What is Love?

‘What is love?

Baby don’t hurt me

Don’t hurt me

No more’

[Haddaway, What is love?]


‘I wanna know what love is

I want you to show me

I wanna feel what love is

I know you can show me’

[Foreigner, I want to know what love is?]


It’s a joke.

It’s marketing. It’s pointless. It’s not even about love. These are just a small variety of comments I heard on the run up to Valentine’s day last week. All of them may very well be true. Is love the act of giving a card? Is love expressed in a meal for two over candle light? Is love sitting in a cinema watching a romantic film? Is love a bunch of flowers?  Yes and no. Yes, because it is the way we have learnt to show love in our culture and society. That is not say these are the only ways to show love, but culturally accepted, and promoted, ways of showing love. The capitalist world we inhabit loves nothing more than to tell us that we need to buy something to tell someone we love them. And no. No because there is so much more to love than cards, food, movies and flowers.

‘Love is the crazy, mad, and perhaps ridiculous gesture of saying yes to life, of seeing it as worthy of our embrace and even worthy of our total sacrifice.’[i]

I really like this quote. I like the juxtaposition of embrace and sacrifice. I think we can probably all find things we believe are worthy of embrace but sacrifice, that’s a bit rarer. Embrace and sacrifice also differ in their roots. Our desire to embrace can, but not always, be self-centred. Love deeply rooted in self-interest. If I give flowers and card, I’ll get _____________ in return. Fill in the blank yourself. Whereas sacrifice, again, is rarely self-centred by very definition. Sacrifice demands that we give of our very selves. May I suggest that the number of things we will find worthy of sacrifice will be considerably less than the number of things we desire to embrace. The other thing I love about this quote is something I haven’t followed through on with my own writing thus far. That is, it does not box love in to just being about relationships. Love is not just relationships. It is so much greater.


Describe love.

Hmmmm….Don’t you just hate it when you ask yourself a question you can’t answer. I don’t even know where to begin. Whatever I write will likely be too little. You know, there is actually a website with thousands of definitions for love called canyoudefinelove.com. You might learn more there than here! So, what could I say. Home? Warm? Magical? Everlasting? Intoxicating? Conditional? Painful? Evolving? Family? Commitment? Wild? To be honest, it could be any of those at various times in our lives. But I still don’t feel any closer to really understanding love.

Maybe we could take a scientific look at love*. Perhaps love is caused by the hormone oxytocin being released in to the body, and therefore love literally is a chemical reaction. Or maybe it is a cognitive and social phenomenon. A cultural phenomenon, we as humans are living out what we know and see. As children we a brought up with expectations of what love is, what we should love and how. Love is simply a product of this, a product we are ‘sold’. It could also be evolutionary. A survival tool inbuilt into our reptilian brains, or more likely our limbic brains. Anyway, I don’t know about you but, none of this helps me to understand love at all. I’m still scratching my head like Laurel.

The bible has a lot to say about love, not always in a coherent manner, but a lot none the less. Most of all, I believe, it raises our expectations and disrupts our standards. It paints a picture of love that is never constrained, never sits back, always seeking to do more than what is demanded of it. Love is described as being eternal[ii], a stabilising factor in our lives[iii], the distinguishing mark of a follower of Jesus even to the point that we should be loving our enemies[iv], the appropriate response[v] to God’s love and grace[vi]. Love is presented as a crowning virtue[vii], greater and more important than any other talent or trait[viii].

The bible has so many descriptions of what love is and looks like that it doesn’t really help me to understand love. It just feels like I’m drowning in an ocean of information. Unable to digest the level of information all around me.


How music works.

I love the music of Sigur Rós and I often find myself waxing lyrical about them to strangers or people I have just met. The problem I have though is that I can never describe them. I can’t fully express what their music means to me, or does to me, or even what it sounds like. The only way to describe them is to listen to them. You have to experience it to know it. This is how nearly all music works.

There might be many record producers out there in the world who believe they have a certain formula for making music. They believe they know what they need to add and subtract to equal a hit. I would argue that they are just delusional. Music is a feeling, an experience not a mathematical formula, in my opinion.

Love is much the same.

We can dissect it and immerse ourselves into studying theories and having debates on what love actually is but all of that is pointless unless we stop and experience it.

This I believe is truly a theology of love, hence why we consistently asked to taste and see, encouraged to have ears that hear and eyes that see. Experience is vital.


Puddles and Oceans.

The bible points to an ocean while the world’s busy playing in a puddle. It’s funny how you can get so used to what you have always know. So used to it that you never even consider the possibility that a large body of water exists. So used to it that you never even consider the possibility that you could be loved beyond your deepest desire and imagination.

We are like a ship that has sunk to the depths of the ocean: while the ship contains the ocean and the ocean contains the ship, the ship only contains a fraction of the ocean while the ocean contains the whole of the ship.[ix] The love we receive from God does not merely fill us but also testifies to an ocean we cannot contain or even begin to fully understand.

In saying that, over the next while I hope to blog more on various aspects of love and theology, how they intercept and what they practically mean for us. I’m hoping and praying that it will lead us all out of the puddles and into the oceans.


‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…’ [Isaiah 55]


*Please not I am definitely NOT a scientist.

[i] Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction

[ii] 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

[iii] Ephesians 3:17

[iv] Luke 6:27-36

[v] Luke 7:42-47

[vi] 1 John 4:19

[vii] 2 Peter 1:5-7

[viii] 1 Corinthians 13 (Again)

[ix] Illustration adapted from a Peter Rollins podcast.

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