Is love the greatest thing in the world?

February 14, 2022

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God created us not in order to get love from us, but to give his love to us.

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    A famous line from a popular movie puts it like this: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” I suspect many of us would agree with that statement. Love is the most important thing in the world. Every now and then someone might say: “I want to be alone.” But no one would ever say: “I don’t want to be loved.” 

    And yet we find ourselves in a curious moment in history. In the past, people tended to find meaning and fulfillment through their attachments and commitments to others. But now people often try to find meaning and fulfillment through their freedom and autonomy from others. We all want to be loved, but we don’t want strings attached. We pride ourselves on our independence. Given that reality, it should come as no surprise that, as a society, we are suffering from a staggering degree of loneliness, isolation and insecurity.

    Unlike the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes who suggested that we are simply individuals who reluctantly enter into a social contract in order to pursue our own self-interest, we know that in some profound way we are hard-wired for relationships of love.

    And I am not just talking about romantic love, though that is certainly a defining aspect of many of our lives. I’m talking about all forms of love: the love between parents and children and among close friends. I could even include the love of strangers who suddenly find themselves working in common cause toward some shared goal.

    We frankly can’t imagine a world without love. And I would suggest, there’s a reason for that.

    People often repeat the saying: “God is love” without realizing the significance of those words. 

    As the Oxford professor C.S. Lewis pointed out years ago, when Christians say, “God is love” they do not mean “love is God”—as if you could flip the sentence around and equate any experience of love with God. No, they mean that the self-giving, other-centered activity of love has been going on in the life of God forever and that is what created everything else.

    But have you ever stopped to think that love requires at least two people? Love is something that one person has for another. If God were a single person, then that would mean that love did not exist until God created something else to love. And if that’s true, then you can’t really say that God—in his essence—is love because there was nothing to love before the world came into being. In that case, love came later. At best, love is secondary and peripheral.

    But if on the other hand God is not a single person, but a community of persons who have always lived to love one another, then God is love in the most profound sense, and love therefore forms the very heart of the universe. 

    Believe it or not, that is exactly what Christianity teaches regarding the Trinity. God is triune—meaning God is not a single person kind of being, but a community of persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You could think of God as a kind of family. God is a Father and Son united in the bonds of the Spirit’s love. From all eternity the three persons of the Trinity have lived to love one another.

    If that’s all true, that means the reason why God created US was not because he needed someone to love. God wasn’t bored or lonely. God created us not in order to get but to give—not in order to get love from us, but to give his love to us. God created the world and everything in it in order to expand the circle of love and to share his love with us. Love really is what it’s all about—first with God and then with others.

    And that’s why it is perhaps even more true than you realize: The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.