I’ve been purging and reviewing each of the 20+ page doctrinal papers that I’ve written during my time in grad school these past few days (trying to inch closer and closer to my graduation in less than one month). I have to summarize them into one page a piece. Besides the fact that I thought it would be a breeze (and it’s not), the whole process is raising questions I never realized I had. I’ll only go into two. The one thing is…
The thing with love is that I learn one new thing about it, and I think I know what it is. I’m Sherlock Holmes, I’ve figured it out; case closed. Months later, maybe sooner, I learn something brand new – something fascinating and wise and I realize that I didn’t have it all figured out after all. So I soon re-visit that place of comfort, where I, again, think that I have it all figured out with my latest bit of information. As you may have guessed, this goes on. And on and on. It’s a ridiculously foolish cycle. One I wish I could get a clue about!
I’m not going to give you any church answers. It will never be my style. I’m not a Sunday-school kinda kid. I won’t have a spiritual breakthrough from my cookie-cutter, Pastor’s-kid, spoon-fed-faith upbringing when I’m in my early twenties. I’ll just continue to have a series of fresh breakthroughs as I’ve already set the precedent for, since I know and will continue to know very little about anything. Let’s be real, here, I’m always trying to figure out life and godliness [1 Pet 1:3]. If it’s not love, it’s everything else.
In my doctrinal paper I say that God acts on behalf of the highest good of others. That’s love. I believe that. His love is based on His unchanging character. I believe that, too. It’s modeled with all kinds of perfect in the atonement [1 Jn. 4:8] and we are surely capable of love by way of His model [Dt. 7:7-11]. Yep, yep.
I defended, the other day, the idea that love is manifest in presence. That the “big idea” of the gospel is God being with us, displaying His love. In the OT, He busts down from heaven to be with the men of faith and it’s a huge deal when God “comes down” from the big “up there”. The whole story of the Bible is set up to bring about the Cross, Emmanuel, God With Us, Jesus. And after His death and resurrection, God sends the Holy Spirit to stay quite literally with us. I can’t understand how it’s not the big idea (or one of them). It seems like it’s jumping out of the pages of Scripture. God wants to love me by being with me. I believe this.
My friend, Andy, in his book (Love is an Orientation) speaks so poignantly about Biblical expressions of love that it blows my mind. He’s not talking about theological “verbary” and other nonsense, he’s talking about what it downright looks like (he’s very good at this distinction) to love it out in real life! In the chapter, Reclaiming the Word Love he defines love as, “tangible and measurable expressions of one’s unconditional behaviors toward another” (108). What is love worth if, as real people, we have nothing to hold onto as a result of it? My parents, my siblings, my friends will not know that I love them because I say so, they’ll know because I will show who I am to them by the things I do for them. God did not stay far away from us and holler it out, He did not talk about how He felt or what was required of us, He just straight up did something for us that showed His love in a real way. I believe love is tangible.
The confusing part, as I’m summarizing God’s characteristics into three-word sentences with a list of Scripture references is that the summary isn’t fair. It’s what I have to do to try and show that I’m going to rep Moody well; I’m going to carry the stamp of Mr. D.L. Moody without heresy or newspaper-headline-style falling away. I’m gonna mess up, they know that – but I can’t be planning on doing it with colossal flare, complete with pyrotechnics and a soundtrack and then expect to blame it on my educators or something…crazy.
However – love can’t be canned into abbreviated sentences. I bet I’ll be defining and re-defining it until the day I meet the embodiment of it, until I meet Him – face to face. What else would you expect? I’m barely surviving in this messy world. I can’t see clearly through the foggy mirror on my best day, so the very best I can do is make out the shapes that I can see as best as I know how from the fuzzy reflection. I’m the fuzzy reflection for others, too. We’re just trying. And it’s just for now.
Is this where “working definition” came from?