When Jesus summarized the Old Testament commandments from hundreds down to two directives, you would think that it would have made things easier for those seeking to follow God. While it makes things more clear, it does not make them easier. Love God and love your neighbor. Clear enough. But love can be tricky.
My parents both enjoyed walking freshly plowed fields where I grew up in search of bits of history the Native Americans left behind. They would find arrowheads, bits of pottery, and other tools. I still have many of those artifacts in my home today. I remember being with them, young enough that the uneven ground was a struggle. I was so eager to find an arrowhead. I would take anything that even remotely resembled an arrowhead to them, and ask, “is this one?”. The answer was normally no (although they always tried to praise whatever bit of worthless rock I had picked up). I would toss my rock down and begin the search again.
I feel that many people are equally confused about love. They find an incredible feeling, warm and cozy, exciting and unpredictable. They grab hold of it for all they are worth, sure that they have finally found what they have been looking for. But then the feelings fade (they always do), and they toss it aside to begin the search again.
So Jesus’ command to love, can strike many of us as an odd request. Many people believe that love is unexplainable and uncontrollable, like a giant hole that you fall in when you least expect it. So how could you do that on command? It’s here that Frederick Buechner’s description of love from his book Wishful Thinking is of benefit:
In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of the will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as easily produce a cozy emotional feeling on demand as you can a yawn or a sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone.
Love is too grand and wonderful to be made a prisoner of our very fragile emotions. Love has the power to change us and the world around us. It’s God great desire for us, and what he demands from us. So, by combining all of the Old Testament teachings into an exhortation to love, Jesus was calling us into something deeper, more cleansing, and more satisfying than we could have ever imagined. This post is the first in a series of blog posts that will address the nature and demands of love and discuss how we may grow in our efforts to love well. Check back in the coming weeks for the next installations in the series!