed in and of itself, a stirring example of Isaiah 5:20.

They don't lament the motives behind something they acknowledge as good. They pretend that it's totally wicked, regardless of motive. I'm sure the two are related though - the former will probably eventually lead to the latter.

St. Lee said...

Dan, you said that you didn't have time to write a "deep, nuanced and crisply literary post."

All I can say to that is, if this post was not an example of you at the top of your game, then one that is would be something to behold.

I think I found a half dozen very quotable phrases in just a quick reading. My hat is off to you.

Paula Bolyard said...

I'm reading a book called Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters? In the intro, the author, a former Mormon, now a Christian saved by grace, explains her purpose in writing the book:

"I know this book will be a hard pill to swallow for some, including members of my own family who are still very much entrenched in the Mormon religion. I write this book with love for them, and with love for this great nation. In fact, when people are chastised for telling the politically incorrect truth, my response is that 'it is a loving thing to tell the truth.' You see, when people are in the distorted state of mind of deception, I believe that if we choose to leave them there, it is a form of abandonment. I believe that if you love someone, you owe it to guide him or her into the truth in order that he or she can truly be set free."[emphasis mine]

The sad thing is that we are heading toward Canadian and Euro-style speech codes in this country. The entanglement of parachurch ministries with the government (everything from foster care arrangements to Christian clinics like the Bachmann's are apparently involved in will be targets.

Groups that want to be able to preach the gospel without hindrance need to begin to make plans now to divest themselves of all government entanglement. For churches, at some point that may even mean the loss of tax benefits currently afforded to them. After all, the government can't very well be seen as "subsidizing" speech it deems unloving...even hateful, can it?

Tyrone said...

Dan, what is it about man that we tend to spend so much time on certain topics? I am not for one minute suggesting that I am any different. But why do we look at certain sin as more serious than other sin. I know the answer! However without the covering of the righteousness of Christ all will end up in the "lake of fire". Unless a man repent of his sin he will be doomed for all eternity. What then is true love? Obviously you have hit the nail n the head with your post. But pet subjects sometimes seem to overshadow the call for all men to repent. Is a practising homosexual any worse off than a liar, a thief, a fornicator,or a drunkard? Ultimately all need to find repentance in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. so then what is true love, God's love? "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.(John 3:16)- The call therefore is for all and sundry to find true repentance; "For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.(Romans 2:11-12)
Please do not get me wrong as I agree with all that has been said in this post. You have and continue to teach me many truths. There nevertheless seems to be a tendency within our heart to excuse and accuse. A brother in Christ.