God taught me some things about love recently. To put them in context, I’m going to explain not only what I previously thought about love, but also what I previously thought about what it is that God values. As I discovered, the two concepts are closely related.
For most of my life, I thought that God valued righteousness for its own sake, as a reflection of His character. From that perspective, people, being sinful by nature, are a hindrance to what God values. Jesus came to die in the place of sinners so that righteousness would be restored.
Since I want to value what God values, I adopted this perspective for my life. I valued righteousness for its own sake. I saw the world as 6 billion problems that needed to be fixed, most of whom didn’t even want to be fixed. It was, I admit, a discouraging outlook.
Then there was the perplexing question of love, which was obviously important to God. My best understanding of love was vague. I identified love as closely related emotions, attitudes, and actions of which I saw various examples. Growing up, I saw it in the way the teachers in my Christian school treated me. I recognized it in the way that I treated certain people. Once, I met a husband and wife that treated each other that way. After moving out on my own, memorable examples were the way my fiance treated me and the way that many people in a particular church treated their families, each other, and us.
About a year ago, I found myself pondering love again. One of my biggest questions was “What is love?!” The other nagging question was “If I’m correctly recognizing examples of love, then why do I only love certain people when God has commanded us to love everyone, even our enemies?” The latter question became a conviction that drove me to confess my lack of love to some fellow Christians and ask for prayer.
Since then, God has given me the following definition of love. I’m sure it’s not complete, but it’s what God wants me to know about love for now: love is valuing someone for who he/she is and wanting a relationship with him/her. Out of that value and desire flow the emotions, attitudes, and actions that I had identified as love.
With that definition, other things became clearer. Love God: value God for Who He is and want a relationship with Him. Love others: value them for who they are and want relationships with them. Unconditional love: valuing someone and wanting a relationship with him/her no matter what he/she does or doesn’t do. God loves us: God values us for who we are – the unique creatures that He made in His image – and wants a relationship with us. Unconditionally. Wow. WOW!
Wait a minute, I thought that God valued righteousness… Suddenly my whole understanding of what God values – the understanding that I was basing my life on – shifted. God values people, the living creatures that He made in His image. Unrighteousness is a hindrance to relationships with and among those people; that’s why righteousness is so important to God – it’s not an end in itself. Jesus died to restore relationships with and among those people, through righteousness.
Since I want to value what God values, I need to adopt this perspective for my life. I will choose to value people. I caught a glimpse of the world as 6 billion creatures created in the image of God that He values and wants a relationship with. What a difference!
Once I grasped that connection between love and value, I realized why I had only loved certain people. Since I had valued righteousness for its own sake, I had evaluated people based on their desire for and pursuit of righteousness. I had only valued and wanted a relationship with – loved – those who wholeheartedly sought after righteousness. In fact, if that wasn’t a person’s goal, I couldn’t even see past that question to the things about the person that made him or her a unique individual that could be valued.
I did a lot of repenting. I have begun to deliberately look at people as individuals that God values and wants a relationship with, as individuals that I need to value and want a relationship with. Part of me still insists that I should be focusing on righteousness for its own sake, and that if I don’t, I’m somehow condoning sin. I think about Jesus – during His time here, it seems like He focused on people and relationships, but He certainly never condoned sin. I’m starting to see people, all people, as interesting individuals that can be valued. I think that God is leading me to begin to see and love people the way that He does.
God is good!