The Non-Transactional Nature of Love

Love is more than something we do for God and others


1 Corinthians 13[1] was the subject of the sermon I watched this morning online. Perhaps, my favorite all-time chapter in the Bible. It’s a popular favorite, too, recited at weddings and funerals and known to people who aren’t particularly religious.

Some things that stand out to me from the sermon are these things: Love isn’t a feeling; it something that you do. Talent, skills and giftedness are things we value, but they don’t require or demonstrate love. An eloquent and inspirational speaker without love is like a clanging gong or cymbal.

I liked the analogy of the guitar solo vs. a gong solo. Who would do that? No one does a gong solo. That’s what talent is without love. It’s like someone doing a gong solo! Nothing but noise.

Not even prophecy, or knowledge or faith that can move mountains is worth anything if I don’t have love. If I give everything I own away to the poor and give my body up to be burned at the stake (the ultimate religious sacrifice), but I don’t have love, I gain nothing.

As I think about these things, it occurs to me that love isn’t (just) something that we do. It’s certainly true that the love being described isn’t a feeling that comes and goes. Love is more like a commitment than a feeling in that sense, and it is (partly) something that we do; but it’s much more than that.

Continue reading “The Non-Transactional Nature of Love”

The Observation of an Atheist Historian: What Makes Christianity Stand Out Among World Religions


The radical quality of the love of Jesus stands out over and above all other examples. I have written on this before (the Christian expression of the Golden Rule compared to other religions). Most other world religions express some concept of the Golden Rule, but not in the way that Jesus did.

Other world religions state the Golden Rule in a limited way, such as not doing things to others that you would not want them to do to you. It’s the idea of refraining from doing evil. Under that concept of the Golden Rule, we simply need to avoid doing evil to our neighbors. There is no compulsion to do good to them. Ignoring your neighbor would be perfectly acceptable on the this principal.

Most major world religions do not express Golden Rule positively, as Jesus did: do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Doing unto others is an affirmative duty. Simply refraining from doing them evil is not the concept of the Golden Rule expressed by Jesus.

Jesus made this clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable begins with a man who was robbed and left injured on the road. A priest and Levite (the priestly cast of Judaism) walked by the man on the other side of the road, ignoring him, while a Samaritan (an outcast to Jews) crossed the road to tend to the injured man. The good Samaritan was the example of the person who demonstrated love for a “neighbor” because he didn’t just ignore the injured man lying in the road.  The idea of the Golden Rule that Jesus expressed includes an affirmative duty to do  good.

To be fair, some religions come close to an affirmative expression of the Golden Rule, which I affirm in the previous blog piece, but there is one additional expression of the Golden Rule that stands alone: that is the concept of loving even our enemies and doing good to those who intend evil toward us and do us harm.

I think of these things as I pause from listening to Douglas Murray in a discussion with Esther Riley on the Unbelievable? podcast with Justin Brierley, the host. (See Douglas Murray and Esther O’Reilly – Christian Atheism and the search for identity. The video is embedded below.)

Douglas Murray, an atheist and openly gay man, makes the observation that most Christian tenets can be found in other cultures, save one: that is the principal that of loving and forgiving even our enemies. Loving and forgiving our enemies is the ultimate statement of the Golden Rule. Even when we have enemies who intend to do us harm, and even when they actually do us harm, Jesus says, “Forgive them.” The conversation got into some recent examples of that expression of love and forgiveness that I will explore.

Continue reading “The Observation of an Atheist Historian: What Makes Christianity Stand Out Among World Religions”

The Face of Love


“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[1]

This is an iconic, timeless description of what love is from the Bible. This passage has been quoted at countless weddings. Most people are familiar with the “love passage”, even if they have no familiarity with the Bible itself.

We know there are different kinds of love. There is the intimate love between couples, erotic love, the love between parent and child and brotherly love among friends. These kinds of love sometimes overlap. For instance, the love between married couples, at its best, incorporates something of all of these types of love.

Perhaps, the most popular notion of love today is the love between two people – the Disney type of love at first sight and love ever after. A mix of erotic thrill and passionate commitment.

Google “love”, and images of young, good-looking men and women goggling each other is what you will find. This love is almost mythical in its ubiquitous celebration in popular culture, and it’s, perhaps, just as mythical in reality. Few, if any of us, really experience the love that we collectively aspire to (as demonstrated by the money we spend on love-themed entertainment ).  And, those of us who have “felt” this kind of love all know how fleeting it is.

This kind of love involves commonality of interest and affection. It’s a two-way street. When the commonality ceases and the affection is lost, the one-way street can only operate so long – especially in a society that emphasizes the emotional value of love. We build in a qualifier to the age-old phase, “til death do us part”: when the affections die, I am outta here!

Other kinds of love include the love of parent and child and brotherly love – the love between friends who have common bonds of experience, interests and friendship. Though the entertainment value is much less than the former, we all instinctively know that this kid of love is good. It is very good.

Friendships, still, can be fragile. Rare is the friendship that survives indefinitely. Even familial love, including the love between parents and children, can die on the rocky shores of turmoil and circumstances that tear it apart and undo it. I see this constantly in my practice of law, representing people in the administration of their estates.

The biblical definition of love is something different altogether.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[2]

None of these descriptors of love depend on affections. They are timeless in that respect. They describe a love that is not qualified. The very next statement in this passage is that “love never fails” (or never ends).[3] In other words, this kind of love never dies.

Do you know this kind of love?

Continue reading “The Face of Love”

Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 2)

The issue at stake in the problem of evil isn’t God’s power, but His goodness, His character.


I have taken a prompt from the explore God discussion series going on simultaneously in over 800 churches in the Chicago area to write up a summary of the problem of evil. More specifically, I was spurred on by the discussion of The Problem of Evil and Suffering on Veracity Hill between Kurt Jaros, the host, and John Peckham from Andrews University.

I think this is the most difficult problem to deal with in the modern western world for the theist, and specifically the Christian who maintains, as Scripture reveals, that God is both all-powerful and all-good.

  • If God is all-powerful, why did He create a world in which evil, pain and suffering exist?
  • Does that mean He really isn’t all-powerful?
  • Or maybe God isn’t good?
  • Or maybe the God of the Bible doesn’t really exist?

Many people who can’t resolve this problem in their minds (or maybe their hearts) end up rejecting the idea of God altogether.

I began the discussion in an introductory blog, and I laid some groundwork to address the problem in Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1). I can’t rehash it all here, other than to emphasize that we should not be lazy in our approach to the challenge. As with science, we need to work through, if indeed there is a resolution to be had.

If there is a resolution the problem, we can’t do it justice by abandoning the premises we are given. We need to work through it.

For the Christian, those premises don’t just include the omnipotence and omni-benevolence of God. We need to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. I have come to believe that, if we hold on to and expand the premises we are given, and fill out the picture, some clarity begins to emerge.

One of the additional puzzle pieces is that God isn’t just good; God is love. In fact, God is love in His very nature.

Some people have trouble with the idea of the Trinity, three in one. We can understand God’s triunal (communal) nature in the context of love. As three in Person and one in Being, God’s very character is love from before time even began. (See The Plurality of God) God has community and relationship (love) within Himself.

And, Scripture says that He made us in His image. If we are made in His image, we are made to reflect His love. This is another of the puzzle pieces.

Love requires freedom. Coercion has no place in a loving relationship. Thus, for us to know love and to love God, we need to be free, and that includes freedom to reject God and what is good.

The Christian, who accepts the premise that God is good, rejects the idea that God is evil or caused evil to exist. Evil is not in the nature of God because God is who He is. Evil, then, must be a byproduct of the freedom God gave His creation. Evil is the rejection of God and what is good.

Pain and suffering aren’t, per se, evil, though evil produces pain and suffering. God created a world in which pain and suffering exist from the beginning. (see Part 1).

Finally, we find that God’s grand plan and purpose is that His creation would enter into a loving relationship with Him, not because it must, but because His created beings want to.

These are the basic puzzle pieces. (If you want to examine these premises more closely, you will have to read the previous posts and do some research of your own.) From here, we will go back to the premise of God’s power (sovereignty) and examine more fully how it can be that an all-powerful God (who is also good) can allow evil to exist.

Continue reading “Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 2)”

God’s Love is Not Platonic

The love that God offers is relational, intimate and personal.


John the Apostle, a Hebrew from a remote province in the Roman Empire, lived a long life. The other apostles died premature deaths, but John, a typical Hebrew, lived long enough to be elevated out of his provincial Jewish world by the God who created it. His writing, as much as any of the New Testament authors, has a strong philosophical theme, but that philosophical theme is no abstract intellectual construct.

John the one-time fisherman became familiar with the greater Greco-Roman world by which the Palestinian province of his birth was governed and influenced. That familiarity is reflected in the Gospel that bears his name.

His gospel begins philosophically: “In the beginning was the Word”, the Logos.  (John 1:1)  The word, logos, carried poignant philosophical meaning in the Greco-Roman world. John’s use of that word to open his account of the life and message of Jesus shows that John, the provincial Hebrew, familiarized himself with that world and its thought.

This is in keeping with the instruction from Jesus to his followers to go into all the world explaining the message Jesus gave them. To go into the world, we have to become familiar with it and conversant with the thought that predominates in the world to which we go.

Though John’s Gospel begins philosophically, focusing on the loaded word, logos, he didn’t have the abstract notions of philosophy in mind. John’s use of that word pointed outside the Greco-Roman world and transcended it.

Continue reading “God’s Love is Not Platonic”