Every February 14th, we are inundated with images of hearts and flowers and messages of love. There’s no escaping the celebration of love, so I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on what it actually reveals to us.
While the origins of the day are not very clear, a popular myth relates to a St. Valentine who would marry soldiers against the wishes of the emperor, who had banned his soldiers from getting married. Today, however, the worldwide celebration of February 14th is just a symptom of our unspoken desire to give and receive love. And this is because of who we are.
We are not, as secularists and atheists claim, merely advanced animals or ‘beings inhabiting a biological machine’. Rather, as God declares in Scripture, we are made by our Creator, male and female, in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27). To be made in God’s image means that, unlike animals, we have a conscience, a moral framework and an ability to act on it with our actions and our affections. The reality is that, due to the fall of our first parents, we are born broken and our desires are not what we were meant to be reflecting.
Today, the worldwide celebration of February 14th is just a symptom of our unspoken desire to give and receive love
Today, while some evil things remain culturally evil (e.g paedophilia and incest), the culture around us has nevertheless ‘progressed’ in changing the normative expectation of what love is and who it applies to. In order for us to understand why those norms are off-kilter, we need to go back to the origin story. If man was made to reflect God, then ultimately only the reflection of God’s love is true and right.
Without touching on the design of love for mankind (the binary monogamous design of human marriage), what can we learn about God and love?
The love that God has is pure, unchanging and holy. This love existed before creation and was expressed between the Persons of the Trinity. For us, it means that to reflect God is to reflect a life of love for someone other than ourselves. A love lived for someone else is a love that focuses on the good and joy of others. It is the kind of love that is without any other motives or hidden intentions. It endures all imperfections and rebellions. Paul, reflecting on God’s love in a Christian’s life, extols the kind of love we are meant to display in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. While this is a favourite passage to quote (even among non-Christians) for its succinct summary of the perfect form of love, we know we can only practise such love consistently if we follow God (1 John 4:19-20).
The God of Israel is faithful because that is who He is. Even without instruction from Scripture, mankind knows that the pure and perfect form of love must be founded on faithfulness. While this is something we look for in men and women in all relationships, it is perfectly displayed by God to His people (Ezekiel 16:8). The Hebrew word used in Scripture is ‘Hesed’, meaning steadfast love/ faithful kindness/ enduring love. God displays his ‘hesed’ love for His people, even when they sin and rebel against Him, but He changes not and His love never fails. It is the same love that He showed to us by saving us from our sins (Psalm 136:24). He promised to save His people from their sins and He kept His promise — even at the cost of His Son (John 3:16).
Even without instruction from Scripture, mankind knows that the pure and perfect form of love must be founded on faithfulness
If God is love and His love is faithful and unchanging, what does it mean to the way we love? If we are recipients of such magnificent, unchanging, pursuing love, how much more are we under obligation to display the same love to those around us? How does this obligation to be faithful (in not loving just ourselves but living for others) reflect in our behaviour to our neighbours, family, friends and spouses? If we say we love God but do not obey His commands, do we truly love Him? (1 John 4:20). If we find ourselves to be in relationships that are hard, burdensome and disadvantageous, isn’t throwing in the towel in direct disobedience to God’s commands (Ephesians 5:25), reflecting more on our lack of faith? Are we resting in the truth that if God loves us, everything we go through is a means for our sanctification (Romans 8:28-30)? That is the kind of love we are meant to show to everyone around us: faithful love, even in the midst of suffering and despair.
These days we hear about couples breaking up because they are no longer in love when, in reality, it is because they are no longer attracted or it is no longer easy or convenient to be in that relationship. The modern form of ‘transactional’ relationships is a regression to a time before the idea of faithful, sacrificial love was instituted by the God of Israel, which eventually became the norm of the world through Christ and His disciples. All other cultures regarded love/relationships from a transactional perspective, usually favouring the men, but the God of Israel shows us the true way of Love.
We need to ask ourselves — not just today, on February 14th, but on every other day — whether we are failing in our obedience to God when it comes to reflect His image? Are we considerate of the object of our affections to value their God-createdness and their holiness? If we are single, are we willing to obey God by staying chaste and keeping our emotions in check? If we are engaged or courting, are we willing to patiently wait for our loved one? If we are married, are we willing to love deeply and endure patiently for the sake of the one whom God has bound us to (Matthew 19:6)?
Loving God means we will love like God. We will pursue every relationship we are blessed with, no matter how long it takes or what it costs us. We will deal respectfully and not selfishly. We will seek to protect our relationship from any action that brings shame and dishonour to God. We will be faithful even to the point of removing any hint of betrayal. We will love purely, constantly and with much cost, just like our triune God. Let us endeavour to love our spouses, family and friends with the faithful, unfailing love that this day purports to celebrate.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Because God never fails.
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