December 24, 2014
Love and truth
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, December 23, 2014
Love and truth
Love is important. Jesus clearly tells us that the greatest command is to love God and that the second greatest command is to love our neighbours—and Jesus tells us that these commands sum up the law and prophets.
Scripture as well as popular culture also tell us that love is a verb: love involves action. It's behaviour that counts.
I've even heard it said that beliefs don't make one a better or loving person, it's the doing that matters in life. In fact, at a wake not long ago, I heard a song telling me that my beliefs don't matter because, well, one day I'll be dead.
An internet meme goes so far as to sum up the popular view of love this way: "It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love, or how you love, it matters only that you love."
But wait. Are we being misled by platitudes?
Love is important, and so is action. I don't deny this. But moral content is important, too.
Pause with me, and think.
Didn't Jesus also say that although He fulfilled the law, He didn't abolish it? Didn't Jesus also say things like, “you’ve heard you shouldn't commit adultery, but I’m telling you that you shouldn't even think about committing adultery”?
Interestingly, it turns out that Jesus set aside the ceremonial and ritual law but not the moral law. In fact, He intensified the moral law.
(For those who doubt that Jesus didn't abolish the moral law: Keep in mind that Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, but, according to the record, He also told her to stop sinning.)
For Jesus, then, love retains a moral dimension.
Consider this: "I love you," said the married businessman to his good-looking female secretary, as the businessman abandons his young children along with his wife who is dying of cancer.
"I love you," said the pedophile to the child.
"I love you," said the sadist to his torture victims.
Clearly, love has moral boundaries.
What about the claim that it’s-not-what-you-believe-but-what-you-do-that-makes-you-a-better/loving-person? Frankly, this is silly.
Doesn’t making sense of this claim depend on what one believes a better or loving person is? Doesn’t making sense of this claim depend on what one believes is behaviour a better or loving person ought to do? Doesn't it depend on what one believes matters in life?
Answers: Yes, yes, and yes.
If you're still not convinced, consider this: Serial killer Ted Bundy (rapist and murderer of more than 20 women) believed what matters in life is to be daring and willing to rape and murder. Or think about the beliefs of ISIS.
Ideas have consequences, in other words. What is believed matters.
Contemporary philosopher David Horner astutely observes (in his book Mind Your Faith): "what we believe will determine how we behave, and ultimately who we become."
This means that if we seek to love truly, we should make every effort to discern—and believe—what is right and good and excellent and praiseworthy.
Of course, beliefs not acted upon don't amount to much. To paraphrase the Apostle James: belief without behaviour is dead. But we should also add the whole counsel of Scripture (and reason): behaviour without belief is blind.
Jesus, whom Christians believe is God come to Earth as a human being, taught that love is of utmost importance. He also taught us what real love means: to follow Him.
True love, then, means to live in accordance with—in surrender to—Truth.
Significantly, the reality of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus coupled with the moral law we intuit give us good reasons to take Jesus seriously.
(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)