Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Mistaken View of Love

Dr. William Lane Craig’s recent podcast entitled “A Mistaken View of Love” can be found here. Please listen to it. I used the same title here because while he answers a mistaken view of love, he does so while himself holding a mistaken view of love.

The mistaken view of love that he addresses is summed up in the statement, “Love is not a feeling; love is a decision.”

The idea that he counters with is that a full and mature love will involve affection. He points out that “the Bible affirms that God has genuine compassion.” Instead of supporting this by citing where the Bible says this, however, he points out the etymology of the English word, “compassion”. He says that the word means to “have feeling with the other person; to be connected with that other person emotionally.” He says that instead of “saying that love is not an emotion, maybe what we should be saying is love is not merely an emotion.”

He, of course, attributes the mistaken view of love he is answering to Calvinists, legalists, and Muslims. This may be the case with Muslims. The category of legalism is too broad to pin something like this on. There are legalistic charismatics or semi-pelagians, for example. His idea of Calvinism is that a fully sovereign God is too harsh a concept. It goes to show that he doesn’t fully understand Calvinism.

But perhaps he has God’s impassibility in mind. This is a disputed doctrine, even among Calvinists, that essentially says that God is not motivated by passion. That is to say that God doesn’t experience emotion like his creatures do. This excludes, obviously, the incarnated Son of God in his humanity. The Bible typically anthropomorphizes God. In descriptions of God, we see that he has hands, eyes, a heart, a face, wings like a hen, breath, etc. Descriptions of emotion attributed to God are likewise probably anthropomorphisms as well.

The reason I say that is because we know today that emotions involve physical functions. We are walking chemical factories producing hormones and endorphins that generate emotional states that were created to drive appropriate actions. Because of the fall, our emotional states are often inappropriate for specific situations. When we are wronged, for example, a heightened anxiety level may produce anger that if acted upon will cause us to fail to be gracious. While fear of social repercussions may drive us to refrain from acting inappropriately on this anger, the proper way is to deny the emotion based on a desire for God and his will to be done over and against our own will. Because we are in an inappropriate state of emotion, this must be disimpassioned. It is rather trust in God’s steadfast love over and against passion that allows us to behave lovingly for others.

So in some respect love is a decision in that acting in love often requires a decision. But I also agree with Craig that it is more than a decision. In a perfect world, it will involve appropriate emotional responses. But this isn’t a perfect world. So what is love and what is its relationship to emotion?

Let me discuss emotion first. It’s a woefully vague word that typically lacks nuance. When we use the word, we typically think of our own personal experience with emotion. Since our emotions are temporal, we typically don’t have the capacity to feel all emotions simultaneously. When we feel a couple of competing emotions at the same time we are often left confused and befuddled. But our experience with emotions is that we are both motivated by them and wrestle against the way inappropriate ones would motivate us to behave. God doesn’t have this problem because isn’t motivated by temporal emotions. Emotions in some limited way, however, are a picture of some of God’s attributes. While God is not motivated by emotions, he is motivated by his attributes. But all of his attributes are eternally unified. That means that God loves and hates all at once; that he is merciful and wrathful all at once; that he is gracious and just all at once. It’s hard for us to understand the fullness of this truth because we possess fallen, limited minds.

And so the love of God is no mere emotion. All of his other attributes are wrapped up in it; All of them. So it’s reasonable that he is impassable. That brings me to the definition of love. It isn’t a decision, although it results in decisions over and against wayward emotions. It isn’t an emotion because it can be wielded most effectively when not motivated by some emotional attachment. Jesus talked about this in Matthew 5:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, ESV)

So loving when we lack an emotional motive for doing so is likened here to “being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” Chew on that for a while.

But it still doesn’t fully define love. The famous John 3:16 hints at the definition:

“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, ESV)

God’s love involves the giving of his Son. How did he give his Son? As a sacrifice. Love involves sacrifice. Paul admonishes husbands in Ephesians 5 to “love your wives, and Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” How did Christ give himself up for the church? He died on the cross as a sacrifice to atone for her sins. Husbands are called to love their wives by living sacrificially for them. But John came out with a clear statement about love in John 15:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, ESV)

So love necessarily involves sacrifice. But here we also see that that sacrifice is not for oneself, but that it is for someone else. I like the way my pastor phrases it. He defines love as seeking someone else’s best interest above your own. This definition of love is far deeper than the decision to sacrifice for someone or that it will involve some emotional attachment. It goes against the idea that we should compete against others so that we can be winners while everyone else is losers. It means that we should be willing to lose so that someone else can “win”; that they can receive all the benefit. And it means that we will do that for our enemies as well. Tough love is used to refer to being hard on someone because you know it is good for them. True love is tougher because it requires us to be hard on ourselves because it’s good for someone who doesn’t deserve a good thing.

And none of us are capable of doing that without living in the power of Christ who did that for us.

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