Valentine Jesus & Our Language Of Devotion :: A Response To A Confused Critic

Should we “love” Jesus, or “be in love” with Jesus? A while back it was brought to my attention that a one time brother and fellow member (former member) of a local church I used to be a part of before moving to Austin had posted something on his blog* that brought into question a bible study that I led nearly 3 years ago.

Andrew, if you are reading this please know that I have no frame of reference for how to “deal” with you since you don’t return my calls or emails, and I have heard that you are no longer the Andrew that I once knew when we had fellowship together in Christ in Shreveport, Louisiana. I will simply respond as I would to anyone who has the balls to post something of their own opinion on the internet for all to see and publicly question the veracity of another’s doctrine.

For the rest of you I will give you some brief context for the situation.

A few years ago I led a taught at a Bible study which Andrew Axsom (the blogger mentioned above) hosted in his house. It was one of those long, 3-hour bible studies that we “young, restless, and reformed” kids like to participate in. It was a great night. My goal was to inspire an open discussion about the doctrine of God’s transcendence in relation to his intimate closeness with his people, a transcendence/immanence thing. We read the following passage from Isaiah:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Is. 57:15, ESV).

The point of the entire study/discussion was the seeming paradox of God’s dwelling in “the high and holy place” and at the same time dwelling “with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” We spent hours completely enamored with the idea that this God of the universe who exists in such a holy, exalted state (this “consuming fire”) would stoop to live among us sinners, especially as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

I began the study by talking about the language we use when expressing our devotion to God. I referenced popular contemporary Christian songs such as “Love Song For A Savior” by Jars Of Clay, and Matt Redman’s “Let My Words Be Few” as examples. Both of those songs, as well as many others use the modern romantic language of “falling in love” to express devotion to God. The use of such romantic language to express devotion to Jesus, who is a real human being, a man, our brother, savior and king is what I was calling into question. Matt Redman himself has done a similar thing regarding his own song lyrics.**

My purpose in critiquing those songs as well as the use of romantic language in general was to show how some people relate to God when expressing devotion in relation to how I thought we “should” express our devotion to God in light of who he is and who he has made us to be.

That is the context of the following debate.

To Andrew Axsom:

Let me begin by saying that I never once stated that “love just isn’t a good word to use” when speaking of our relationship to God. I never said that. In fact one of my songs of worship is Psalm 18, which begins, “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” There are two places in all of Scripture where the phrase “I love you” is used by someone expressing devotion to God. One is Psalm 18 by King David. The other is in John 21 where Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him. Peter affirms, “Lord . . . you know I love you” (Jn. 21:17). Neither of these men could be accused of being effeminate. The word love is completely appropriate, even biblical to use when expressing one’s devotion to God.

However, there is a vast difference in the word love as understood by King David and Peter the Apostle and the modern, western concept of “falling in love.”

You say on your blog, “Jesus said the greatest commandment in the law was to fall totally head over heels in love with him. He really did. Seriously.” Then to prove your point you cite Matthew 22:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40, ESV).

You misunderstand the difference. I fear you misunderstand what it means to love God in the first place, especially as the idea of love relates to what Jesus said about loving God in the aforementioned passage.

Jesus never once told anyone to “fall in love with God.” He did, however tell us to “love” God. The word love in this passage is a verb denoting action on the part of the person expressing devotion to God, not a noun denoting a feeling felt toward the object of devotion.

I will refrain from arguing any point regarding the meaning of the various Greek words for love used in Scripture. What those words may or may not mean is not relevant to this conversation. What matters is how the word love is used. The word “love” is used in Scripture to express both an action-oriented, self-sacrificing, non-emotional kind of love for God or people that plays itself out in service, and a kind of central heart affection kind of emotion felt toward someone of something. It’s one thing for me to say to my wife, “I love you.” It’s a whole other thing for me to actually “love” her. The first tells her that I like being with her, that I see something desirable in her, and that I feel good when I’m around her. The other shows itself in the sacrificial way in which I serve her and honor her in our relationship.

Let me reiterate that I do not say that it is wrong to “feel” the emotion of love for God, or to express our love for God by saying the phrase “I love you.” Remember Psalm 18? However, neither of those kinds of love (mentioned in the above paragraph) is what I was talking about in the Bible study you cite. Neither of those kinds of love I have for my wife are consistent with the modern notion of being “in love.”

The idea of love I was calling into question is one born in the backseat of dad’s car, on the hollywood movie screen, and in the misplace, misguided, and misdirected sentiment of 14 year old girls making eyes at the cute boys in the hall. The phrase “I love you” is so overused it hardly retains any meaning whatsoever these days.

Now, if the Bible made use of the concept of “falling in love with God” then I would have to say we should work to take back our idea and not let the world redefine something that is essentially Christian. However, as it stands the idea is not essentially Christian, nor is it beneficial when seeking to express love and devotion to Jesus in a world rampant with the wrong kind of “love.” What I was saying then, and what I am saying now is that we must be wary of using love-language that speaks more of the fire in ones crotch than the devotion in one’s heart.

It is great to say to God with King David, “I love you.” It is great to affirm our affection for our redeemer, Jesus by telling him how much we love him. But it is not necessary to say that we are “in love” with him. I love my friend Kelly Carmichael. I love him with an affection that only exists among brothers of the highest degree. However, should I write a song screaming to the world how much I am “in love” with him it will certainly be misconstrued. When I say that I love my friend, or even that I have a deep-seated affection for him I am not saying anything at all romantic. Romantic love is for lovers. Real love is for friends.

Again, the expression of love in the biblical phrase “I love you” and the concept of love for God as expressed in passages like Matthew 22 are different than the modern romantic notion of being in love. To say that we are “in love” with Jesus is no different than a man saying he is “in love” with another man. We call that homosexuality! Jesus does not wish to be referred that way.

When you speak of love for God in your post you say on the one hand:

That is pretty serious love. ALL your heart. ALL your soul. ALL your mind. ALL your strength. Wow. Let’s be serious for a minute, what does it mean for me to say that I love my fiancé with all my heart? What would it mean if you said you loved someone with all your heart? (not to mention all your soul and all your mind) God is plainly saying that we are to love him with our all. Every fiber in our body. With everything we have.

Then you say:

Passion. Untamed passionate love for the amazingly, wonderful, incredible God who created us and then died to save us. That’s what he desires and even commands.

In the first instance I believe you succeed in expressing what Jesus was saying in the passage. In the second instance you leave the realm of biblical language and employ the notion of romantic, passionate love used by the world. To speak of passion in our world when referring to a person almost always brings to mind sexual love in normal, everyday discourse. Now, it is possible to express one’s devotion to a hobby by saying, “I have a passion for Golf,” or “I am passionate about sailing.” That is understood. The difference is that God is not a hobby. He is a person. The man, Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t want our sappy little love songs that can be sung to girlfriends and gods alike. What Jesus wants is real devotion, not hopeless romantic and sensually erotic expressions of emotional garbage.

Andrew, I don’t really believe you wish to relate to Jesus in a homoerotic fashion. I do, however believe you are confused regarding what our modern language of love actually means, the ideas associated with it, and what we should employ when speaking about our love for Christ. I do not believe that you would ever say (at least I hope), “The first thing I’m gonna do when I see Jesus is give him a great big, sloppy wet kiss on the lips.” That would be employing an romantic expression to express devotion to Jesus. I may say that about my wife after being apart for a few weeks, but never for Christ. In fact, I believe wholeheartedly that when I see my Lord for the first time with my own eyes my reaction will be no less humbling than was John’s in Revelation 1 when he “fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17). I don’t think kisses or for that matter even high fives and guys hugs will be in order.

Perhaps it was just an “Axsom-dent!”

Grace & peace,

Chris.

* See Operation Focal Point blog, September 14th post, “I Want To Fall In Love.” http://www.operationfocalpoint.com/

** See Bob Kauflin’s discussion of the same topic for Redman’s comments regarding his lyrics: http://www.worshipmatters.com/2009/08/28/matt-redman-on-romantic-language-in-worship-songs/

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