A few weeks ago I wrote about how love is noun. That is, love is a feeling. It’s a good feeling and a happy feeling. Love is the feeling of pleasure or the sense of enjoyment that one has in another person. It is the feeling that we are supposed to have towards our neighbors, towards our spouses and, most importantly, towards God.
I became convinced of this truth through reading a book called Desiring God by John Piper. However, he admits that not everyone is willing to concede that love has anything to do with our own desires or our own enjoyment. Some people insist that love cannot seek its own pleasure because true love involves sacrifice. Or as journalist and social activist Dorothy Day reportedly said, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.”
Piper responds to this observation well. He explains,
“First, don’t jump to the conclusion that there is no joy in things that are ‘harsh and dreadful.’ There are mountain climbers who have spent sleepless nights on the faces of cliffs, have lost fingers and toes in sub-zero temperatures, and have gone through horrible misery to reach a peak. They say, ‘It was harsh and dreadful.’ But if you ask them why they do it, the answer will come back in various forms: ‘There is an exhilaration in the soul that feels so good it is worth the pain.’
If this is how it is with mountain climbing, cannot the same be true of love? Is it not rather an indictment of our own worldliness that we are more inclined to sense exhilaration at mountain climbing than at conquering the precipices of un-love in our own lives and in society? Yes, love is often a ‘harsh and dreadful’ thing, but I do not see how a person who cherishes what is good and admires Jesus can help but sense a joyful exhilaration when (by grace) he is able to love another person.”
I have become convinced that Piper is absolutely right. Loving God and loving others can be truly hard. Jesus himself explains that, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” But this in no way means that the sacrifices of love are void of joy or exhilaration. For instance, Paul says, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”
Suffering and love have a very interesting relationship. Suffering is tolerated because it is a small price to pay for love. Conversely, suffering is, at least in part, the scales on which we measure the value of love. That is, suffering reveals that love is truly valuable. Consider again the mountain climber. The man who climbs a small hill does not experience the same exhilaration as the man who climbs Mount Everest. Nor would the exhilaration be the same for the man who was flown to the top of Everest. The exhilaration is a byproduct of the sacrifice required to make the climb. The same is true for love, its value is measured by the sacrifice one is willing to make to acheive the reward. This is why Scripture says, “Greater love has one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And God measures out his love in the same way, “For God demonstrates his own love in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
This certainly has application in our own relationships. We see that love that comes easy is not of more value than love that takes work. On the contrary, it is when one must suffer on the mountain side in sub-zero temperatures that he becomes aware how how truly valuable the love is. It is the struggle and the sacrifice that reveal the value of the love, and consequently, increase the joy and exhilaration experienced when they possess it.
Application can also be found in our relationship with God. Many today suggest that a serious study of the Bible is unnecessary for a deep relationship with God. However, C.S. Lewis challenges that notion stating, “For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”
Let’s not cheapen love by expecting that it can somehow be less than an excitement or joy we feel for others or for God. Also, we should not cheapen love by expecting that this excitement or joy comes easy. Love can indeed be “harsh and dreadful,” but this is simply evidence of its value. Love is so valuable that it is worth whatever suffering that is attached to it. Further, the more suffering attached to love, the more we will be able to learn of its value.