Is love love and happy happiness?
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13.1, 13
Blessed is the man…
We all like love, and we all seem to want to be happy. According to the American Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right! This is quite astonishing really if we were to reflect on these humanistic virtues as Christians because of two things: first, love and happiness are defined differently than scripture would define them, and second because we overvalue them.
So first, love and happiness are defined differently than what scripture would define them as. It is hard to argue with someone who says one thing is loving and another thing isn’t. How can you put down love? It’s hateful! We define love quite poorly though. Of course, the phrase love is love doesn’t really say anything. But even worse, love is tightly connected to my individual desire. What I want is what I should get and if not then I’m lacking love. This only works in a world where there is one person (which is to say, it doesn’t). So imagine I were single and I wanted to be married, but it just so happened that the government opposes my marriage, well then we would say the government is hateful. This past year the Minnesota legislature and governor passed a bill to prevent marriages with minors. So as far as I know a 17-year-old can no longer get permission from their parents to get married. I’m sure that their decision was based on really problematic minor marriages and the typical socio-economic ideals that are not being met because of such young marriages. Whatever you think about the law, you can imagine an instance where a 17-year-old calls the government hateful because it is preventing them from getting married. Notice how we are drawn to think individual desire should control what love is and thus trump the state here (of course we could come up with other reasons to support or deny such a marriage). It has nothing to do with an externally-determined morality or good except for the moral of being able to do whatever I want to do. Individualistically determined moralities are destructive to society in general, as we are seeing played out in our world. The definition of happiness is also problematic. Happiness is related to getting what I want: if I don’t get it, I’m not happy. So for instance, if I want food, and I don’t get it right away, I’m unhappy. But if I get my food, and that food that I want, the way I want it, I’m happy. And if you hinder me from getting what I want, you’re the cause of my unhappiness.
We could keep going on into other virtues of our world and see how they are problematically defined. Suffice it to say in everything, we must correct ourselves with scripture. What is love scripturally? It isn’t about my passions but giving myself up. Why? Because I am not the center of the world. Love is a sacrificial and others-focused thing, which is only a shadow of true love: the love God the Father has for the Son. And in this, the beginning of the trinitarian love, we see that love is also giving- it overflows. For so many of us, love is something we have to hoard and keep to ourselves. This makes sense if love is limited and about myself. But if love is others centered, then by nature it must be giving, and thus we may always be cultivating the capacity to show love to others and not simply keep it to ourselves. You can imagine a marriage on the rocks where love is unsure. One response that can come out is for one of the spouses to demand and hoard their spouses’ love as though he needs to keep it in a box (I’m not speaking of a right and good jealousy for the faithfulness of their spouse). This is stifling to the relationship especially given the fact that we love because we were first loved by God. Our reservoir to love others and then be loved is directly related to divine love. This is even the case in our human, romantic love. I ought to better love my wife the more I know God’s love for me and the more I learn to love God.
And for happiness, isn’t the problem similar? If our happiness is based on my wants and desires, I’m missing what God created me for. The happy, blessed man is happy because of his in Christ-ness, not his situation and not because he has gotten what he desired. According to Christ, the blessed man may be persecuted, but he is still blessed. He may be poor in spirit, but still blessed. Why? Because his life is defined by hope in God. He’s anticipating his heavenly inheritance where sin and death no longer linger and God will be his light forever more. The sun won’t strike by day nor the moon by night. The light of God is ever good.
Now the second thing I mentioned is that we overvalue love and happiness (and most everything else). It is interesting how we get into ruts and end up overvaluing different things. Right now, Ami and I are tempted to overvalue sleep. Emmett’s been a bit of a rascally one as far as sleep goes the past week or two. Sleep is a good thing but it shouldn’t control everything I’m doing presently (although this lack of sleep might make my prose a bit more dense ;) ). Others overvalue comfort, and still others overvalue having some regular personal time, ‘me-time’. Still others overvalue things like social decorum or being respected or not rocking the boat. One way I have tended to say it is that these aren’t controlling virtues. You might think love is called a controlling virtue, and I would agree only to the extent that the love we’re talking about is the love described biblically. So we must learn to order our virtues in accordance with their value and all in submission to the words of Christ. We are so often deceived because we overvalue or wrongly value these things at the expense of something greater.
There is no perfect all-encompassing list that orders our lives fully and properly according to scripture, no 7 steps to perfect balance, but there is a principle that I think will guide us in wisdom: take care to hold to things loosely in this life and always return to the source of God’s word to help you regain a proper perspective. We do this most fully by attending the weekly gathering, receiving the word proclaimed and read, and rubbing shoulders with other saints who can challenge us to walk in better wisdom. And then we continue to do this through meditating on that word throughout the week, and seeking to be devoted to God in everything we do, not just when we go to church on Sundays.