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.