Monday, February 13, 2017

Valentine’s Day: What’s (Real) Love Got to Do With It?

            AH, L-O-V-E! It’s nearly springtime, when love will be wafting through the air! Along with the awakening ground, animal hormones will re-awaken, as will human hormones, if you live in an area where you’ve been snowed or iced in all winter, feeling kind of morose and lethargic with the incessant cloudiness and darkened skies. Kind of like you’ve been hibernating physically, unless you’re an ice fisherman or ice hockey player who lives for this time of year. (I never did understand how some kids I went to college with went giddy when the word came that the northern lakes had frozen over, and they could drive up there, pull a storage shed-sized house behind their car and park it over some hole they chain-sawed through the ice, so they could dunk a fishing line into it for three days and hope they scored some ice-cold fish. I guess it was the three days of sitting around in flannel underwear and Michelin tire-sized parkas consuming cases of beer that were the appeals.)
            Anyway, I digress. Soon, love will be in the air, blooming right along with the roses, and here in the United States we’ll be getting a head start on it tomorrow, even though our national groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, crept out of his winter hole on February 2, spied his shadow, and scurried back inside for another six weeks of winter this year. Tomorrow, February 14, we celebrate Valentine’s Day, our nod to Cupid, the Roman god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. We portray him as some chubby cherub, which defuses some of the erotic love impression.

            Thousands of dollars will be spent on jewelry and roses to demonstrate to our sweeties our endless gratitude and undying love to and for them. Tykes in elementary school will pass out “Be Mine” candy hearts and slapstick Valentine’s Day cards to one another, and adults and teens without sweethearts will bemoan their singleness. And mothers, in their attempts to keep their kids little, cute, and attached to them will send Valentine’s Day cards with mushy sentiments to their adult children. Merchandise businesses have a field day and spend a boatload of bucks advertising for it.

            But is this really what Love is, the kind that Valentine’s Day really represents? To the world, maybe, but not to the first three centuries of Christ-followers. And not to present-day Christ followers who really understand what LOVE is. To get an understanding of what real love is, we need to start with the Author of it. And we need look no further than what He has to say about it, and how he demonstrated it.
             Flipping to the famous “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13. You’ve heard it many times before, at weddings and at funerals. But I’ll take the liberty of putting it all down for us again.

            “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging symbol.
            And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
            And though I bestow all of my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
            Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
            does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;

            does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth;
            bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
            Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
            For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
            But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
            When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
            For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
            And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

            Beautiful, isn’t it? I think we could spend a lifetime studying this, trying to work out and perfect all that it entails. And, indeed, we should. But to fully understand and appreciate this passage, we need to know that this kind of love is what is known as an “agape” love. It is the purest and highest form of love. It is the love of God for man and the love of man for God. It is unconditional love. A love driven not by self but by selflessness. It’s not brotherly (philia) love or erotic (eros) love. It is a humble, meek, sacrificial love, a self-denying love. A perfect love. A love that never gives up or goes away.
            In a nutshell, it's a love that seeks the best for others above one’s self. It’s a love that thinks only the best, speaks only the best, hopes only the best, focuses on only the best, puts up with, endures, suffers repeated injustices, and hopes, hopes, hopes. In the end, your smarts and your faith and your charitable donations won’t matter if you don’t have, and haven’t demonstrated, this kind of love. If you don’t have it, you’ll end up sounding like a discordant brass band.
            There is only one source for this kind of miraculous love.

           We can’t possibly understand it all right now, but eventually we will. All will become crystal clear to us.
            For now, and for always, love will prevail. Not brotherly love, not erotic love. But
agape love.
            And that’s what this day should really be celebrating. Not romance, candy, hearts, and flowers.

So enter into the scene a Roman priest name Valentine. Ever heard of him? Know anything about him? Well, he's a man who demonstrated the kind of love we’re talking about.
Priest Valentine lived under the rule of the Roman emperor Claudius II, a guy who persecuted the church. He also enacted an edict that young people could not marry, because it was believed that bachelor soldiers were better fighters than married ones. Married soldiers might be too distracted about the safety of their wives and families.
 The society in which Valentine lived was permissive. Polygamy was popular. Yet many young people were attracted to the Christian faith, and they wanted to get married rather than live together or practice polygamy. The church, holding a sacred attitude toward the marriage covenant, encouraged this one-man-and-one-woman union. Because Valentine’s desire was that the young people remain in the faith, he violated Claudius’s edict by marrying them in secret.
            Well, you can probably guess what happened, especially since Valentine went on to be canonized after his death to become St. Valentine. He was arrested and imprisoned. Legend has it that he performed some miraculous healings of people while incarcerated, which resulted in more people coming to faith in Christ.
            But Valentine was sentenced to a gruesome death of beating, followed by stoning, and then, finally, having his head cleaved from his body. Valentine demonstrated this perfect love by placing his faith above all else, standing for truth, giving hope to others, defying evil, and laying down his life for others and what he believed.
            And how did we get the sending love letters, notes, and cards on this day? Another legend says that the last letter Valentine wrote from prison he wrote to a young girl he had healed of blindness. He signed it “from your Valentine.”
            Valentine has become the Catholic patron saint of young lovers. But not just for romantic love. For the adhering and sacrificial love that exists (or should exist) in a marriage. And it goes beyond the two lovers. It involves the God who brings them together and joins them as one, the God who will bind them together for life. It is the meeting of God through his Son, Jesus Christ, the joining together around Him. That’s the best kind of love there is. And may I be so bold to say it, but if you don’t enjoy that kind of cord-of-three binding and loving in your marriage, you’re missing out. Your matrimony falls short. You really don’t and can’t enjoy marriage to its fullest potential.
            It is the kind of love that hopes all things in your marriage when all seems hopeless. It’s the kind of love that doesn’t put down, doesn’t nag, doesn’t demean, doesn’t act selfishly. It is the kind of love that bundles up faith and hope and puts feet on them.
            It’s the kind of love that sends a son to the cross so that people might be saved from themselves.
            Without that, we’d be left with some fat little, worn-out plastic Cupid slinging star-crossed arrows at us. After a while, that kind of love is destined to lose its luster, break, or get discarded in the love trash heap.

            Please do lavish love, flowers, gifts and exquisite food on your sweetie, but keep it going all year, and don’t forget who the Author of that real love is and what it means for the two of you!

Happy Saint Valentine's Day!

Next week we’ll finish up our Good Life list, and then return to some discussions about peace.


May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Images by Google
St. Valentine information gathered from CBN’s “St. Valentine: The Real Story”