This Thing, Called Love

In Bill Bryson’s book, The Mother Tongue, he suggests that one of the curses of modern English is the tendency to use jargon.  He points particularly to academic and political circles and their tendency to use waffle and jargon.  For example, he states,

At a conference of sociologists in America in 1977, love was defined a “the cognitive-affective state characterized by intrusive and obsessive fantasizing concerning reciprocity of amorant feelings by the object of the amorance.” (The Mother Tongue, 1990, p19.)

Thankfully, in church circles, we know what love is without such an obtuse definition.  Why, it is an act of the will for the good of the other, isn’t it?  (How often our definitions are inherently critiques of alternative or prevailing notions.  In this case, of course, most are quick to seek to overcome fluffy notions of flitting feelings with a strongly will-centred definition of love.)

Definitions of terms are important, but what are we to do with words as important as love?  Rushing to an English dictionary usually isn’t definitive.  Definitions tend to begin with “a strong feeling of affection …” But we know that the Bible offers something more refined than the world’s version of love.  So in church we hear references to agape love – a so-called God kind of love, and typically there is some reference to “an act of the will” since the Lord couldn’t have gone to the cross based on feelings alone, so agape love must be an act of the will.

We are right to suggest that in the Bible we can know what true love is.  But what if our definition of love were actually more biblical instead of just another nod to the stoic notion of the centrality of the will?  What if love is a central and defining feature of how God has revealed Himself to us in His self-revelation? (As opposed to an incidental, or even “anthropopathic” pseudo-attribute, as some suggest.)  What if we chased down the path of the “God is love” references in 1 John 4?  What if love begins in respect to the bond between the persons of the Trinity?  What does that mean for us as we explore the love of God, and consequently, our experience and knowledge of it?  We love, because He first loved us, after all.   (D.A. Carson, in his The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, urges readers not to allow one aspect of God’s love to trump and thereby define all aspects of God’s love . . . am I falling into that here?)

Of all the subjects we could wrestle with on here, this is surely one we can never exhaust.  Was it Edwards that spoke of heaven as a “world of love” where the Son will continue to reveal the Father to us for all eternity?  Trying to define love may be like trying squeeze an ocean into a thimble, but definitions do matter.  As we wrestle with our language and converse on this, let’s be sure to remember that our response matters too – may our hearts be stirred with worship as we ponder the reality of what love really is.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

3 Responses to This Thing, Called Love

  1. DUANE WATTS August 4, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    That’s a beautiful poem Peter. Where is it from?

    I have always had trouble with 1 Corinthians 13 “Love is….”. It’s a miserable list of rules. It’s worse than the proverbial “ball and chain” (marriage) and the 10 commandments multiplied together.
    That is, until I began to understand that the Trinity as love defined. Just as Jesus is our salvation, God is Love, and that is scriptural. So in my opinion, since I have never ever met anyone who really exemplifies 1 Cor. 13 love, Jesus is the one being described there. The passage may be thought on as an ideal, a pattern to aspire to. Rather, I think that in remembering that Jesus is being spoken of here, the more we abide in Him, study Him, get to know His love (it suddenly occurs to me, maybe I should get to know that passage better, as fodder for worship), the more His image will rub off on me.
    I John says: When He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we will see Him as he Is.
    So now, in incomplete ways, the more clearly we see Him, in Love with the Father and the Spirit, the more clearly we see how He has dealt with us, loves us with grace and mercy, the more we will conform to His image, toward Him, our brothers and our neighbors.
    So much for theory, now ask my wife and neighbors how that’s working out.

  2. Peter Mead August 5, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    I just looked up the history of the hymn, which is called The Love of God. Frederick Lehman wrote this song in 1917 in Pas­a­de­na, Cal­i­fornia, and it was pub­lished in Songs That Are Dif­fer­ent, Vol­ume 2, 1919. (What a great title for a book!) The lyr­ics are based on the Jew­ish poem Had­da­mut, writ­ten in Ara­ma­ic in 1050 by Meir Ben Isaac Ne­hor­ai, a can­tor in Worms, Ger­ma­ny; they have been trans­lat­ed in­to at least 18 lang­uages.

    One day, dur­ing short in­ter­vals of in­at­ten­tion to our work, we picked up a scrap of pa­per and, seat­ed up­on an emp­ty le­mon box pushed against the wall, with a stub pen­cil, add­ed the (first) two stan­zas and chor­us of the song…Since the lines (3rd stan­za from the Jew­ish po­em) had been found pen­ciled on the wall of a pa­tient’s room in an in­sane asy­lum af­ter he had been car­ried to his grave, the gen­er­al opin­ion was that this in­mate had writ­ten the epic in mo­ments of san­ity.

    Frederick M. Lehman, “History of the Song, The Love of God,” 1948

    Here are the full lyrics:

    The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    And reaches to the lowest hell;
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled,
    And pardoned from his sin.


    O love of God, how rich and pure!
    How measureless and strong!
    It shall forevermore endure
    The saints’ and angels’ song.

    When years of time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
    When men, who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call,
    God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.


    Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade,
    To write the love of God above,
    Would drain the ocean dry.
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.


  3. DUANE WATTS August 5, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    That’s beautiful, Peter.
    My new favorite is by John Mark Mcmillan. There have been several different recordings by different artists, but I 1st heard it done by David Crowder *Band, and is my clear favorite:

    He is Jealous for me.
    Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
    Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
    When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by Glory.**
    And I realize just how beautiful you are, and how great your affections are for me


    Oh! How He loves us, oh.
    Oh, how He loves us.
    How He loves us all

    And we are His portion and He is our prize,
    drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
    If His grace is an ocean we’re all sinking.
    And heaven meets earth with an unforseen kiss.
    My heart turns violently inside of my chest,
    I don’t have time to maintain these regrets** when I think about the way…

    that He loves us, oh yeah He loves us…

    2005 Integrity’s Hosanna Music

    * Other versions of this give a more physical description of that kiss. This version relects to me the gentleness of Jesus

    **I think I spend alot of time thinking about my regrets; interestingly a preacher on the radio the other day described Hell as a place of eternal regret. But as I begin to hope and believe on this Love like never before, those regrets of sins long passed and repented of are “eclipsed by Glory”.

    Thanks Be to God!

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