What is Love? Hero Image
What is Love? Hero Image
Mar 29, 2013 / 5 min

What is Love?

Kevin McConaghy

By Kevin McConaghy

Spring is here, it is the week of Easter, and love is in the air—though not in the way I might have expected.

At least, it seems to be pretty prevalent on social media. On Twitter, for instance, the hashtag #LoveIsLove has been trending, apparently started by some fellow with the handle @BarackObama. Can’t really argue with that equation: “love is love.” Indeed. Also, judo is judo and 5-hydroxytryptamine is 5-hydroxytryptamine. Unfortunately, none of this tells you anything about what those words actually mean.

Love is…

This is relevant because there seems to be some confusion today about what “love” actually is. There are things being done in love that many people decry as hate, and probably things being done in hate that the perpetrators describe as love. And Christians, who are supposed to have love as their defining characteristic, are most often at the center of such debates.

So if we are going to proclaim “love is love,” perhaps we really should answer the question “What is love?” (Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me…)

Most people today would describe love as an emotion: a strong positive feeling towards someone or something. So, one could say “I love you” or “I love nachos,” and both instances of the word have roughly the same meaning. Though this may be the common definition, there are two downsides to it:

  • Feelings change. See also the 50% divorce rate.

  • It can put the focus more on yourself than on the other person. For instance, I don’t think you would appreciate this kind of love if you are the nacho.

Love as a Verb

There is another definition of love. If you are down with the DC Talk, you might already realize that this definition starts with a “v.”

This love is an action. It means that you actively do what is best for the other person, even if that goes against your own best interests. It could sometimes mean letting them go, or telling the truth when that truth might cause them to leave. It is totally selfless. This love would willingly starve before eating a reluctant nacho.

As an action, it is independent of feelings. You can love someone you strongly disagree with. Even love someone who has harmed you, though it might be difficult to do. And it is the only kind of love that you can guarantee will last a lifetime; even when feelings change, you can decide to love someone. If “true love” means love that never ends, it is this kind of love.

How Would Jesus Love?

If you are a Christian, this is the kind of love that you are called to. Jesus stated that everything we are to do comes down to loving God and loving your neighbor. He then explained what that looked like by telling the story of the Good Samaritan: a story which is about actively helping a hurt stranger who is your sworn enemy.

Jesus called us to that kind of love because that is how God loves us. He loves those who live as His enemies—which is all of us at one time or another. Jesus demonstrated this by freely forgiving and healing everyone who came to Him for help. He also demonstrated it by boldly speaking truth to the religious leaders who claimed they did not need His help. Instead of appearing to show love by kindly agreeing with and reassuring them, He truly loved them by pointing out that their way would not get them into the heaven they desired.

What's Wrong?

Of course, Jesus was perfect, whereas His followers today...not so much. This has caused problems on both sides of the “love” equation: how that love is shown, and how it is received.

The topic of same-sex relationships—which is what the #LoveIsLove tweet and other social media trends this week were about—is one clear example of that. Many (most?) Christians, myself included, have done a really poor job in this area—sometimes by not showing forgiveness, and sometimes by not speaking the truth. And partly because of the poor way it has been handled, some people feel that they are just being told there is something wrong with them.

Here’s the thing: there is something wrong with everyone. Nobody comes even close to being perfect. And since God’s standard is perfection, any level short of that is equally missing the mark—any theoretical “better than” or “worse than” doesn’t matter. (Besides, I’m probably more screwed up than you are, anyway.) You, me, Obama, Billy Graham—no one actually deserves true love.

True Love Awaits

If you’ve been shying away from or even rejecting the idea of God because of that, there is something essential for you to know: God does love you anyway. And we’re not talking about the “feeling” kind of love, though He might feel that way, too. No, remember that God is all about the active kind of love.

God gives you the freedom to do what you will, because that is the loving thing to do, even though it allows you to turn from Him and break the laws that lead to death. And then He shows true love by doing the one thing that could pay the price to save us from eternal death.

What kind of love could that be? It looks like this:

Jesus on the cross

God is love. This Easter, please don’t ignore that. Please don’t reject God’s offer of love, or disbelieve it because of some flawed, messed-up humans.

We don’t deserve true love, though it is our greatest desire and we desperately need it. God offers it. We just have to accept it.