Love vs. luv

May 12, 2009

The bible teaches us that God is Love. (1 John 4:8). But there is a certain rut that we can fall into in the way we approach this idea. We must be careful to remember that God is Love, but that love is not God. I was having a conversation with a Catholic and an atheist friend, and they challenged whether that assertion makes any sense. It does if we distinguish the difference between God’s divine agape Love, and our own human love.

There are of course similarities. Every good and perfect thing comes from God. All human loves are images of that great Love Himself. Storge, phileo, and eros all derive from agape. Even the most hardened hearts are broken by the display of human love. In fact a heart is hardened precisely because of lack of love. As HG Wells illustrates at the end of Time Machine, this love is what makes us human, even when we lose all other traits that we currently possess.

But as CS Lewis points out in The Four Loves, all three of these human loves fail. When luv is made king it becomes a tyrant. When it is made a god it becomes a demon. Only when it is made a subject does it become a prince. Only on its knees does it become angelic. We cannot stop at this human love, for humans have fallen. We are created in the image of God, but we are fallen images. Not all angels are in heaven. “[G]ood is everything and Heaven everywhere.” But this comes only after we have completed our journey. Else we may accept that “false and disastrous converse and fancy that everything is good and everywhere is Heaven.” (from The Great Divorce)

The biggest difference between the human loves and Agape love, is the final result. Teachers, especially, know of the truth, that we must teach our students for the purpose of raising them to become our rivals. Our love must work towards its abdication. We must repeat the words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, I must decrease.” But there is a Love that does not work for its abdication, but rather its ascension. There is a love that wishes not the beloved to be its equal, but its subject.

When we have understood this key difference, we can finally see the role these human loves play. For only the divine can bring up the natural. The natural cannot climb up to the divine by itself. When we examine the context of that verse “God is Love”, we see that we cannot love others unless God loves us first through Christ.

So let us proclaim with all our beings that God is love. But let us not forget what this love is. Only then well the rest of the scriptures make any sense. For when we equate our own feeble human love with God, we may come to regard God’s sovereignty as tyranny, Hell as sadism, and even our salvation as something that is dependent on us. But when we remember that God is Agape Love, all these ideas that seemed contradictory become to us an expression of God’s unfailing, wide, long, high, and deep Love.

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