When Love isn’t Love
In recent months, our nation has been flooded with stories of sexual abuse and promiscuity. The list of the accused includes government leaders, Hollywood directors, priests and pastors. In some cases, investigators have uncovered bizarre systems of child exploitation and human trafficking. Our culture is in shock.
One of the most disturbing threads weaving through these events is the misinterpretation of and misuse of what it means to “love” others. In fact, in many cases, those who harm others have convinced themselves they were actually loving their victims.
Many years ago I witnessed a man being attacked by a jealous husband who had evidence of an affair between the man and his wife. As the wounded man was being treated for his injuries he said, “I can’t help it. I can’t keep the love of Jesus inside. I feel I have a ministry to women who are going through a hard time.” A Christian brother standing over him wisely replied, “I think you need to find a new ministry.”
Love can be hard to define. We know it involves caring deeply for others, and there is a biblical word, “agape”, that describes sacrificial, unconditional love.
As with many words, sometimes what something is “not” helps us understand what it “is”. Consider these possibilities:
Love is not selfish. While the love we experience in our relationships helps meet the need we all have to be loved, this should not be our ultimate goal. If we are more concerned with being loved than loving, we will never do some of the hard things necessary to show sincere love. Certainly, this is true of parenting where a mother or father is willing to be unpopular with a child in order to correct his or her behavior.
Love is not disrespectful. Regardless of whether or not we think we are loving someone with our words and actions, if the people we say we love tell us we are making them feel uncomfortable, we should respect their feelings. We should not be angry when the people we say we care about tell us to change our behavior.
Love is not manipulative. Manipulation comes in many forms, but we “weaponize” love when we make it a tool in our desire to make people give us what we want. People are often lured into promiscuous relationships because they were told “If you love me, you will give me what I want.” In a similar way, those who have power over others can threaten them if they refuse to comply with requests in the name of love.
Love is not ungodly. From a spiritual standpoint, if someone is selfish, disrespectful or manipulative and tries to make us think their behavior toward us is “loving” when it is clearly ungodly, we should pull the wool from the wolf. Unfortunately, abusers often use “god-talk” and faith as they seek to justify their behavior. If something is ungodly it is not loving, since God is love.
You are likely familiar with this passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” We are quick to embrace the first part of this passage, but we often pass over the parts about truth and protection.
Several years ago, Charles L. Bailey Jr., who was himself the victim of abuse, wrote this in his book “In the Shadow of the Cross”: “I feel that some people have a hard time with the truths around us, not only the sexual abuse by priests, but all bad things. I call it chosen ignorance. This modified form of ignorance is found in people who, if confronted with certain truths realize that they have to accept them and thereby acknowledge evil, and that scares them. Opening up and letting the truth in might knock them off their perceived center. It is too hard, period.”
Some parts of real “love” are easy. Some are pleasant. And some are hard. But if we say we love, we will accept it all. If not, then maybe what we call “love” is really something else.