Jesus said that a sign of his nearing return would include an increase in lawlessness with the result that “the love of many will grow cold” [Matt. 24:12]. It’s not that a loss of love for God is only found in the end times. The problem was also cited in Ephesus where, although true doctrine was maintained, the church had “abandoned the love you had at first” [Rev. 2:4].
Love is vulnerable to change. But what is it that changes? Is it the love itself—that is, the experience we refer to as love—that changes? As if love is like a heated oven that cools over time? Or is it our effort to love that changes, as in a duty that becomes too tiresome to fulfill over time? I’m sure we all know of these types of lost love: of an infatuation that fades; or a friendship that takes too much time and energy to sustain. Yet if love slips away in these terms is it, perhaps, because such a love was actually merely an intersection of two self-loves?
By that I mean the kind of love Jesus apparently had in mind when he mentioned the love among “tax collectors” who shared a love of convenience: a you-love-me-and-I’ll-love-you sort of love [see Matt. 5:43-48]. Such love might not last during times of inconvenience.
In the case of someone losing their love for Christ it might be that the person’s love was like that: a love of the benefits that come from sharing in a Christian community where a love for Jesus is part of the mix. But I can’t imagine such a love was ever real if it fades in a pragmatic shift. A love for Christ that comes with meeting him, hearing his heart, and finding him to be a more attractive and compelling person than anyone we’ve ever known can’t be so self-serving and flimsy.
Yet there is another possibility. That a lost love reflects a person’s lost attention to the one who is lovely. Something distracts us so that we quit paying attention to the one we once loved. If we were to look towards him again, and turn our backs on whatever may have distracted us, he would still be as captivating as ever. I’m sure that’s the basis for King David’s prayer in Psalm 51, after he had been drawn away from God by his sordid gaze at another man’s wife. In the Psalm God is once again at the center of his gaze.
So the “lawlessness” mentioned by Jesus that makes the hearts of many grow cold can have different causes. The perversion of an authentic early devotion is the most troubling. For men it might be the internet that violates God’s calls for holiness and Christ’s warning that adultery is not just the physical act, but an activity of the heart. It might be the subtle captivity offered by more and more material comforts. Or the ocean of visual entertainments that absorb so much of our watching time that we scarcely look in the direction of our earlier love for Jesus any longer.
If such lawlessness is the problem, and a person really knows Jesus and has found him to be captivating, we will at least have a lively memory that invites us to return to our first love; and the Spirit will be certain to stir us accordingly!
What is the bottom line here? Just this: has your love for God, in Christ, been growing or declining? If it has grown cold our hope comes in looking back in his direction once again. Tell him you want to “taste and see” his goodness once again. Take some time to savor the Scriptures just for the sake of hearing his heart once again.
If that happens I can promise this: his beauty will reappear in short order. Try it and send us a brief report of what you’ve found.