Designed to Love
What is true love in a relationship? And how do we love difficult people? This article asserts we are designed to love.
In 1965, Jackie DeShannon recorded a song entitled, “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” During the turbulent culture of the 1960s, her song became an American anthem. Its theme was deemed an answer to America’s racial and war protests. The social upheavals of 2020, impel us to confront the same question, “Does the world need more love”? Is love the answer to America’s throbbing economic, health, and judicial disparities? Some who ponder this question will either dismiss its foregone conclusion as an oversimplified, syrupy, sweet sentiment but others will accept it as a poignant truth because love is also an enactment. At the core of our many social upheavals are relationships. Thus, when we infer the world needs more love, we are also revealing the state of our relations. The theistic philosopher Soren Kierkegaard concluded, “The power that governs human life is love, only love”(Works of Love, 2009). Love is a human need (McGuire&Maslow, 2011). This article will assert that we are designed to love.
In his book The Four Loves (2017), the theologian C.S. Lewis solemnly acknowledged, “that although God is Love not all love is God.” In other words, not everything that is called love is love. Some depictions of love in popular media are like the shadows on the wall in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. And some adherents of major religions profess love, but pretend not to see the stranger who has been beaten and bruised. Our expressions of love largely depend on the type of relationship; we experience love differently in the roles we play. Scholars have speculated and expounded on the different forms of love. The Ancient Greek world identified eight ways to experience love, but Soren Kierkegaard discussed only two and C.S. Lewis recognized four types. Love is the sum of and also transcends every human experience of authentic love; this is the highest form. The scriptures describe God’s love as a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). The Hebrews referred to it as Ahavah. And the ancient Greeks identified it as Agape. Moses, the leader of the Israelites, was hidden in “a crevice of a rock and shielded with the Divine’s hand” when his Shekinah passed by him (Exodus 33:22). He could not survive a face-to-face encounter with the intensity of God’s love.
Perhaps, the best way to conceptualize love is to see it as either perfect or imperfect. Perfect love is genuine and includes everyone; it is mature. This love does not discriminate based on ethnicity or creed. The philosopher Martin Buber stated, “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” That electricity is love which always involves us identifying our self in the other. Love in the Christian sense transcends feeling; it is an act of the will (Lewis, 2017). Feelings come and go but real love endures forever. So, what is imperfect love? Love is rendered imperfect with any trace of fear ( I John 4:18). The fear of rejection prevents us from loving deeply. According to Kierkegaard, “He who cannot reveal himself cannot love, and he who cannot love is the most unhappy man of all” (2009). However, revealing ourselves often occurs in relationships with a strong foundation of trust. C.S. Lewis humorously stated, “Be weird, be random, be who you are, because you never know who could love the person you hide.” Everyone has a few idiosyncracies and some have more, but God's love is inclusive. He is the Source of all love and whenever we experience love, we experience him.
Relating to Others
The philosopher Martin Buber, in his book I and Thou (2020), examined the three ways in which we relate to others. Each mode reveals the state of love in our relationships.
- The I-It mode is subject to object. One person objectifies and controls a passive other; thus, we are partially engaged. The I-It mode is controlled by the past. An individual manipulates another with their knowledge about them from past experiences. The I-It mode can also be observed in the interactional patterns on social media platforms where individuals sometimes objectify others (i.e., online chats, discussion boards).
- The I-Thou (you) mode is subject to subject. It is reciprocal and between equals, a genuine encounter. We are fully present and engaged in the relationship. An individual is able to self-identify with another person and in those moments experience love. Every I-Thou experience references the Eternal (God).
- The I-Thou (Eternal) mode is subject to Divine. In this mode, we relate to God, and his love never ceases. “God loves us Not because we’re lovable because He is love. Not because He needs to receive, because He delights to give” (Lewis, 2017).
Sadly, we can depersonalize our relationship with God. The ancient Hebrews saw him as a loving father, protector, king, sanctifier, provider, creator, or covenant maker. Our understanding of him must transcend the cold impersonal concept of a concrete god. He is the only loving and living God. Our intimacy with him through prayer should always yield to his will instead of trying to manipulate him toward our will. C.S. Lewis revealed his thoughts on the purpose of prayer, “… it does not change God, it changes me.”
In sum, when we relate to others and the Eternal, we sometimes vacillate from I-It to I-Thou. We traverse the metaphorical bridge from lack of love to authentic love. Unlike God’s love, our relationships are often conditional. But nurturing a mature relationship with the Eternal helps us develop unconditional love for others.
Touching the Source of love is transformative; he is pure love brimming with grace. Everything he thinks or does is from a heart of perfect love. In the New Testament, the process of perfecting love is summed up in the greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-39).
- First, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
- Second, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So, we cannot truly love another person until we love God. Buber declared, “The true meaning of love your neighbor is… that in it and through it we meet God.” The Scriptures assert that “… he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and he in them” (I John 4:16). When we dwell in God’s presence, we become rooted and grounded in his love; we get to know him (Ephesians 3: 17-18).
Christians often refer to first Corinthians 13 as the love chapter and they are encouraged to read it daily. Learning to love inclusively is like a marathon, not a sprint. In the love chapter, the Apostle Paul painted an exquisite picture of mature love. When we commit to perfecting our love, we progressively develop these attributes.
Excerpted from The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew, Greek, English
I Corinthians 13:4
“Love is patient.”
“Love is kind."
“Love is not envious."
“Love is not vain, is not puffed up”
I Corinthians 13:5
“Love does not behave indecently.”
“Love does not pursue its own things.”
“Love is not easily provoked”
“Love thinks no evil.”
I Corinthians 13:6
“Love does not rejoice over wrong but rejoices with the truth.”
I Corinthians 13:7
“Love quietly covers all things.”
“Love believes all things.”
“Love hopes all things.”
“Love endures all things.”
I Corinthians 13:8
“Love never fails.”
In Conclusion, living a life of extreme love transforms our relationships and our lives. Love is freeing (II Corinthians 3:17). We are able to establish healthier relationships because we can self-identify with others. Love makes us more empathetic and less judgmental. We learn how to appreciate other’s differences. Love improves our families and is a legacy to subsequent generations. It empowers us to become self-actualized - achieving our fullest potential. Love positively impacts our mental and physical health. And while sometimes we may fail miserably at loving others, when we choose the path of love we unremittingly continue to grow in love. That is how we truly change the world - abiding in LOVE. Kierkegaard concluded, “To cheat oneself out of Love is the most terrible deception; it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity (2009).”
*Bible passages were excerpted from the King James Version unless otherwise noted.
Buber, M. (2020). I and thou. New York: Clydesdale Press.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2004). New York: American Bible Society.
The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew - Greek - English. (2008). London: Hendrickson Publ.
Kierkegaard, S., Hong, H. V., Hong, E. H., & Pattison, G. (2009). Works of love. NY, NY: Harper Perennial, Modern Thought.
K. J., & Maslow, A. H. (2011). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Norderstedt: GRIN.
Lewis, C. S. (2017). The four loves. San Francisco: Harper One.McGuire,
Shaw, D. (2021, January 21). The Crucible of Love. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from