What is love? You know, I thought I knew. Once I wrote that love is sweet poetry, and that seemed to cover all the bases. But God is love, right? God is sweet poetry? Even were you to say that Jesus Christ is God, perhaps the most benevolent of representations, you cannot say that this is sweet poetry: look when he says that you will see him coming among the clouds at the right hand of Power. Poetic, yes, but not exactly sweet. Nor so sugary how he overturned the money changers’ tables and drove them out with a whip. That definition is not without limitation, indeed.
If one might consider a more pragmatic approach, someone wrote to me that love is merely an emotion that basically evolved in us to facilitate propagation. That it is an “invention, not a god”. But that person did not see it analogous to something else that arose from evolution: intelligence. And that emerged within a Darwinian system out of utility, if not necessity—yet when it came about, just look around you to see what that brought about. The buildings, streets, the civilization! Books, music, electric light: the accomplishments of intelligence is that once we reached it, we touched upon something greater. And so it might be with the idea of love.
Yes, it helped us evolutionarily, one can argue. It helped us help each other, first the closest family, then friends, then more abstract structures, like community and country. People have written papers about how selfless love is a benefit rather than a detriment, that helped the human race to survive. But what they do is describe the Mona Lisa by its chemical constituents: you may have a point, but your point misses the whole purpose of the thing. You look at a painting and it moves your soul. Behind that is the reaction of synapses, the release of seratonin, a host of soft machine mechanics clicking into place, as it were. And we may just find out exactly why this sort of pattern and color makes you react like you do. None of the explanations, however, is truly the experiencing of the painting.
And you know what? As we developed intelligence, we found we could look higher that us, greater, which as far as we know no other species does. They don’t have these minds of ours. We can conceive of transcendence, that as we crawled up from the mud and got ourself a mind to think on high, God was waiting there for us to arrive—on ground high enough to survey such landscapes. Want to make a guess as to what we conceived was up there, when we gazed toward heaven?
To answer Tina Turner (“What’s love got to do with it?”), I’d say love had everything to do with it. That’s what this potent little fragment tells us: God is love. Einstein wanted to know what it was, the mind of God; and that’s it, to know true love is to know the true mind of God. Really, what scientists want to know is the purpose of things, and that is the ultimate purpose to everything. Yes, yes, I know what he was thinking was to codify the fundamental architecture of existence, but I tell you, love had something to say about that architecture. Before the mathematics. This is the love I am talking about when I say that God is love: something so transcendent. What we can comprehend of infinity, that which is the absolute highest of all things. There can be no better.
Love is empty, waiting for you to define it. Love is full, if ever you need it you can dig deeper for it. Love is making someone’s dreams come true, and even if love is not an action… it is that action. Strange in simplicity, it is this theory that makes sense of everything, yet the theory itself is impossible to grasp; and making perfectly sensible the weirdest of phenomena… And then, it is none of the above. I have no idea what love is, for I know what love truly is: love is sweet poetry… of the soul? Humbug. God is love, and that is a little more than sweet poetry.
(What is love? I once had an idea, of the concept of ineffability, or indescribability: that there were some things in heaven and on earth for which words are not enough. And I thought, bull cookies. There is no ineffable: God is love. For if even God has a description that fits, how can anything else escape definition?)
If you speak of the greatness of love, they will say, what are you really talking about? Love is just a sense of goodness that makes you want to do good things to people. And I will say, oh, selflessness? I will tell you that selfish love is greater than mere selflessness. Does selflessness inspire you to write songs of being possessed by another’s beauty? I will say that love does have friends, but you have never met the ringleader. Just like you have never met yourself.
Do you still think you have a handle on what love is? I will say to name it and I can probably find a counterexample that is also love (if you hadn’t noticed in my reasoning, above). One last time: God is love. What that ends up meaning is that love is what we can comprehend of infinity. Yes, there is light, and the Word, but these are naked if they do not wear the bearing of love. Like powerful weapons with nothing to aim them to their target. And that which is infinite will have subtlety that dreams would die to have. Love, baby: only by doing it do you have any idea of it, because God left things undone for us so we’d have something real to do. Love is the answer we always knew was there, somewhere; love is the purpose we always knew we were meant for; and if these being love were certainties, all I could possibly say, then, would be: what is love?
If you like what’s written here, check out my book, Memoirs from the War in Heaven.