When I was young (so much younger than today) there were cartoons on the Tube in London with two figures and the caption “Love is…” I remember especially the “Love is… not putting your feet on the seats”, but there were many more. And all of them were about other people, being considerate, and not being thoughtless or selfish.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been really exploring the idea of what love really is and looks like. Trying to teach anything really does make one delve and explore and research, because otherwise one ends up talking absolute nonsense! What is love, really? We say “God is love” and “I love you” – but what does that mean?
I think the first question I’d ask is, What difference does it make for us to say that? What does love look like? It may be a cliché, but love really is a verb not a noun. It is action, not concept.
“I love you” means caring about your needs, your interests, your wellbeing. It usually means putting “you” before “me” in action, in the same way that we do with grammar (it’s “you and me”, not “me and you”). The best description of love is, I think, still to be found in St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter 13: “Love is…”
“God is love”, wrote St John, “and those who live in love live in God.” He also wrote, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not die, but have eternal life.” This really is the ultimate in love, to give oneself, utterly, for the sake of the other. To give up that which is most precious, to bring help, healing, and wholeness to another person. God has no needs, but humanity does – and He gave everything to meet our deepest need and desire, because He loves us.
To say “I love you” is meaningless without action. To turn love into mere words is to cheapen it and rob it of its incredible power. I always remember the ancient Disney version of The Sword in the Stone, when Merlin was teaching the young Arthur. “That love business is a powerful thing,” says Merlin. “Greater than gravity?” asks Arthur. “Well yes,” replies Merlin. “In its way, yes, I’d say it’s the greatest force on earth.” Merlin was half right. Because God is Love, Love is the greatest force in the universe, and indeed is greater than anything else in existence. And we are invited to be part of it.