By Wesley Fredericks
In 1993 an artist named Haddaway released the song, ‘What is Love?’ Although perhaps a bit out of date musically, the question posed in Haddaway’s song is more relevant than ever. Many people go through life searching for love, desiring love but often misunderstanding what it should be.
A shallow love
Sadly, the predominant view of love in our culture today is that it is simply a commodity that can be traded for something in return. The general belief is that love is about securing one’s own happiness above anything else. This version of love is a shallow concept that is weak and unsafe. It’s weak because a relationship built on this version of love cannot survive difficulty. If things become too uncomfortable then one simply leaves. It’s unsafe because in this view of love one is not free to be oneself. If one fails to deliver on one’s end of the deal or if one shows imperfection or weakness then, as the king of blues BB King so aptly put it, “The thrill is gone baby…”
Can you imagine a more anxiety-inducing, confidence-crushing environment to be in? Yet so many people live with this idea of love. Worse than the negative emotional and relational consequences of this concept of love, often we impose this view of love onto God. We wrongly believe love to be something that God only offers in return for good behaviour.
A scandalous love
The Christian view of love is vastly different to what has been described above. In John 3:16 Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The phrase “For God so loved” implies that there is a weightiness or volume to the love that is being described. Rather than being shallow, the love that God gives has substance to it. The Hebrew word for love is ‘Ahava’, which basically means ’a love of the will’, or a ’giving of oneself’. It implies that there is a choice and commitment behind the love being expressed. Ahava says: “I have seen you at your worst, yet I still choose to love you!” It doesn’t condone what is wrong, but it is committed to the good of the other person even if there is a personal cost involved.
In a culture where the predominant view of love is flippant and dependent on one’s feelings, Ahava love is something that we desperately need to understand and embrace. This is not to negate the idea that emotions are important. I’ve been married to my wife for eight years and she still gets my heart racing. I am head over heels in love with her. But there are days in our marriage when we have to practise Ahava love, where we choose to love each other even if we’re not feeling in love with each other.
In a culture where the predominant view of love is flippant and dependent on one’s feelings, Ahava love is something that we desperately need to understand and embrace.
This description of Ahava is a dim reflection of the love Jesus has for all of us. Jesus’ love led Him to make the ultimate sacrifice in giving up His very life for people who reject Him. The love described in John 3:16 is not flippant and weak; it is a love with substance and depth. The answer to Haddaway’s question, “What is love?” is this: Jesus Christ dying on the cross for your sin and my sin. Or, as Paul put it in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. In order for us to be in a relationship with the living God who is holy, righteous and pure, we need our sin to be dealt with. All of our self-absorption, disordered loves, our deviances and the things that we want no one else to know about need to be forgiven. Jesus enabled this forgiveness by taking the punishment for our sin and offers us a relationship with Himself.
This amazing act of grace is articulated in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Theologians have called this ‘The Great Exchange’ where God took all our sins past, present and future and put them on Jesus in order that they would be dealt with and paid for eternally. Every single one of our sins was dealt with on the cross when Jesus died.
This allows us to become the beneficiaries of the greatest act of love that has ever been displayed in the world. We don’t deserve anything from God, yet He has chosen to demonstrate His love to us in a way that can only be described as scandalous.
What does this mean for us?
The implication of God’s scandalous love is that it sets one free to be authentic and real about one’s struggles and failures. There is no need to portray a veneer of perfection if one has experienced the forgiving love of God. When Jesus died on the cross He was, in effect, saying: “You are messed up, sin has spoiled you and you need my help because you don’t have what it takes to save yourself. I will do this for you because I love you. Come to me and let me forgive your sins and make you whole…”
The love of God frees us from the fear that we are going to be rejected by Him as 1 John 4:18 so clearly states: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” If you’re someone who may be struggling to know if God could ever accept you, just come to Him exactly as you are. It is only because Jesus was prepared to pay the ultimate price for your sin that you can confidently stand blameless before God.
The whole emphasis of John 3:16 and the overarching theme of the Bible is that God loves us and has made a way for us to be forgiven. This is vastly different from the shallow love that was described at the beginning of this article. God’s love pursues us when we are at our worst and have nothing to offer in return. This is Ahava love. Will you receive it today?