The question came one morning in this way, “Is love a feeling or a choice?” Well I took my time to ponder deeply and finally decided on the feeling option. My argument was that love is something we have no control over, regardless of the next person’s reaction to it. Since we have no control, love must be a feeling. When you feel love for a person, it does not matter whether they appreciate it or not, you will still love them. Two years have passed since then, and my view has completely changed. Love cannot afford to be a feeling; once we reduce it to that level, we lose its essence and sacredness.
The argument on love being a feeling is based on years of conditioning that taught us to interpret a certain emotion as love. Here is the challenge; the Greeks gave us four different kinds of love in the Bible, a) Eros – erotic love, b) sterego – friendship love, c) philio – brotherly love, d) agape – God’s love. We really have no problem in relating to the two middle types, but we have serious ones in the first and the last.
The very fact that both eros and agape are defined as love presents a problem. We mostly feel the former toward someone of the opposite sex, and it is usually the first emotion we experience. As this feeling grows stronger, we begin to interpret it as love, and it then becomes the basis of any relationship with the person. We fail to realise that this is just a chemical reaction triggered by biological impulses that were designed by God to do so. This feeling refuses to vanish even after that relationship with the person has ended, and we use this as a confirmation of true love. We have been deceived by this teaching, and as a result we have experienced many heartaches and lost people we did not want to lose. There is another way, however – the way of agape.
Agape is the love that has the will as its foundation. The late Myles Munroe defined love as, “The decision to meet someone’s needs for the rest of their life without any expectation.” It is a matter of the will before it is anything else. Indeed, Ravi Zacharias tells us that “If you will to love somebody, you can.” This love starts from a point of knowing that the other person is imperfect in every way a human being can be. It accepts them as they are and then chooses to love them still. It then lives to help the beloved be the best they can ever be as themselves. This is the love we find in the greatest lover of all – God.
God loved us when we were unlovable. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV). God knew that we were sinners, and sinners deserve death. He decided to love us though. If love was a feeling, God would have stopped loving us a long time ago. Think of all the times we have let him down.
The story of Hosea is a perfect demonstration of this. The prophet is commanded to go and love an adulteress woman. When Gomer returns to adultery, Hosea goes and buys her back. God finally reveals his intention to the prophet and says He loves Judah this way, although they continually seek other gods. Writing centuries earlier, the psalmist realised such love and cried out time after time that God’s love endures forever.
Love does. It is amazing that in the love poem of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, love is described in verb forms – is patient, is kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, keeps no record of wrongs, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, and never fails. No one can claim to love yet do nothing. There has to be an action of love extended to the beloved, and God did that for us in Christ Jesus. It can be truly said that the symbol of love is the cross of Christ because it is there that perfect love was demonstrated. So it is the reason John reminds us that, “We love because He first loved us.”
What this means is that Christians need to be an example of what love really is and is not. We should not be found in the same confusion as the world, but be light bringers to a dark world. God has taught us love and it is our duty to make the choice to genuinely love others – family members, spouses, colleagues, friends, potential spouses. We do not love because they are good people, we do so because we are commanded to love them.