But do I really know, in my heart of hearts? And what does it mean to love?
We're told He laid down His life for us, became sin for us, paid the price for our redemption while we were still enemies of God. For far too long, however, I’ve regarded that as something rather disconnected from human emotion.
After all, we are reminded over and over, love is an action, a choice—not a feeling.
I comfort myself with this as I work day in and day out to serve my family, to feed and clothe them and keep our home liveable. I wash the skinned knees and wipe the tears, scold those who pester their siblings, remind them to do schoolwork. I grit my teeth and pray just to get through the day. Oh, the guilt, because shouldn’t I be feeling some sort of satisfaction here? But wait, love is an act of the will, and every day I choose to keep going, to keep serving.
But it’s exhausting.
All the time I wonder, is this how it is for God, overseeing all us? Does He shake His head at us and wonder why we can’t just “get it”? I know He’s limitless, but really—isn’t He ever weary of us?
He loves us, I remember. But again, what does it mean?
The term came up recently in Bible study. In Deuteronomy, of all places, where Moses tells the Israelites that the Lord didn’t choose them as a people because they were greater than anyone else. No, He loved them and chose them to show that He and He alone is God.
I nodded. Pretty familiar territory, here.
The teacher went on to point out that in three successive verses, there are three different words used pertaining to love. Three!
Now, I knew about the differences in Greek words for love. I wasn’t familiar, however, with the Hebrew terms. And as the teacher expounded upon them, I was completely blown away with the intensity of feeling conveyed in them.
One carries a sense of strong desire and longing. The second is a word that covers anything from a need or craving, like for food or sleep, to the human bonds of affection between family or friends, and sexual desire. The third speaks of deep devotion, with the connotation of mercy and faithfulness.
I sat there, stunned that God would choose such words to describe His own love for us. The mercy and faithfulness I understood, but—desire, longing, a deep affection or even craving—for His people? For us?
And I was amazed afresh at this truth, that the God who invented all the shades of human emotion chooses not to be unemotional.
This begged the question, then, where did I get such a utilitarian view of love and the human experience? Do I really think that Jesus died for us out of an obligation or sense of duty?
Yet, I somehow thought it was okay that I care for my family out of obligation and a sense of duty.
For a long time I’ve felt God challenging me to live more fully this love and grace I claim to believe in. And here is the point from which it all starts.
We love Him because He first loved us.
(This post first appeared March 3, 2013)6 “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. 7 The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; 8 but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.9 “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments...” (Deuteronomy 7, NKJV)