"Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)
The problem with love is that it can’t be systematized.
It can’t be explained, controlled, regulated, or legislated.
It’s something you know, but can’t exactly teach; something you experience but can’t contain.
Love both inhabits and transcends our religious categories. It’s wild and unpredictable and prone to showing up in places we’d rather it not be.
Love defies expectations.
I think perhaps that’s why I keep bumping into theologians and religious leaders who turn their noses up at the suggestion that love is the most fundamental element of Christianity. “Well what do you mean by love?” they demand. “Because it’s not very loving to let people walk around with bad theology, now is it?”
I encounter such people at conferences and in radio interviews, in local churches and online, and I understand their concerns. They are worried that a new generation of Christians is slipping into a sort of feel-good faith devoid of conviction, reason, and doctrine.
In some cases their fears are justified, but in most I think they’ve just confused the idea of love with the idea of niceness. They seem to think that because love is so elusive and hard to define, it must be weak— the ideological crutch for those who don’t want to offend.
But when I consider the love that Jesus showed and that I am commanded to imitate, the last words to come to my mind are “nice” or “weak.”
To love as Jesus loved requires more strength and conviction than a human being without the Spirit can muster. It requires giving without expecting anything in return, forgiving enemies, witholding judgment, assuming the position of a servant, looking after the forgotten, and caring for neighbors. It requires living counter-culturally by resisting the temptations of indulgent wealth and self-serving power. The kind of love that Jesus taught and exemplified crystallizes on the cross, where looking down on those who had put him there Jesus said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
That. Is. Not. Weak.
Love is good theology because God is love. According to both John and Paul, a life devoid of love is a life devoid of good theology. Without love, we are clanging cymbals, useless noise. Without love, all our carefully-crafted apologetic arguments mean nothing.
That said, I hope that those of us who keep talking about love avoid sabotaging our efforts by failing to embody it, both among the “least of these” and among our brothers and sisters who raise thoughtful concerns about how all this talk of love will affect our doctrine.
...I think sometimes we just forget that we’re actually talking about the same thing.