Monday, October 24, 2011

Love: More Than a Feeling

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
That is known as Jesus' summary of the law. We have spoken of it a few times already. Today we get to talk about it a little more thoroughly.

Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. To begin, I want to help us identify the two different ways most of us respond to concept like the love of God or the love of neighbor. How many of you are familiar with Myers-Briggs? This is a complicated personality sorter. I use a shorter version called the Keirsey test with couple who are preparing to be married.

What this test does is sort out our personalities according to four subsets: I/E, S/N, T/F and J/P. Now, none of these personality types are better than another, and over our life, our designation may shift. Also, what this test sorts is what the dominant characteristic happens to be at the moment we take the test. Many people end up an equal amount of both, making them an X. But most folks are, for instance, both extroverted and introverted, depending on the situation, the time of day, and other factors.

Anyway, this morning I want to focus on just two of these characteristics, S/T and N/F. First, the Sensing and Thinking personality. These are folks who give a high priority to sensory data, or empirical evidence. These are the “Just the facts, ma’am” kind of folks. They are pragmatic, like concrete answers, carefully drawn plans and detailed schedules. They prefer an orderly life. Their knowledge is primarily derived from the intellect. They live in the mind. They make excellent scientists.

And then we have the NFs, the Intuitive and Feeling types. For these folks, imagination, intuition, playing the hunch and trusting your feelings can override other considerations. This kind of knowledge, known as tacit knowledge, is not necessarily dependent on empirical data. They are comfortable with mystery and creativity, and prefer open ended answers, loosely drawn plans, and flexible schedules. They live in their hearts. They make great artists.

Love God. For the STs, the scientific types, the term love is a bit vague. The sensory data, the empirical evidence, would suggest love is an emotion caused by a chemical reaction in the brain, and certain brain cells firing, resulting a subjective emotion we call love. To suggest an actual thing called love exists outside of ourselves would be a subjective belief, based on little evidence.

Love God. For the NF, the artistic types, concepts like beauty, truth, goodness and love are part of their daily lives, and as real to them as anything in the sensory world. It matters little if there is testable evidence to support such concepts. For them, love is a feeling, an emotion, but one from which they derive much knowledge of the external world.

The problem with both of these views of love is that they are rooted in limiting love to a feeling, and emotion. And, to some degree, I think they both miss the mark. If we are to draw these two personality types together, so that we can indeed love God with both our hearts and our minds, perhaps we need a different definition of love.

Actually, I think that the “love as a feeling” definition doesn’t work all that well. Some of the current popular Christian music sounds very much like romantic love songs to God, which make me a bit uncomfortable. I can stand that sweet, syrupy stuff for just so long. No doubt those songs were written by an N/F. There is a place for the theology of romantic love, however, as seen in Dante’s Divine Comedy. In the end, as Dante chases Beatrice, he finally encounters her with the griffin, a Christ figure, part eagle and part lion, and he realizes that the love he saw in Beatrice’s eyes was being radiated from the griffin.

But, for the most part, I think limiting love to a feeling is problematic. Is that the only way to think about it?

As a child, it took me a long time to learn to love my step-mother, due to being a victim of her mental illness. Eventually, I came to realize that she was just sick, and chose to respond to her with loving actions, even though there were little or no feelings of love.

In a house with four kids, I was often frustrated by the chaos caused by my children, but I chose to respond to them in loving ways, most of the time, even when I was felt like telling them to go outside and play in the street!

When my wife reorganizes the kitchen, and I can’t find a thing, I feel like starting to toss pots and pans and yell a few choice terms I learned in the Navy, but instead, I usually choose to respond with love, and calmly ask where she put my favorite frying pan.

When my neighbor decides to mow his lawn at 8:00 on a Saturday morning, I resist the temptation to go give him a piece of my mind, and choose instead to show love for my neighbor by being thankful that at least he’s finally mowing his lawn!

Occasionally I’m the only one in the building when a family comes to receive some food from our food pantry, so I serve them. Sometimes, not often, they can be rather dysfunctional, and can get under my skin. But I stop and remind myself that these folks are also children of God, and so choose to respond to them with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

My point is, I think often love is not an emotion, for either the S/T or the N/F. Love is a choice, resulting in concrete actions.

Now, defining love that way, as a choice resulting in actions, helps both personality types to accept the concept of love in a healthy way. For the NFs, the artists, it confirms love as a valid form of knowledge to which they can respond by making choices. For the STs, the scientists, when love results in concrete actions, then the actions become the evidence, the sensory data if you will, that this thing we call love has an external impact that can be observed. And these two types need each other. The NFs recognize the choice, but often they need the pragmatic STs to initiate a particular action.

Love God, with all your heart, and all your mind. That is not a command to have warm fuzzy feelings about God. Such love is a choice, resulting in concrete actions. What are those actions? Offering God our praise and thanksgivings in worship as we are doing this morning is certainly one of them. But Jesus suggests another specific action. Love your neighbor as yourself. When we choose to reach out to our neighbors who are in physical, emotional or spiritual need, we have expressed our love of God through the concrete actions of caring for God's children.

So, regardless if you are an ST or an NF, may your neighbors know you are Christians by your love.

J.

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