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The Nature of Love

In this political season, maybe “we” should take a this day known as Super Tuesday – to think about what love means… “we” certainly won’t be hearing much about love in the news I’m sure – Ninure da Hippie

The Nature of Love

By N. Gordon Cosby

Agape love demands the exercise of the whole person to all people—those who are nearest and dearest, to those who love us, to those who are in the Christian fellowship, to neighbor, to enemy, to the world. This kind of love has to do primarily with the mind, with the principle by which we deliberately live, and with the will. Agape is the power to love the unlovable. It is the power to love people we do not like.

Jesus commands us to love our enemies in order to be like God. We are not told to love in order to win our enemies or to get results, but that we may be children of the Father, who sends the rain on the just and the unjust, who looks after both the good and the evil. The predominant characteristic of this agape love is that, no matter what a person is like, God seeks nothing but his or her highest good.

Willing the highest good is a very general sort of thing. But it is also specific, for it provides an atmosphere in which other persons exercise their own uniqueness in freedom so that they become alive. They become fully human and what God intended when they were created. Loving in this sense has to do with the whole way we are put together and the way we respond as human beings. Not merely something we do as a matter of principle—not simply a rule—it is a way of life.

Love has to do with the way we see life and people and their meaning. The Christian sees people betrothed to God through Jesus Christ. This is shocking. God is betrothed to all humankind, regardless of what we are like, so all humankind is potentially in Jesus Christ. Each of us can respond, but God is married to us whether we respond or not. It’s ridiculous! It’s absurd! The scandal of the Gospel!

Agape love is not something fitful or spotty. In a sense it is not at all selective. How does it use discretion concerning the particularity of loving? How do I give the gift of myself? How do I give the gifts which express myself to a particular person? In this sense love has to use discretion, but in another sense it is not selective at all; it just reaches out to every person and every combination of persons with no exclusiveness or discrimination.

If there are people we tend to exclude—people for whom we do not desire good, happiness, joy, fullness of being, the fullness of humanity; or if there is any combination of people, any segment of humanity, no matter how cruel and how harmful one segment of humanity may be to another or how much an enemy one segment is to another—if we are not for all segments and all people, then this agape has not broken for us.

In addition to the universality of love there is also a particularity which is important. Certain people are given to us for a continuing, more costly involvement; we do not select them. To be with these people in this way, to recognize this givenness, means a much more threatening self-revelation, an opening up in ways that leave us with a sense of awe. In the presence of the inwardness of another, the uncovering of another, we are on holy ground.

The universality and the particularity must be kept in the right creative tension. Both are important. The universality must prepare us for the particularity, and the particularity for the deeper thrust into the life of all humankind. Otherwise we experience that fatal twist: in loving all humankind we will love no one deeply or, in seeking to love one person, we will love him or her exclusively and neglect the rest of the human race.

In loving we encounter enormous risk. We must be willing to have something emerge in the beloved that is quite different from what we could predict. We have not been given the capacity to see completely what another will be when his or her gift is fully known or exercised. I talked recently to a friend concerning two possible paths as he made his search for God. One involved participation in the life of this community, its worship, and its more formal phases. The other did not involve being a part of this particular church. As we talked, I suggested that either course was all right with me and would not affect my love for him. ‘I know you mean that,’ he responded, ‘but I can’t understand its being all right with you either way.’

It has to be all right either way, because we do not know what path really leads to the uniqueness of the person. But if I love this person unreservedly, if my love in some way calls forth his gift, will the person give himself to me when he has the whole world to choose from? Perhaps we have chosen each other in great immaturity and mutual need. If this person becomes a free, charismatic person, perhaps I will not be in the running at all. Sometimes the opposite is true, and he may choose me and I do not want him to choose me.

Love requires faith in God. I have to know that God is gracious and can be trusted. God is for me…and what God is producing in the other person can be trusted not to restrict me. The very act of loving is a freeing thing and we need not fear what God will do to us through the one whom we love.

Gordon Cosby is co-founding pastor of The Church of the Saviour and now a member of the Friends of Jesus Church. This writing is an excerpt from a collection of sermons called By Grace Transformed.

Live simply. Love generously.
Care deeply. Speak kindly.
Leave the rest to God.


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