Questions about the things that drop us into unfathomable
I don’t claim to understand love. Romantic love begins the same for lovers who stay together six weeks or sixty years. At the initial encounter, the brain places an order for appetizers of estrogen and testosterone. We all know what that does to us. If the mind holds interest, the brain moves on to the main course—a hefty platter of adrenalin, dopamine, and serotonin. We dig in. We can’t think about anything else. If the mind decides to stick around long enough for dessert, the brain serves up a little oxytocin topped with a dollop of vasopressin. These hormones are released…well…think about the point in the meal when you eat dessert.
Is it all just a chemical reaction in the brain designed to propagate the species? And why is it that most of these delicious concoctions of the brain grow cold and stale?
Parental love is a different kind. Science still claims a role in the bonding of parent and child. Chemicals release in both newborn and new mother. As well, fathers bond with their offspring. More hormones for the proliferation of the species? While this relationship type appears less dependent on chemicals, its glue seems to hold even tighter than romantic love. But sometimes it does let go.
Jesus said there was no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for a friend. Science gives little insight into the brain’s participation in this kind of love, except to assure its root is survival of the human race. But what drives it?
These three love types give insight into the most mysterious kind of love. Both the realization of the love of God and the desire to express love to God are met with no firm systematic explanation. A determinate science may have the brain dishing out hormones. It may relate a heartfelt belief system to a more successful age in human history, or claim a poorly motivated God obsession brought the destruction of a society. But it cannot explain God love.
Back to that love between two people who catch fire in each other’s presence: As for the fire that burns out quickly, no further explanation is needed. Love didn’t stand a chance. But what about the old couple still holding hands and whispering things that would make a hormone-driven young romancer blush? When the love grows old, and the lovers grow old, why do they still love each other?
If nothing equals the deep bond of parental love, how can it fail? What causes a mother to abuse her baby? Or a father to murder his children?
What’s so important about the love for a friend? Not everyone would sacrifice themselves to save others, but many would. Is their capacity for love greater? Or do they have more brain fluid driving them? Why did Jesus say what He did? He was speaking to his friends. And He was about to deliver Himself over to Death for their sakes. They wouldn’t believe it, even though He told them.
Which brings me back to the love of God. We wouldn’t know He loves us—wouldn’t even know that He is—if He didn't tell us. But He did, and does, tell us. He tells us in the chemicals our brains produce. His purpose for the romance-inspiring stuff that flows inside us is to teach us about His love. The couples who keep on loving paint a picture of Christ’s love for His Church. The parent/child bond gives another sign of God’s love for us, and our dependence on Him. When we love those around us, we see a representation of Christ’s greater love for all mankind.
But what about the failures? What about mere lust that leaves destruction in its wake? Parental love that turns to terror? Love for a friend that’s so easily forgotten? Why, if love illustrates the story of the human race, does it get so messed up?
We’ve painted over it, colored it with fallible science, called it what it isn’t. Broken it into pieces. The world isn’t often appreciative of the beauty of true love, and we’re part of the messed up world. Even the redeemed wait entangled by sin until their story is over. Our eyes can’t see the thing for what it is. But God offers clues for discovering the bounty of His love.
For me, the beguiling love for my husband is clue number one. Then, the resilient love for my children. And third, the call to give myself away. At times I struggle like an earth-bound sinner with all of them, especially the last one. But even my unwillingness to lay down my life paints a picture. It shows me the stark contrast between God’s perfect love and my practice of it.
It might seem the first two clues would unravel the secrets of love, but it’s the third—the one too hard for me—that offers the greater sign. Jesus not only laid down His life for His friends, but for His enemies. I was His enemy. Now, I’m His friend. And that’s love. I can hold to it. I can delight in it. But I can’t explain it completely because love, for now, remains a mystery. A glorious…discovery-of-a-lifetime…mystery.