‘Do you love me?’ Yikes. Do I love Jesus?
Certainly our love is what he wants. Quizzed about what really matters, Jesus talked about loving both God and neighbour, insisting that our love for God should be consuming, harnessing all of our hearts, souls and minds. If that demand seems a little overwhelming, then more challenging still is his compelling and potentially devastating call for us to love him more than our nearest and dearest ? our father, mother, son or daughter.
I found those words bewildering when holding my newborn daughter Kelly in my arms for the first time. A staggering wave of love rose up within me. In that moment, I knew without a shadow of doubt that I would happily give my life to spare hers. More than flimsy emotion, this was a steely determination to protect her. This was solid love.
But it didn’t take long for this wave of wonder to be hijacked by another question: did this mean that I loved my daughter more than I loved Jesus? I couldn’t say for certain that I was willing to die for him. I could hope. Aspire. But allergic to pain as I am, if the call for martyrdom came, I fear I’d take ten steps back.
The fog of confusion thickened, especially during worship. I was required not only to tell Jesus that I loved him, but that I was in love with him.
The problem was compounded because the word ‘love’ itself is so very confusing. Its meaning has been blurred because we use it in so many ways: I love my children and my grandsons. I love rich, extravagant sunsets, and I love traditional roast beef Sunday lunches with potatoes roasted in goose fat. I love my few veteran friendships.
I love my wife, Kay.
But in each case I am using the word ‘love’ in a different way. I love Kay, partly because I can see and touch her. But how do I feel emotionally connected to someone who is currently invisible? The bald fact is this: Jesus and I haven’t actually met yet. One day that will change, with a face-to-face encounter. But in the meantime, I don’t know him in the way that I know my family or dearest friends. And so surely I don’t have to try to manufacture the same feelings of love that I have for all of them in my relationship with Jesus?
I hear someone protest ? what about that song that Solomon sung? Isn’t that loaded with romantic, even erotic language? It is. It’s so erotic that some have tried to neutralise it by insisting that it’s an allegory about God and his people. I think they’re wrong. I believe that the Song of Solomon is a book about human love and sex.
Surely the love that Jesus calls us to is not the ‘in love’ kind, with all of the accompanying stomach flutters, daydreaming, and other romanticisms that make being ‘in love’ so delightful ? and fleeting. Rather, he calls for love that is more about action, faith and faithfulness.
That’s not to say that Christianity isn’t emotional. It’s not a cold, sterile belief system. I experience joy in the belief that I am rescued, gratitude for amazing provision, sorrow when I let him down, relief when I am forgiven, delight in the experience of being part of his family.
Perhaps that’s why I find myself wanting to sing more songs about who and what God is ? his attributes that are unchanging, regardless of the emotional or circumstantial weather that I’m experiencing.
And so now, I’ve decided. For too many years I have tried to fold my soul into having romantic emotions about Jesus. But I am happy, liberated even, to make my own announcement: I am not in love with Jesus. I love him, and want to love him more, but I am not in love with him. And to echo an old song: Jesus loves me, this I know, not because of what I feel, but because the Bible tells me so.