What is Love, Anyway?


Every once in a while I read something that really makes me think.  It happened today when I read an article on Catholic Stand written by Matthew Tyson entitled “Love and Judgment.”  I thought that you might like to read it, so I am posting the article here.

Love and Judgment

Anyone with a Facebook account has probably seen the following quote at some point, most likely in meme form, along with a tagline from the poster that reads, “YES!”, or “Exactly!”, or “Why can’t Christians get this?”:

Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist. Jesus wasn’t a Christian. Mohammad wasn’t a Muslim. They were teachers who taught love. Love was their religion.

It’s a nice sentiment, but quotes like these tend to grind my gears pretty hard, and not because of their over-simplification of religion, or their often abrasive logical fallacies (the word Muslim translates to “one who submits to God”; if Mohammad weren’t a Muslim, he’d be an infidel of his own religion).

What kills me with this quote, and all others like it, is the use — or rather abuse — of the word love. 

As Christians, we get it thrown in our face all the time. Whenever we speak out against sin, we’re quickly reminded that Jesus was all about love and acceptance, and once said not to judge people, and that’s pretty much it. The rest of the Gospels are apparently just filler material.

I won’t argue that Jesus was indeed all about love, and I take to heart his command, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) Nevertheless, the context of love in the quote above has very little to do with the love that Christ brought to this world.

What we have instead is the secular notion of love, an incoherent label that embraces uncritical acceptance, endorsement, and even celebration of another person’s sins. “Love”, in this sense, is bound by the flesh and determined by the feelings of the individual. This couldn’t be further from what Jesus taught.

So, in the words of 90’s Eurodance sensation Haddaway: what is love?

We all know that there are different types of love. We love our spouse in a different way than we love our children, which in turn is a different way than we love our siblings. However, all these types share one common, binding factor; that is, to love someone means to will good for them.

Good, in this sense, is the objective good that flows from God, His will, and His word. In other words, to love someone means to will the good of God in that person’s life. Your love for another is rooted in the desire for them to become close to God, and to share in salvation through Christ and His Church.

We can see this love all throughout the Gospels, on full display by none other than Jesus himself. When He came to establish the New Covenant, He brought with him the message that God loves all of us; despite our sins, salvation is for everyone, including the prostitute, the Samaritan, the murderer, the thief, the tax collector, and the adulterer (John 3:16). The only criterion for us to reap the benefits of this love is to turn from sin and follow Him (Matthew 16:24; cf. Romans 13:12-14). See, true love calls for a transformation. It encourages us to rise to something greater.

We do not judge others when we love them; we judge because we become blinded by pride. We judge because we forget that we too are sinners (Romans 3:23), and desperately need the love of others to help us on the path to salvation. Judgment seeks to create a barrier between a person and God. Love seeks to guide someone to God.

When Christ saved the adulterous woman from being stoned to death, he did not say to her, “I love you, so feel free to keep cheating on your husband.” Instead he told her, “Go, and do not sin again.” (John 8:11)

Of course, this is not the case in the secular notion of love. To call someone away from sin is to judge them or to “hate” them. There is no room for Christ’s love here. With secular love, personal feelings, opinions, and desires are the highest morality, the only true good. The self becomes god, and I cannot think of a single thing that stands more in opposition to Christ than this.

So, as we enter into the season of Advent, and wait anxiously for the celebration of Christ’s arrival to this world, let us take the time to discern the love that Christ has for us, the very same love that bore him to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which calls us away from sin and the desires of the flesh, and leads us to eternal life.

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