In 2003 there was a song by the great intellectuals and philosophers of our age, the Black Eyed Peas, called, “Where is the Love?” It was a global phenomenon. It topped the charts in 13 countries. Several years ago, the band reunited to update the song by changing a few lyrics. Some of the lyrics to the song go like this,
People killin' people dyin'
Children hurtin', I hear them cryin'
Could you practice what you preach?
Would you turn the other cheek?
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questioning
(Where's the love)
(Where's the love)
Every time I look up, every time I look down
No one's on a common ground
And if you never speak truth then you never know how love sounds
And if you never know love then you never know God, wow
(Where's the love)
Where's the love y'all? I don't, I don't know
Where's the truth y'all? I don't know
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders
As I'm gettin' older y'all people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin'
Selfishness got us followin' the wrong direction
Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinemas
What happened to the love and the values of humanity?
What happened to the love and the fairness and equality?
Instead of spreading love we're spreading animosity
Lack of understanding leading us away from unity
(Where's the love)
On Youtube the newer version of the song has over 55 million views & counting. In the comments section it was interesting to read what people have said about the song. Consider but a small sampling:
What is interesting is how so many people recognize there is something fundamentally wrong with us and our world. We know we are broken. We know there is something terribly askew with the soul of the human race – from which injustice, war, hate, fear, anxiety, and death spring. We know that these things ought not be, otherwise we would not expend such energy to denounce them and dispel them from our world.
What is this concern we have within our souls of our wretchedness? What is it stirring within us that craves the good, the beautiful, and wholeness? What drives us to yearn for Love in a world gone mad?
A large part of the answer, a central part of the answer, to these questions lies in who we are and what we were made for. These yearnings, these stirrings, these cravings are the desires of a sojourners heart homesick for their home-country. They are the steady primordial rhythm stretching from Eden within us calling us back to our True Home. We want wholeness and joy because we know, even if we haven’t thought about it, those are the things we and our world were made for. We crave the good and the beautiful because they are what the world was and is intended to display. We desire Love because it is what we were created to experience in endless bounties at a table not our own. C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) spoke of such deep seeded desires within our human experience when he said,
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
Our quest for Love, within and without, is ultimately a quest to see realized the original beauty, goodness, and harmony of the Created Order. We were made for more, and although we suppress this Truth, it is the Ultimate Reality of our existence (Romans 1 and 2). We long for Love to inhabit this world and to wash over us and among us precisely because it was intended to do so. We know that the earthly experiences of Love we share are only approximations of this Grander Vision, yet all too often we seek such realization through the mundanities of earthly life. We seek love in all the wrong places.
SEEKING LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
We all too often seek Love through a myriad of mundane delights. We look to a lover, a drug, a drink, a job, a marriage, a child, or some other terrestrial pleasure to fulfill our deepest longings. For many of us our understanding of Love has become nothing more than a proverbial junk drawer that we throw anything we want into or extract from in the hopes that it will generate the necessary interest we need to have meaning and identity. This can become a reality in our lives through a variety of approaches we take to achieving Love. Consider but three dominate approaches in our world today:
SYNTHETIC APPROACH: Some of us seek a synthetic approach to Love. We try to manufacture it in the lab of our emotions. It becomes the quest to drum up emotional bliss, perpetual romance, or incessant arousal. It is an idealized and highly subjective dream of love that we apply to our personal relationships. This can either take the Disney approach or the HBO approach. With Disney it is the belief that Love is just a constant sentimentality and tearless romance while HBO is a self-gratifying, marketable, excess of passion.
Both approaches are hollow because they do not take seriously the earthliness, imperfections, and delights of real hearts and minds. These tactics are trying to harvest Love without ever having cultivated it.
EXCESS APPROACH: Another path many of us seek to touch Love is through excessive consumption. Love becomes eating, not dining; it becomes a conquest, not a dance; it becomes friction, not intimacy. Through self-indulgence one partakes in emotional cannibalism, the devouring of people in the name of “love.” This can take multiple approaches: from constantly cycling through an endless stream of memoryless relationships, to tasting the endless pleasures of one-night stands, to heedlessly and compulsively clinging to feckless lovers, to partaking in self-induced bestially arousal.
In all these methods the goal is the same, the quest for an excess of cathartic experience that is believed to satiate the deepest longings of the heart. But they all fail, otherwise there would not be a need for continual gluttonous consumption nor yawnish repetition with repeated results. As Albert Camus’ (1913-1960) character Clamence penitently says in the novel The Fall,
“Because I longed for eternal life, I went to be with harlots and drank for nights on end. In the morning, to be sure, my mouth was filled with the bitter taste of the mortal state.”
These paths of excess do not fulfill us because they are not what we are ultimately seeking. We are seeking a deeper and higher love that is not extinguished in a moment, not relegated to mere touch, and not riddled with anxiousness. The Love we seek through these things is one of True Peace, True Identity, and True Acceptance.
DETACHMENT APPROACH: Another approach to Love prominent in among us is to simply say love is illusory or not worth the heartache. The ancient sages of Eastern philosophy and religion, like The Buddha and Lao Tzu, and the Ancient Greek Stoic philosophers, would be in this camp. For example, The Buddha (c. 400s B.C.) said,
“Good men, at all times, surrender in truth all attachments. The holy spend not idle words on things of desire. When pleasure or pain comes to them, the wise feel above pleasure and pain.”
The point is that to achieve peace, tranquility, and happiness, one must detach oneself from all emotion and commitments. We are creatures with thousands of wounds to our souls, brought on by mothers, fathers, siblings, extended relatives, friends, church members, significant others, husbands, and wives. So, to be happy all we need to do is keep our heart from every fully committing to anything or anyone so as to never suffer anxiety or pain. In order that we be not destroyed by love we seek suppression and resistance to all love.
But again, this approach does not work. The road of safety is not the road of Love. Love is dangerous because love takes risks. To “preserve love” but suppressing it is to lose the real thing and only leads to a hardening and inevitable coldness of heart and soul. In short, it makes us at most inhuman, and at worst, a demon. As Lewis said,
“The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
THE ACTIVE, TANGIBLE, LIFE-GIVING REALITY OF TRUE LOVE
Our ways of love are broken and worn paths of disappointment. We spend exorbitant amounts of time marching for Love, singing about Love, and little time actually finding it. A central reason for this is because we fail to order our loves. As one author put it, “[The] issue is not that greatness of our earthly loves; it is the smallness of our love to God.” The core problem we have is like so many others, we want the system of the Garden of Eden without the source of the Gardener. Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.) declared,
“[It] is God who frees us from any fear that he can fail to satisfy anyone to whom He becomes known; it is God who wants himself to be loved, not in order to gain any reward for himself but to give to those who love him an eternal reward—namely himself, the object of their love.”
The types of earthly love we seek are only approximations of the True Love the deepest parts of our souls are longing for. We are seeking an eternal reward, God Himself, who is the object of our love, even in the midst of looking for it in all the wrong places. Again, I am reminded of Camus, “Because I longed for eternal life, I went to be with harlots and drank for nights on end.”
The Eternal Life, this Eternal Reward, is the Love we are seeking after. Gloriously, Beautifully, Amazingly, such Love is known and knowable. Such Love came down to us precisely for us. Such Love is not a fantasy, not a dream, not bound in fakery, excess, or detachment. It is found incarnationally right at the beginning of the First Advent.
Before closing, I want to consider the power of all this by briefly dwelling on this passage in 1 John. Consider these words,
9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:9-11
There is so much richness to this passage that it could have an entire series of messages. However, for the sake of brevity, I just want to bring to light several key points about the nature of True Love that emanates from these words.
First, true love moves tangibly and selflessly for others: Love is something manifest (v. 9) and sent (v. 9 and 10) in and among us (v. 9, 10, 11). Love is a substantial active reality; it is not static nor merely fantasized about. It is not synthetic but genuine and raw. As Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) said,
“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all…. But active love is labor and fortitude….”
Love as a theory or a fantasy is not love. Love that sits still is not love. True love is gritty, palpable, messy, and dynamic. Love loves. This is perfectly displayed in the First Advent. God, in His infinity takes on finitude, in His majesty takes on bareness, and in His transcendence takes on humility. God doesn’t just talk about displaying lovingkindness, service, and sacrifice, He embodies them incarnationally into space and time and with selfless abandon offers them to an unworthy and hellishly self-centered people. J.I. Packer (1926-2020) put it powerfully,
“God loves creatures who have become unlovely and (one would have thought) unlovable. There was nothing whatever in the objects of his love to call it forth; nothing in us could attract or prompt it…. God loves people because he has chosen to love them…and no reason for his love can be given except his own sovereign good pleasure.”
Second, true love seeks the lifegiving good of others: Love is something that has an intended purpose within it, which is inherently to display and desire the best for others. Love has its reasons, so to speak. It is not merely about seeking the sentimentality of others, nor is it about drumming up forms of likeability among people, nor is it even about mere affections of affirmation. True Love has a goal, which is to make the world right by displaying rightness. Love desires the Good (with a capital “G”). As John says, God came not to just give us feelings but to accomplish something: He came “so that we might live through him” (v. 9) and to “be the propitiation for our sins” (v. 10). As theologian Thomas Oden (1931-2016) has said,
“God’s love reveals the divine determination to hold in personal communion all creatures capable of enjoying this communion.”
In short God came at the First Advent to seek the Supreme Good for us, which is eternal life at the expense of His self-sacrifice.
Think of the implications of this.
To seek the “The Good” for another is to acknowledge that such a person does not in fact have The Good. You will not receive what you do not believe you are missing or need. Furthermore, it acknowledges there is an Ultimate Rightness to the way the world ought to be. A central goal of True Love is to reveal to us our need in something far more beautiful and far more transcendent than all our earthy means of acceptance and assurance. This fundamentally means that Love seeks an objective Truth for our lives as opposed to mere subjective fulfillment or affirmation.
As an aside, this is why in the classical and biblical sense the word for “love” has been interchangeably known as “charity.” This rich word has lost much of its beauty, because we equate it with merely alms giving, affection, and likeability, but it is so much more. It really is meant to get across a sense of giving and seeking to make right.
Giving to ourselves and seeking our own good is intuitive to us. While we may not always have an affection for ourselves and we may not even like ourselves, we inevitably will the good for ourselves. This is where True Love resides. Love is willing the good for others and in others even at the expense of personal preference. To will the good is to want not necessarily what they desire but what they need. Thus, love intuitively, inherently, is deeply moral. You cannot understand love without THE GOOD being understood. To not know the good and yet will love is to be a ship without a compass.
Our world doesn’t believe this.
Today love just is affirmation. “Love is love” as the tautology goes; nothing more than boundless acceptance with reckless abandon. Affirmation is approving of everything one does at the expense of The Good and The Beautiful and The Just. But this is a lie. Love is not affirmation. True Love wars and it has anger. It abhors lies that destroy even through self-gratification and fights evil even when it is freely chosen. In the words of Rebecca Pippert (1949-present),
“[Real love] detests what destroys the beloved. Real love stands against the deception, the lie, the sin that destroys…. [The] more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.”
True Love does not exist in the absence of moral judgement but rather is sustained through it; it acknowledges the reality of the wretchedness and messiness of our lives not as a judicial sentencing of shame but as a call to recovery and transformation. This just is what God has done at the first Christmas. He declares our unloveliness as the true malady of our souls and then irrespectively descends into the midst of our malaise to redeem us and reforge us into the images of love.
True Love does not exclude the True and the Good but expresses them incarnationally.
True Love Transforms & Displays: John says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11). Those that recognize the degree to which they have been forgive and loved are able to greater degrees forgive and love. They are both empowered and humbled when they come face to face with the stark reality that they deserve all wrath and yet receive overwhelming abundance.
The Manger, in many ways stands as the beginning cornerstone of the Gospel, is coated with the humble nature of God. What humility, what boundless self-giving, what unimaginable compassion, for the Infinite One to stoop to our level with infinite grace and unyielding adoration for poor wretches. What inexhaustible abandon God displays to us by taking on our nature only to be mocked by our egos and murdered by our knives.
The Incarnation in nothing short than a full fledge doctrine of humility.
You cannot look at the First Advent and not be changed. To do so is to not see or hear it truly. To touch and taste and then turn from it is to be little more than a devil. The true soul that sees such splendor cannot but be overcome by it and seek to display it through the living of one’s life.
By way of example, in Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov there is a woman who is terribly troubled and fearful over losing her faith. She is despondent and beseeches a priest to answer her inquiries into how she can attain once again the faith of her childhood. The exchange goes like this,
The Woman: “How—how can I get back my faith? But I only believed when I was a little child, mechanically, without thinking of anything. How, how is one to prove it? I have come now to lay my soul before you and to ask you about it…. How can I prove it? How can I convince myself? Oh, how unhappy I am! I stand and look about me and see that scarcely any one else cares; no on troubles his head about it, and I’m the only one who can’t stand it. It’s deadly—deadly!”
The Priest: “No doubt. But there no proving it, through you can be convinced of it.”
The Woman: “How?”
The Priest: “By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbor, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain.”
There is so much to say to this but let this seep inwardly. This is Truth. Let it just be said, that for the Love from God to be made real it must be made manifest.
Christmas, and the Advent Season, although embodying the beauty of peace, reflection, and joy tends to devolve into a fast-paced marathon of busyness, debt, and excess. The Season easily becomes everything that it preaches against. We need a reassessment. We need to slow down, meditate on, and reside in the Reality of the Season we are in.
We need to be reminded that when Christmas came, it pierced the seams of this pitiable grey world with the colorful rays of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. When Christmas came it was on that day that a conquest was launched from Heaven to destroy the powers of indifference, rebellion, and anxiety in the souls of Man so that passion, peace, and pleasure could once again rule in them. It was that day that made possible the transformation of saints out of pagans, of faithful followers out of foreigners, of believers out of skeptics, and of lovers out of haters. This happened through the power of a hope filled, peace infused, joy saturated Love.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity in The C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2017), pg. 114
 Albert Camus, The Fall, trans. Justin O’Brien (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1984), pg. 102
 The Dhammapada, trans. by Jaun Mascaro (United Kingdom, 2004), pg. 180
 Lewis, The Four Loves, pg. 121
 Joe Rigney, Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), pg. 233
 Saint Augustine, On Christian Teaching, trans. R.P.H. Green (Oxford, NY: Oxford Press, 1997), pg. 22
 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Constance Garnett (New York, NY: Barnes & Nobles Classics, 2004), pg. 61
 J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993), pg. 124
 Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1993), pg. 231-234
 Thomas Oden, The Living God: Systematic Theology Vol. 1 (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1992), pg. 118
 Consider: C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity in The Complete C.S. Lewis: Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2002), pg. 109-114; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II, Question 23
 Rebecca M. Pippert, Hope Has Its Reasons: The Search to Satisfy Our Deepest Longings (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), pg. 99-101
 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Constance Garnett (New York, NY: Barnes & Nobles Classics, 2004), pg. 61
Michael H. Erskine is a high school Social Studies Teacher, has an M.A. in History & School Administration, serves as a Bible teacher in the local church, and is happily married to his beautiful wife Amanda.