Because feeling. Emotion. Tonality. Heart. Is where we begin, don’t we? It’s where we live and breathe and have our being. It’s how we know we’re alive. How we know we’re not some kind of an organic clock or computer or music player or talking reference resource or two-legged automobile.
And this heart that we have. What a curious invention! It’s our portal into the kingdom of God. It is our way into God’s presence. It’s the door through which we may pass into God’s own bliss and see the spirit-beings who inhabit his kingdom. Converse with them. Perhaps understand something about them. Inhabit their world with them.
I remember a pastor saying a very long time ago that love is a decision and not a feeling. Or maybe he said that love is a decision more than a feeling. I’ve heard similar statements from pastors, ministers, priests, and believer priests several times since. I may have read this several times since as well.
As though decisions or commitments could take the place of love. As though we could somehow overcome the centrality of emotion, of heart, in our lives by will.
Oh, I want to get a little moist around the window-shades when I hear this. Or read this. I feel so lost when I read something or hear something like this. When I trust the person who says such a thing. As though our spiritual beings themselves could be trained like circus animals. Could be brought to heel by our will. As though our heart is or should be at the service of our will.
The very idea of it gets the rain falling heavily in the high country of my being and fills the rivers and valleys and water tables full to overflowing. Floods threaten to inundate everything when I hear people I trust say asinine things like this. Because.
Because our heart is sacred. Our heart enables us to connect with, identify with, be at one with, and understand others. When Jesus says to love God and one another, he isn’t saying to program ourselves to do nice things for one another. He isn’t saying to do these 10 or 100 or 1000 specific things for God and for one another, and then we’ll be okay. And he’ll stick a fork in us and call us done.
He didn’t say the first commandment is to make a commitment to or decision for God. And he didn’t say that the second commandment is to make a commitment to or a decision for one another.
No, he isn’t saying anything like these things. He’s saying first and foremost open your hearts to God and love him. Allow yourself to feel his love for you. Look for him. Seek him. Allow your heart to want his presence. Allow your heart to ache for him. Because this is what it is designed to do.
Allow yourself to feel these things. Allow your heart to guide you toward God through its need to find him. And once your heart finds him, allow your heart to luxuriate in his presence. Allow your heart to be overwhelmed and gentled and loved by him.
Allow your heart to take you into his presence and the presence of the saints. The communion of saints. Allow your heart to make God and the saints real for you and put you at one with them.
He’s saying love one another. Open your hearts to one another and understand that in loving one another you are loving God. He’s saying give in to your need to love one another. He’s saying this love will enable us to do things that seem impossible, unreasonable, imprudent. Remarkable.
This love will enable you to change your lives and the world itself. This love will give you purpose. Meaning. The power of this love will enable you to do the impossible things I have asked you to do. The ridiculous counter-intuitive things he’s asked us to do. But we can be certain of the importance and the rightness of doing these things by the power of the love that motivates them.
When it is said in the Bible that we are made in the image of God, what God means to tell us is that we are given his own heart. We are given the spiritual capacity to join him and the communion of saints and to join with one another in his kingdom here on this earth in this lifetime.
This spiritual capacity is love itself. Love is the means by which God’s kingdom and all its glory and splendor and majesty are opened to us. It is the portal by which we can discover the lost world we have before us and it is the means by which we can participate in the world’s recovery, its restoration.
Love is at the heart of who we are. We are love beings. Spirit beings. And whenever this impulse is denied, ignored, punished, mistreated in any way, or willed to be less than or something other than it is, we do spiritual violence to ourselves and to God and potentially to one another. We become spiritually deformed beings. And this deformation is expressed in our behavior, our relations with one another and with God.
And so you have the older brother in the parable of the lost son. His soul has become deformed. Maybe permanently. He is no longer capable of loving his brother. He has only hate and resentment for his brother and is angry with his father for loving his brother. For expressing his overwhelming love for his brother, who is now being restored by his father’s love.
The older brother turns against love when he turns against his brother. He turns against his own nature. Against his father. Against God. He does spiritual violence to himself and his family.
What does the word love mean in my lexicon? I’m talking about God’s own love that he has put in us, a capacity for his own love that he has put in us. Think of this love as an upwelling in us that is like an artesian upwelling of water from streams running through rock in the earth. Once this water is forced up to the surface, it will flow into a small stream, into a mighty river, into a lake, and into the sea.
So this love we have in us, once it surfaces, can take many forms.
In church, we like to talk about agape love. The ancient Greek word that means love of spouse and family and by extension perhaps the self-sacrificing love of God. There is also philia, which is generally translated to be brotherly love—love without any sexual content. And then of course there is eros, which is indeed sexual love.
But the kinds of human love are not confined to these particular three names used by the ancient Greeks. There is the father’s love for his daughter. The father’s love for his son. There is the love of nature. Of learning. Of literature. Of sculpture. The daughter’s love for her mother. The son’s love for his mother. The uncle’s love for his niece and his love for his nephew. The grandmother’s love for her grandson, her granddaughter.
And the love changes. The love a father has for his son when he is born is different from the love he has for his son on the day of his marriage. And the son’s love for the father changes also. And so on.
There appear to be many, many kinds of love. Forms of love. Expressions of love. And only a few of these have been given one-word names. And the common source of all of this love—love in its original form—comes out of the one well in us.
The love well that bubbles up living water. The living water that Jesus talked about. The living water that takes as many shapes as there are human beings on the planet. As there are human relationships. As there are human loves.