Two familiar forces in life, magnets and gravity, offer analogies for love and faith. Magnets attract anything made of ferrous metal. That attraction, in turn, sets up the magic of a generator. And gravity keeps us grounded because without it things float apart. So with gravity at work we aren’t left to chase handholds like astronauts working in space.
We can ignore the particulars of how gravity and magnetism work and still say this: they both draw things together. It’s a gift that the weight of my body lets me cut an apple without flying to the ceiling. And without the magnets in an electric motor—as the magnetic forces produce electricity—I wouldn’t have a kitchen light.
And so it is that faith needs God’s attractive love to work—by drawing us out of self-love as we come to trust him. And that, in turn, frees us to love each other. We become a community bonded by love.
Again, we don’t need to probe the basis for love’s attraction. We see how it works in the rich devotion of a friend, a spouse, or with our children. This love is part of our life in Christ and it affirms what Jesus said in John 13:35—“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The outcome of God’s love in us is that he frees us up from the gravity of self-love by instilling his own selfless love in our hearts. We love because we’re loved. And love pours out like a fountain—like the release of a reservoir of pent up care and kindness for others. So that once we’re freed from self-love we finally get to love others freely—to be what we were made to be. And these bonds will always be strongest among those who share this love with each other.
Some of you might be asking, why bother with the analogies—since we’re satisfied with what we already know about love? It bonds people together in a life-changing devotion.
Well, maybe. But isn’t it true that we often see love as temporary? As in a crush that fades over time? Or in a discarded marriage that ended when “We fell out of love.”
The Bible turns on lights here. It presents a stark division between real and enduring love—sourced in God’s mutual intrinsic love—and false or temporary love. True love comes to us from the Trinity, expressing the Father’s love for the Son. It then carries on in the Son’s response and reciprocity as he loves the Father. And the Spirit shares this love between them as in 1 Corinthians 2 and in 1 John 4, “God is love.”
False love, on the other hand, is a short-circuited version. Instead of being a connection between two lovers it turns back in on itself in a loop. It is incomplete and fruitless. This was first displayed in Adam’s naked self-awareness and fear after his fall. He had once been bonded to God and to his wife but both bonds were replaced with recriminations after he grieved the Spirit and “died.” He lost both the Spirit’s living presence and the authentic love the Spirit had once poured out in Adam’s heart.
For a look at false love let’s consider Amnon’s treatment of Tamar, his half-sister, in 2 Samuel 13. The narrative begins with a report of Amnon’s devotion: “And after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar…” (v.1-2). Amnon’s “love” was blocked when Tamar understood his corrupt sexual intent. She begged him to arrange a marriage but he refused and then raped her. What followed is chilling and revealing: “Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (v.15).
What sort of love was this? Simply lust labeled as love—a hideous caricature of what God offers us. It captures the imagery of sin used by both Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, of homo incurvatus in se—“man curved in on self.”
It also gives us a glimpse of how Adam’s original sin still enslaves humans. The quest of selfish love is to find someone who will connect—to be mutually looped together—in shared selfishness for as long as the benefits satisfy both parties. And whenever that benefit ends, so does the bond.
Real love, by contrast, is ultimately represented by a quest to bond with another for the sake of the other. Not with the goal of self-interest but with full devotion to the other. The Father’s loving purpose was to send his Son to die for us. And the Son represented this by his willingness to embrace the Father’s plan on the cross.
Here’s a bottom line. God’s love changes everything just as gravity and magnets shape the way we live. It isn’t a point to be taught. We either know his love or we don’t. And if we don’t then it’s time to pray, “Lord, please let me experience your love.”
You’ll love the results. And others will be drawn to Christ and his Bride.