The film Love actually begins dramatically – the victims of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 sent only messages of love before they died. Their last act was to tell family or friends, ‘Never forget I love you – thank you for loving me’. Love is that important.
Christmas is a good time for many because of love shared – and a bad time for others because love has been destroyed by divorce, cruelty or bereavement. Love makes or breaks life for us. Love is what life is about. But what is love – actually?
The essence of love
First, real love is something freely given. It is not coerced, earned or paid for. Second, true love makes sacrifices for the loved one. In the film there is a moving moment where two shy singles who have been attracted to each another for years finally make their feelings known.
They are on the brink of passion when the phone rings. The woman’s brother, a patient in a mental hospital, needs her and he’s desperate. The young woman puts her brother first and goes to him. That’s love.
At Christmas we remember the birth of Jesus Christ – the demonstration of God’s sacrificial love for us. The Bible says, ‘God sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4:9, 10).
The cradle in Bethlehem led to the cross outside Jerusalem, where Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.
Love makes sense
If you do not believe in God, but believe that ‘Life the Universe and Everything’ came about by chance, then self-giving love makes no sense. The blind impersonal forces of evolution require only ‘survival of the fittest’ – self-sacrifice for the good of others becomes irrational.
Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins has the honesty to admit this in his book The selfish gene. He writes, ‘A predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthlessness … Much as we would wish to think otherwise, universal love and the welfare of the species as a whole are concepts which simply do not make evolutionary sense’.
Some people react by saying, ‘So what? Does love have to make sense? Isn’t the fact that people need loving enough to make us love?’ But this is muddled thinking – because it doesn’t explain why other people’s needs should mean anything to us in the first place.
Why love? The answer is that mankind is made in the image of God – and God is love. Nothing but the reality of God makes sense of love. When we show unselfish love to others we are walking in the footsteps of God – who came in the person of Jesus Christ and sacrificed himself to save sinners like us.
And it has to be the God of the Bible who makes sense of love. Other faiths contain many noble things but they offer no firm rationale for love.
Hinduism says that ultimately everything is one. So in the last analysis, what we call good and evil, love and hate, are one and are therefore equally valid. That gives no reason why love is right and hate is wrong.
Again, in Islam Allah is the mighty King of the universe. He has 99 names but not one of them is love. He has never become a human being and given himself for us. If Allah does not give himself sacrificially for others then why should we?
Only Jesus Christ makes sense of love – actually.
How can I find God’s love?
Love makes or breaks this life for us. But God’s love, says the Bible, makes or breaks not just this life but also the life to come. It tells us that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).
We have all done many wrong things. Our sins cut us off from God, and left to ourselves we shall perish in hell. But God loves us and sent his Son to save us from that fate.
We must ask God to help us turn from our sin and trust personally in his Son. We shall find the love of God by receiving Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.