What is love?
We write all sorts of songs and poems dedicated to this mystical word “love”, but do we know what it is? We’ve heard from recent ad campaigns that love has no genders, love has no race, love has no disability, love has no age, and that love has no religion. We’ve heard from famous playwrights at the Tonys that “love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love”. We’ve heard that love is action, that love is blind (in contradiction to the previous statement that love has no disability), and that love is war. We’ve heard famous movie stars claim that “Love is the soul’s recognition of it’s counterpart in another” . We’re even urged to “believe in love” at Super Bowl halftime shows. And we’re told that “Love Trumps Hate!”.
But what is love? We use the word “love” to express all sorts of emotions and relationships now-a-days but often times, our hyperbole has ended up watering down our understanding of love. We say things like “I love my dog”, “I love my mom”, “I love my new shoes”, “I love my spouse”, “I love my kids”, and “I love tacos”. Is this not confusing? How can this one word encompass our thoughts and feelings for all these different things? One of these things we take care of for 7-15 years then we bring to a special doctor to euthanize. Another of these things gave us life, nurtured us self-sacrificially for years and years, and is accompanied by a deeply intimate bond since birth. Another one of these things we use till we’re bored or until we’ve used them up and then we toss them in the trash. Still another one enjoys a special place in our hearts and souls, we experience deep romantic intimacy with this one- we have sex with this one! Another one we give rise to, we beget them and feel a deep protective intimacy with them, we are united to them for life by nature of our very genes. And finally we eat this one, digest it, and expel it down the toilet. It’s vitally important for us not to mix these various things up! If Love can describe our feelings for all of these relationships (and more), how do we make sense of it?
Google gives us several helpful definitions for love,
1. An intense feeling of deep affection (noun)
2. A person or thing that one loves (i.e. Beloved, loved one, dear one, darling, sweetheart) (noun)
3. Feeling a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone) (verb)
While I like these definitions, I’d like to give a stipulative definition that can undergird most of the ways we use the word “love”. For the purpose of this post, love is “intimately and freely giving of oneself to persons”. I think this definition can be a good universal concept to apply to our various particular situations. For instance, while my love for my mom will manifest itself in different ways than my love for my spouse, both of these love relationships incorporate me intimately giving of myself to them. Likewise, my relationship with my dog and my child will be similar at times and different at others; I will eventually euthanize my dog, and I would never think about doing that to my child, nor could I, legally (some will take issue with the fact that I calling my dog a person, I don’t think this point will effect the thrust of my argument so feel free to skip it and forgive me for my imprecision). But both of these loving relationships involve me intimately giving of myself to them . This definition means that we wont include our love for inanimate objects like your pumpkin spice latte or that killer steak burrito from Los Burritos Tapatio’s.
With this definition fresh in our minds, let’s look at my Argument For the Existence of God from Love.
1. If love exists, then God exists.
2. Love does exist
C. Therefore, God exists
I’ll spend the bulk of this post defending and expounding on this first premise, since it’s the controversial one. It’s my contention that everything presupposed by “love” only makes sense in a Christian Worldview. “Woah, woah, woah! How’d we get to Christianity, I thought you said God?!”. Well, I’m a Christian, I’m going to argue for the God I believe in, though I will engage with a couple non-Christian religious worldviews later in this post. I’m not going to argue for premise 2 because that’s seen to be a given in our world today. If you don’t affirm premise 2 then I don’t expect this argument to be persuasive for you. My goal is to show that those who do believe in love, ought to believe in the God of love.
For now though I want to look at Christianity’s major competitor in the west, Naturalism . I don’t think that Naturalism can makes sense of love on it’s own worldview. There are a lot of preconditions that back our concept of love, including: persons/personhood, intelligence, language, morality, transcendent value, and free will, to name a few. Think back to our definition, “Love is intimately and freely giving of oneself to persons.” If we don’t possess free agency, we wouldn’t be able to freely do anything, let alone give of ourselves to others. If personality doesn’t exist or is an illusion then who are we giving ourselves to, and what do we mean by “ourself”? If love is merely a subjective personal emotion, or explainable merely by neurochemistry then we couldn’t be justified in expecting others to “believe in love” or even understand what we mean when we say “love”. Which brings us to morality, morality undergirds love whether we’re actively aware of it or not. We constantly make moral judgments about appropriate objects of love and the types of loving relationships that are moral and immoral. This moral sensibility guides us to love our children differently than our spouse or our parents or our friends. And along with everything we presuppose when we speak of love, we must presuppose the laws of logic. For when we speak of love, we mean love and not hate. We convey our emotions and first person perspective through language which necessarily presupposes that a word means what it means and not the opposite of what it means.
So why are these preconditions a problem for naturalism? If naturalism is true, then we are merely the products of naturalistic/evolutionary processes. There is no transcendent value or meaning in the world, just “blind, pitiless indifference” as the famous atheist, Richard Dawkins exclaims. We don’t have free agency, rather, we are causally determined by our genes and our surroundings. Our thoughts and emotions are the result of our brains fizzing. Our personality, our choices, our reasoning processes, our emotions, our guiding moral values, our very concept of love is all explained away as epiphenomena. Naturalism reduces love down to the physical reactions in our brains; rather than providing a foundation for love, naturalism neuters love.
For love to make sense, we have to satisfy the preconditions that make it possible. As we’ve seen thus far, naturalism is found wanting. As my argument purports, if love, then God. I think God, and God alone, makes sense of the necessary preconditions of love. “Now which God?” You ask? Like I said earlier, I’m a Christian, my commitment is to the Trinitarian God of The Bible. And I have good reason for believing that this God makes sense of love. But first let’s consider just a few other religions for good measure.
Buddhism can’t make sense of love because the goal of the Buddhist is the eradication of desires, including love. The closer you come to reaching the transcendent state of Nirvana the less preconditions of love will (theoretically) be at your disposal, including personhood/sense of self, desire, hate, and even love itself. So Buddhism’s out.
What about Pantheism? Pantheists believe that God is in all and all is God. A big problem for someone who holds this view is that of “distinction”. If all is God and God is in all, how do we make distinctions between good and evil, right and wrong, me and you, love and hate. This worldview sees personality and evil as illusions. So without the individual, who do we have to give love to and receive love from? Love and hate are ultimately one. I find this devastating for anyone who would want to believe in love. So Pantheism also fails to account for the necessary preconditions of love, most strikingly perhaps, that a Pantheist can’t make a proper distinction between love and it’s antithesis: hate.
How about non-Christian monotheism, like Islam? I’d start off by saying that much of the concept of Allah finds it’s roots in the Bible, but where Allah departs from the Biblical depiction of God so does his ability to make sense of love. Allah is a Unitarian god, meaning he is one person and one nature. If that’s the case, who was Allah loving before creation? Who was Allah speaking to before he made man? This idea of a Unitarian god can’t make sense of love or speech because to begin to speak or love after the advent of creation would be to fundamentally change the nature of this kind of god. In the case of Allah, this is unthinkable. Central to to the nature of Allah is his “oneness” which is more than a mere Unitarian affirmation. Allah’s oneness includes the doctrine of his invincibility, his changelessness. Allah’s inability to change is so strong in Islam that Muslims believe that Allah cannot even be described by his attributes, or held to his words in the Quran, lest that make him subject to creation and change. When it comes to accounting for the necessary preconditions of love, Allah falls short. How does a god who has no one to give himself to, no one to speak to, no one to love, account for love if he can’t change to incorporate love into his nature even after he creates persons with whom he can love? I think this critique falls equally hard on any Unitarian conception of God.
Let us finally get to a demonstration of my own beliefs. Yahweh, the Trinitarian God of the Bible, makes sense of the necessary preconditions of love. Remember our definition, “love is intimately and freely giving of oneself to persons.” Love is central to Yahweh’s nature, as the Bible says, “God is love” . How can this be? How can the Christian concept of God not fall pray to the problems of the other gods we looked at? Yahweh is the Trinitarian God, He is three persons, the Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit, and Yahweh is one nature: God. He is one essence, three persons. This doctrine of the Trinity makes sense of persons, speech, intelligence, language, morality, transcendent value, and free will or agency.
Yahweh didn’t have to change in order to incorporate love into His person; from all of eternity God the Father has Loved God the Son, God the Son has loved God the Holy Spirit, God the Holy Spirit has loved God the Father and every other combination there is. Love and speech are essential to this God’s very character. If we believe in this Trinitarian God, then we can make sense of personality; we’ve been made by a tri-personal God, out of love, through love, and for love. We can make sense of speech if we’ve been made by a God who’s been speaking in love amongst His own persons for all of eternity. We can make sense of intelligence on the Christian worldview because we’ve been made by a God who can ground logic in His own nature. Yahweh is a God who has distinction between persons (e.g. the Father is not the Son, grounds for the Law of Non-contradiction) and gives us a standard of unity and identity (I AM THAT I AM Exodus 3:14, Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, The LORD is one.” Deut. 6:4, grounds for the Law of Identity).
Yahweh not only fulfills the necessary preconditions of love, but he also gives us a goal, a standard, and a motive for love. God has intimately and freely given of Himself to us by making us and sustaining us even though we rebel against Him and daily choose to love ourselves rather than Him and our neighbors. We use the freedom He’s given us to seek our own autonomy apart from Him. We try to cut the tether between us and God so that we can function as our own god and love and idolize ourselves. This is called idolatry.
But God, being rich in mercy and grace- though He would be perfectly justified in destroying the entire human race for our hate towards Him- chose to pour out even more love on us in the face of our rebellion! God the Father sent God the Son to earth to take on a human nature, to be born of a woman in the flesh, and to be named Jesus. Jesus lived the perfect life that we ought to have led, a perfect life of love towards The Father and towards his neighbors, to give us the perfect standard for how we ought to live a life of love. But Jesus didn’t stop there. In accordance with The Father’s will, Jesus willfully gave of himself by going to the cross and taking on the sins of the world. He was punished for our rebellion. Out of his great love for The Father and for rebels like you and me, Jesus took the full wrath of God on himself so that anyone who would put their faith in him will have no rebellion counted against him.
Though we were full of hate and rebellion towards God, Jesus laid down his life to bring all of us who will believe in him back into a loving relationship with God. Those of us who follow Jesus Christ, follow Jesus’ love as our standard as well as our goal. In every relationship we find ourselves, we are to intimately and freely give of ourselves in the same way that Jesus gave of himself for us. Jesus is our goal, he’s our standard, and he’s our motive. When we live like Jesus, we experience more of his love. When we are mocked and reviled we experience a tiny bit of what it was like for him. When we are embraced and loved in return we experience the love of God in tangible ways. Indeed, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
So while other worldviews have a hard time fulfilling the necessary preconditions of love, the Christian worldview not only fulfills them, we are even positively given a standard for love, an end goal for our loving relationships, and a motive to continue to love. If my argument is successful, the non-believing reader will be left with only a couple options, if you want to continue believing in love you’ll need to ignore the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the very concept of love and live out of cognitive dissonance, or you can surrender and change your mind about your rebellion from the God of love. I pray that you’ll take the latter option and find cognitive rest by putting your hope and faith in Jesus Christ who is love incarnate.
I’m going to share this in our next Presup round up this Saturday
Awesome! I hope it’s beneficial!
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This is interesting and well-done I think. I’m wondering, however, on Naturalism, if the counterclaim is that you are defining “love” in such as way as to *require* its independent (i.e., “Idealistic”) reality/existence instead of a purely creaturely perceptive one?
Couldn’t the Naturalist merely claim, “Of course there’s no such thing as ‘love’ as you define it, just as there’s no such things as “Truth” or “Beauty” as a Chrstian would define them. ‘Love’ is a complex brain’s attempt to understand the complex neurochemical responses to stimuli and conditioning regarding mating, social structures and gene-line preservation.”?
In other words, it seems the Christian worldview *values* the independent reality of things such as truth, beauty and goodness/love, but the Naturalist is free to admit that such things are the perceptual constructs of overly development forebrains?
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Thanks for the reply brother. I’d agree that the naturalist could indeed make the claim you bring up, but that would erode the very notion of love. If they want to naturalize love down to neurochemical responses to stimuli then they ought to live that out. They should explain that to their children and parents and romantic partners. They don’t love them in the sense that most people think of love, they are merely having chemical responses that are ultimately out of their control and the result of deterministic evolutionary processes. They can’t berate anyone for being “unloving” or exhort anyone to “believe in love”.
That being said, if someone doesn’t believe in love, this argument may not be compelling for them, but for those who want to believe that love is more than our brains fizzing, the foundation for that love is God.
You should stick to raising Giant Bullfrogs dude, they actually exist.