I read a story recently about a neighborhood tomcat who had become known to people as “Ugly” because he was always filthy, scarred, and getting into fights. He would go up to people and they would throw cans at him or turn the hose on him. Their motto became don’t touch Ugly and they made sure others knew this when going through that neighborhood. One day Ugly bit off more than he could chew and got into a fight with a couple of large dogs. A man heard the scuffle and went outside to find Ugly mortally wounded and lying still on the ground. His heart went out to him and he picked the cat up fearing he would be scratched and started to the local vet. Instead, Ugly nestled into his chest and purred with affection. He didn’t make it to the vet and the man wondered if affection was what the cat truly needed and if he had shown him affection earlier, would things be different? The allegory to Christians reaching out to the unlovable in this world screamed out and the guilt strings played a familiar tune. And yet, when I was done reading, I felt more anger at myself than anything else. If we as Christians need a story of a dying cat to remind us to love the unlovable, there is something very wrong. If we need to be forced by emotion to take the action that God wants from us, we are in trouble. But I have to wonder if it is simply because we just don’t really understand the concept of Love.
Love is thrown around like a fix all and be all. It is all we need and means never having to say you are sorry, as well as a thousand other trite greeting card slogans. But is that really love? Some posit that love is an innate quality that we are born with. Mothers bond with their children immediately and create a connection that cannot be replaced. But is that love? Love is not a biological imperative. It is not caused by a physiological manifestation or chemical process. Those are feelings and are a cheap substitute for love. They are certainly motivating factors especially in relationships where love can or does exist, but they are not love.
Some feel that love is a learned behavior. It is the “input” required in order to gain something we want. We love in order to receive affection and caring from others. The problem is that it takes morality out of the question. If there is no higher purpose or reason other than quid pro quo, than love is neither universal or sustaining. We would be able to find a balance on expectations of what is required for love and then regulate it to the point of not caring for those who don’t match up. Regulating love to a moral commodity removes its value all together. Love is an action, it is a reality made true by choice. If the evolutionary model that modern science proclaims is accurate, then relationships with others are created based upon a biological need. those needs are to secure internal wants. Love however is an external choice that is willing to give of itself in order to achieve the best for another. Christ said (and many have quoted both in religion and out) that there is no greater love than a man who lays down his life for a friend. How does biology account for that? If the existence of a person ends at death, how does a biological need give a willingness to sacrifice for others. Quid pro quo makes sense to some extent, but if there is no pro quo, how can their be quid?
Because love is an action it is worthless unless it is chosen and made to happen. It cannot be sugarcoated and it cannot be faked. If it is real, then sacrifice follows it. Not necessarily the ultimate sacrifice Christ mentioned but a true giving of self that cannot be expected in return. If we truly love, whether or not we see results such as change in another person doesn’t matter. What matters is the sacrifice and the love shown. A christian should not be loving for any other reason than virtue. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting there is any value in piety or self promotion of virtuous behavior. The truth is far more realistic. We love because Christ loved us first. That is the backstory for virtue. It is not a normal process in mankind, and it does not exist in nature. We take action based upon our desire to serve God and that action causes us to give of ourselves in love even at our own detriment if needed.
Love is not for the faint of heart and not for people who want quick reward. It is a long journey to be lived with an expectation of nothing more than to meet our Savior face to face upon completion. That is when we will truly see the benefits of love.