The Love Factor

Reference: Life and Work Directions
Winter 1997-98

The English word love is almost hopelessly ambiguous. A woman might say, "Love is the most important thing in the world," and mean that without compassion and caring among people, life would not be worth living. A man might use exactly the same words to mean that he enjoys sex. Another young man might say to his fiancée, "I love you with all my heart," and one hour later eat a hot dog and say, "I really love this stuff!" without realizing that he used the same verb to describe his attitudes toward the woman of his dreams and a frankfurter.

There are different kinds of love. First, there is the love of friendship. This is a noble form of love that involves the uniting of two souls who see in one another common interests and values, who appreciate one another and enjoy one another immensely, but who make no claim of exclusivity on one another. Friendship is rare, but it lasts a lifetime even if the friends must go their separate ways, as did David and Jonathan.

The second type of love is romantic love. It is like friendship except that it is heterosexual, exclusive, and includes sexual expressions within the marriage relationship. Romantic love is a beautiful and fragile love. Infidelity destroys it. Sex enhances it but sometimes serves as a substitute for romance. It needs more nurture than friendship because the natural differences between the sexes can drive a couple apart. Because romantic love is at the heart of the family, it is foundational for human life.

The third type of love is Christian love. This is the love of compassion and kindness. It is not called "Christian" because only Christians possess it, for unbelievers can care deeply and show compassion as well. But it should be the distinguishing mark of the Christian. It is the highest expression of maturity and of a whole and healthy soul. It is the essence of what God calls us to. Our faith is hollow without it.

The fourth kind of love is God's love to us. This love also is described as compassion, caring, and self-giving; but God's love is in a measure that none of us can comprehend. It is the love of supreme self-sacrifice as seen especially at the cross of Jesus. It is a love that transforms people from corruption and misery to integrity and joy. It is a love that forgives, receives, and heals. The most wonderful love we have experienced on earth is a shadow of God's love.