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Love. The word love is used broadly and has such variety of meanings that the concept, although familiar, is difficult to define. It helps to define love by specifying the context in which it is used. When a person says to an intimate friend, “I love you,” there is quite a difference from the meaning of the word in the sentence “I love your outfit.”
Love has specific, contextual meanings. However, in the widest usage, it generally refers to a strong attraction toward an object—a desire to reduce the distance between that object and oneself. For example, if one loves either a person or a thing, one exhibits more of a yearning for that person or object, a desire to clasp it excitedly or fondly, than if the object were merely attractive or of some interest. To love always implies personal investment in the object of love; where there is no evidence of such personal caring, one may question whether love exists for the object.
Kinds of Love. The ancients specified four kinds of love, a classification that is still widely used. The most general form is philia, love for one’s fellow humans, including care, respect, and some compassion for the plight of others. The most common form is friendship. A second kind of love, agape, is seen in our love for God, a reverence for and deep acknowledgment of the divine being of God, including his commandments for humanity. Third is erotic love (eros), an affectionate, tender hungering for union with the loved one; a passionate yearning for full relationship may include genital stirrings but does not have to do so. Eros was made a god (May, 1969). Both the Romans and the Greeks had different words for love and sex. The fourth kind of love is libido, sexual love, physical and emotional need that ends in the physical release of tensions in the act of sexual intercourse. Erotic love grows on and on; libidinal love builds up and is released.
In modern usage, the word love most commonly connotes deep feelings between a man and a woman. There is a differentiation between the state of love and the feelings of love. The state of love implies a sense of committed caring and responsibility whereby there is concern and action taken for the well-being of the loved one. This state does not necessarily have to include feelings within a person toward the love object. When one allows himself or herself to feel love, however, there is an inner awareness of affect, of involvement from the heart rather than from habit or obligation. A state of love without corresponding feelings within leaves the persons involved somewhat distant and colorless. Many people suspect that such love is not genuine. Whether that is true or not, when one does not feel something within, this may reflect the person’s inability to do so. Some persons are not emotionally mature enough to feel the inner stirrings of love.
How We Learn to Love. The study of early mother-child interactions has made clear that infants need a symbiotic acceptance by the mother that conveys adequate nurturance both physically and emotionally. The infant and later the child, grows best in a climate of unconditional love in which the mother’s patient responsiveness clearly demonstrates that she is here to take care of the baby, not vice versa. Love grows best when there is no fear of driving the mother away or consuming her with one’s neediness.
God Loves Us Unconditionally – Unconditional Love Claim Excursion
Unconditionally means without conditions or limits. It can also be expressed, ‘God loves me just the way I am.’ We would be mistaken in the extreme if we thought God’s love for his servants had no conditions, is without conditions, and there is no limit of wrongdoing on our part that cannot end in our losing that love. First, think, we have the unforgivable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. So, the idea that God’s love is without limits is contrary to Scripture. Second, the book of Hebrews tells us, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to public shame.” (Heb. 6:4-6) And it goes on to say. “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the accurate knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” (Heb. 10:26) Third, Jesus tells us explicitly, “Just as the Father has loved me, I also have loved you; remain in my love.” (John 15:9) In other words, the request to “remain in” means that one can choose not to “remain in.” Then, in the very next verse, Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” (John 15:10) So, there is a condition to remaining in Jesus’ love. In the same Gospel, Jesus gives us another condition, “If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples.” (John 8:31) The Bible is filled with conditions to remain in God’s love. Fourth, neither conditional love nor unconditional love is found in the Bible. However, God’s love is often described as coming with conditions, even clear back to the tree in the Garden of Eden, where they were commanded to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (condition). After being expelled from the Garden of Eden down until Christ, God required an animal sacrifice to remain in an approved standing (condition). From the moment of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice until now, the forgiveness of sin is conditional on the atonement of Jesus. So, technically speaking, God does not love us unconditionally. Search as long as you want, but you will not find one instance from the Bible where God’s love is unconditional.
Defining Conditional and Unconditional Love: Some scholars think they understand: Some argue that if we say God’s love is conditional love; then, it is “earned” based on certain conditions that his servants would have to meet. At the same time, they say unconditional love is given willingly and totally without any expectation in return. They say God loving conditionally means He loves His servants only if they deserve the love. On the other hand, God loving unconditionally means to love regardless of the servant of God being unworthy of love. This way of thinking, usually by Calvinist-minded scholars, is misleading and so contrary to the Scriptures. Everyone is a sinner and heading for eternal destruction, unless (condition), he repents, believes, follows, and obeys. If God unconditionally loves everyone, then everyone would receive eternal life. At Genesis 6:3, God gave humans one hundred and twenty years to repent, a condition, wherein only one family did so. According to the Bible as a whole, all of humanity as a whole, billions, conditionally must repent, believe, trust in Jesus, and do the will of the Father. Jesus said, conditionally, only those doing the will of the Father will get into the kingdom. He said some would believe that they were doing so, but were, in fact, doling their will, and he would declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23) Humans were created in the image of God (Hen. 1:27), and no human loves unconditionally.
Nevertheless, the phrase “unconditional love” can be used in a special sense that should be qualified every time this phrase is used. It can be used to make it known that God’s love for His servants is not so weak, delicate, or frail, or flimsy, that it might be removed at any time because of some failing on the person’s part or that the servant of God is obligated to earn God’s love by never falling short of His expectations. The Bible says that we must willingly choose God; well, then, choosing is the condition.
Those who believe that God’s love is unconditional and that He loves His servants regardless of what they do or fail to do are not biblically grounded. Yes, God’s greatest attribute is love, which moved Him to give his Son as a ransom on our behalf of all who accept it. (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8) Yes, we must (condition) love and obey God. In fact, it is our complete and unconditional obedience that is expected. (Deut. 12:32)
End of Excursion
The purpose of reliable, trustworthy parental love is to provide security and hence maximize the child’s growth. It also teaches the baby how to love as he or she imitates the parents. The parents’ ultimate purpose is to have the child internalize the love messages, so the child believes he or she is lovable. This belief becomes the inner confidence and self-esteem that not only promotes exploration, learning, and growth, but also becomes the grounds for loving others in turn.
As the person grows through the various stages and cycles of life, he or she experiences different needs, and hence differing forms of love are sought (Orlinsky, 1972). Thus, the infant seeks nurturance, the child responsiveness, the preadolescent a close friend, the teen a lover, and the adult a spouse. Personal love relationships foster psychological growth. There is a cyclical rhythm to these relationships all through the life cycle; closeness provides the inner fuel to separate and individuate and hence climb to a new level where one again develops a new communion before pushing on again. In communion there is cooperation and mutual sharing to satisfy each other’s needs. In individuation the love of self is stressed by assertiveness and contest. Love must include mutuality and individuality, other and self. In Judeo-Christian thinking, this same theme characterizes the relationship between God and persons.
One of the most difficult aspects of love relationships is to maintain a rich sense of self within the context of loving the other person. Many personal-emotional problems seen in psychotherapy relate to a fear of love based on the loss of self in the relationship (Branden, 1980).
Degrees of Love. There are different degrees to which one shows love; that is, various depths of loving interpersonally. Perhaps the most shallow form of love is fearful clinging, in which the person’s immaturity includes an overwhelming dependency that bonds lover to loved one out of fear of loss. Up the scale one step from clinging is love by obligation, in which one feels stuck with the so-called loved one and thus cares out of duty. This is seen especially in marriages where the mates feel little personal emotional commitment but stay together for the children’s sake. Both these forms of love are noteworthy for their lack of genuine mutuality and the creative joy that love should bring.
Progressing upward in terms of levels of loving, we find unrequited love; despite the inequality of feelings, one person loves another who does not return the love. Often there is frustration for the person not receiving love, but he or she may still choose to demonstrate a genuine loving care for the love object. This may be seen in parental care for seriously retarded children or in a marriage where one mate does all the loving and is relatively satisfied.
Further upward toward full mutual love are relationships that are reasonably stable, partially gratifying, but less than one or both partners would like to have. Whether through carelessness or lack of sophistication the partners are friendly, helpful, and generally affectionate but do not dare risk the deeper revelations of self and the explorations of the full range of emotions. Perhaps most married couples settle for or degenerate into this kind of reasonable if not entirely satisfying kind of love.
The quality of love in relationships between persons need not necessarily be impugned because there are problems or troubles. All human relationships have difficulties, hurts, disappointments, and problems. These can bind persons closer together as they seek to solve those issues. The worst one can expect is that the problems will erode the rapport between partners.
Mature Love. In a full sense of mutual human love we should expect several elements to exist. First is the willingness of each partner to be involved in the relationship as deeply as possible in four distinct ways: physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
Second, full love involves both a giving and a receiving of love by each partner. That means that each person is responsible for giving to as well as getting from the other. Serious problems in the relationship can result when either partner is not giving or getting enough out of the relationship. Love is not giving, as popularly thought; it includes both giving and getting (Rottschafer, 1980). There has to be a daily monitoring of the balance between these two plus the willingness to correct the inequalities. The ratio of how much one gives to how much one gets (whether by taking or by receiving) may vary from day to day, but over time the health of the relationship depends on a balance between these two.
Third, mature love includes as full an experiencing of the broad range of human emotions as is possible. Therefore, in full love the partners open themselves to both joy and sorrow, agony and ecstasy, always keeping in mind the needs of both self and other as the experiences and feelings of life are shared. Love is an art that needs to be learned and practiced throughout one’s entire lifetime (Fromm, 1956).
Last, full love must include a willingness to commit to one’s loved object, whether country, home, family, child, mate, or friend. Commitment involves promise, deliberate intention to take the bad with the good, and a willingness to share one’s life with the loved one. Commitment brings mutual trust for quality care in the now, plus predictable, responsible, mutual involvement in the future. Many current social, emotional, and physical ills can be seen as directly related to an absence of these qualities of love.
By H. Rottschafer and Edward D. Andrews
Branden, N. (1980). The psychology of romantic love. Los Angeles: Tarcher.
Fromm, E. (1956). The art of loving. New York: Harper & Row.
L. L. Morris, Testaments of Love (1981).
May, R. (1969). Love and will. New York: Norton.
Merrill Frederick Unger et al., The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).
Orlinsky, D. E. (1972). Love relationships in the life cycle: A developmental interpersonal perspective. In H. Otto (Ed.), Love today. New York: Association.
R.E.O. White, “Love,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1359.
Rottschafer, R. H. (1980). Giving and getting, a clinical and spiritual evaluation. The Bulletin of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, 6 (2), 23–28.
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