Love Myth #4: “Love is a Feeling.”

In our society, love is often discussed as a feeling–a state of heightened emotion, euphoria and delight–and it sets up the expectation that love is a feeling. That it should carry you away and sweep you off your emotional feet to where you naturally want to do nice things for the beloved.

So when we turn to verses like James 2:8, which says, “If you keep the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well,” we may think we’re still dealing with feelings and that, to love our neighbor, we must feel something wonderful for them. And Jesus says in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” 

But what does this mean? We’re to love our neighbors, each other, and even our enemies…but how? We’ve all known Christians (or others) who profess to love those around them and it feels like a lie. They smile and say all the right things, even acting syrupy sweet as though the emotion is there and all the while it feels like they’d rather skin the “beloved” alive.

So is Jesus asking us to pretend, to show feelings we don’t have so long as they’re loving? To manufacture a state or frame of mind, somehow, acting as though we feel love even when we don’t? Galatians 5:14 says, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,'” but how do we do this?

C. S. Lewis sheds some light on the subject.

“I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself? Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, an dI do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently, ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’. I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself…In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do.” (Mere Christianity, Chapter Seven)

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A closer look at Jesus’ commands in Luke 6 confirms this. He said to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.”  So not only are to we love them, but Jesus adds that we are to “do good to them,” and this clarifies things. Jesus doesn’t say we have to feel kindly towards them, or that we have to delight in being around them, but it says we are to “do good” to them. And His words in Matthew 5:44-45 confirms this: “But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” 

Thus, to be like God and to follow in His ways of loving, it is all about actions and choices. Sending rain and making the sun rise isn’t about emotions or feelings, but it is an action. A choice.

And thus loving others can be just as choice-oriented. We don’t have to be super sweet and act like we feel something we don’t. In fact, there are probably times when telling someone that we honestly don’t like them and still act kindly towards them would have a greater impact than faking it and pretending to “love” them in an emotional way. To honestly dislike someone, their choices, and their attitude and yet to do good towards them would be more honest and true and more like God, who makes it quite clear what we should or shouldn’t do and yet loves us when we go astray. Similarly, we can love others without the feelings, without approving their actions, and without enjoying their company. We can love them by doing things that we would like done towards us and by treating them well, regardless of how we feel.

Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren

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