Giving All You Have

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” -John 21:15

Dear members and friends,

Love is everywhere in human life, yet when asked what love really is, we often find ourselves puzzled and confused. Emanuel Swedenborg shares the difficulty of defining what love is in his Divine Love and Wisdom, “For most people, the existence of love is a given, but the nature of love is a mystery. … Even though the word “love” is so commonly on our tongues, still hardly anyone knows what love is.” We may find one reason for this challenge in the origin of the English word “love.” Linguistically, it is from the Old English lufu, which is of Germanic origin from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit lubhyati, which means desires. Love is also connected to Latin word libet (it is pleasing) and libido (desire). Despite theological and philosophical attempts to define love, it has been commonly accepted and practiced as a thing that is pleasing or desirable to oneself. In other words, regardless of all those inspiring stories and teachings about so-called higher love, it is a subjectively-defined, pleasurable sensation as experienced by oneself.

In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words often translated as love: ahab and checed. Ahab is used in describing love in human relations as its first use in Genesis 22:2 “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.” Checed is used in describing love from God, and is more often translated as “mercy,” “kindness,” or “loving-kindness.” Mercy is defined as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” To me, it is enlightening to read that the Bible teaches that there is a difference between what humans experience as love and what God teaches as love. The love taught by God should be expressed through mercy, kindness, or loving-kindness toward others. In other words, loving others might not be pleasing or desirable to oneself. This is why Jesus emphasized love as agape. Agape is not just unconditional love, but love in action that is specifically performed to benefit the receiver rather than the giver.

So what is love? According to the Bible and Jesus, love is not just doing or choosing something that is pleasing or desirable to oneself, but the willingness to choose something that is beneficial to the receiver despite any cost to the giver. In other words, truly loving someone would most likely cause hardship and pain in your mind and life, and is often unpleasurable or undesirable. Knowing this, the question becomes, would you still choose to love others?

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee