The Many Faces of Love
Love comes in many shapes and forms. A baby’s smile, a child’s hug, a lover’s touch, the wag of a dog’s tail, or the purr of a kitten. Love, however, also shows in unique and sometimes unexpected ways. For a child, love is most often spelt T-I-M-E. For a wife, it is often spelt L-I-S-T-E-N; don’t try to fix it, just listen. For a husband, it is often spelt C-H-E-E-R-L-E-A-D-E-R, as in “don’t criticize me (especially in front of others), and support me (even if you don’t agree).”
Love, however, also appears in unexpected forms, like allowing a child to experience the consequences of his/her choices, like allowing him/her to fail, or hurt, or suffer loss. It’s often called “tough love,” because it’s not easy to give. You have to be tough to give this kind of love. This kind of love may seem veiled, and not be recognized as love. The persons on the receiving end may feel that you hate them. Holding someone accountable for their actions may be the most loving thing to do. It may save them from eventual destruction and death.
The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It does not say 'God has love as a separate quality or characteristic;’ it says He is love. It is part of His very Being, His identity. In Exodus 34:6-7, Jahweh gives His name which was an indication of Who He is by naming His characteristics: compassion, grace, love, faithfulness, and forgiveness. All of these flow forth from love. Lastly, He adds punishment or justice, which doesn’t seem to fit, but actually it does, as any parent will tell you. Only give a child grace and he/ she becomes an entitled, spoiled brat. Only meet out justice and punishment, and your child will hate you as a tyrannical monster. Love is a balance of mercy and justice. God says, “I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion (Hosea 2:19 NIV, my emphasis), and the psalmist says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; love and faithfulness go before You (Psalm 89:14 NIV, my emphasis).
Why did Jesus have to die? Because His compassionate love and mercy motivated Him to meet the demands of righteousness and justice on our behalf. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) Ellen White wrote, “God’s love has been expressed in His justice no less than in His mercy. Justice is the foundation of His throne, and the fruit of His love” (The Desire of Ages, 762).
How does God’s love inform human love? It helps me understand what true love is. It helps me guard against unbalanced and toxic forms of love. If I love only from a point of self-serving justice, then my love will be dictatorial and controlling. If I love only from a point of self-giving service and mercy, then my love will lead to an enslaved, resentful, co-dependent relationship. What is the infatuated form of puppylove that is often common in teen relationships? It’s love with an abundance of emotion, and an absence of boundaries, and often strangled and enmeshed in co-dependency.
Perhaps the most amazing and challenging face of love is the one Jesus challenges us with in His sermon on the mountain. He said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45 NLT).
During this month of February, why not make it your first priority to choose to love your enemies by praying for them? Make a prioritized list, and you may just choose to start with your worse enemy – yourself!