Misguided Love

By Dustin Walters

Today is Valentine’s Day so we wanted to provide you with a theological reflection on love. This post will describe the relationship between original sin and our human misguided love. It will also provide some practical considerations for evaluating both the vertical relationship with God and the horizontal relationship with other people. Our hope is that this post will serve as a tool to increase your love for God and others.  

Love is one of those words everyone uses yet we do not all mean the same thing when we use it. Two key values in our time are love and happiness. These two values appear in various mediums including literature, television, social media, and in everyday conversations. We are taught that the most important thing is for other people to be happy and for us to do anything that prevents their happiness it is unloving. Happiness and love are important values that are important sociologically, spiritually, and anthropologically.  

In our post-Christian cultural environment we have developed a misguided love. That is due in part to our rejection of the God who embodies love and holiness, among other characteristics. We need regular reminders that love includes feeling and action and that true love does not leave us where we are but takes us to a better place. Let’s first explore the biblical definition of love. 

A Biblical Definition of Love 

Before we can reflect on the way our love is misguided, we need to think about how love is defined biblically. The following list is by no means exhaustive, yet these verses provide great insight into what love is biblically. Other passages can and should be mentioned, but for our purposes here these verses will more than suffice. My intention in listing these verses is to reflect intentionally on how the Bible defines love. I will not provide remarks on these passages but I want you to think about how love is used in each of these passages.  

Old Testament 

Genesis 22:2 (ESV): 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 

 Leviticus 19:18 (ESV): 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. 

Deuteronomy 6:5–6 (ESV): 5 You shall love ( וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 

New Testament 

1 John 4:16 (ESV): 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love (ἀγάπην) that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 

Matthew 5:43–48 (ESV): You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love (ἀγαπήσεις) your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

Matthew 22:34–40 (ESV): 34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love (ἀγαπήσεις)  the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love (ἀγαπήσεις) your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 

God’s love goes deeper than we could have ever imagined. We are invited into the wonderful mystery of God’s love which involves relationship and adventure. Once we experience that kind of love, it changes everything, including the way we treat others.  

Or at least it should. Though Christians have experienced a reorientation of their total person through Christ’s saving work, all too often our love is misdirected. We are in love with the idea of love, yet we need to think more deeply about its implications for our lives. Let’s take a look at how two important figures in church history described love before we consider some applications.  

Love in Augustine 

Augustine referred to the different natures of love that find expression either in the city of man or the city of God. Augustine worked from a biblical framework to define love as misguided apart from regeneration through Christ. Augustine went as far as to say that two different kinds of love create two different cities. Consider the following quote from Book XIV of The City of God

Two cities, then, have been created by two loves: that is, the earthly by love of self-extending even to contempt of God, and the heavenly by love of God extending to contempt of self. The one glories in itself and the other in the Lord. [1]  

Augustine articulates that the city of man is driven by a selfish love, whereas the city of God is driven by a selfless love, which Jesus embodied. It is only when we experience His love that our affections can be redirected toward divine purposes.  

C. S. Lewis and Love 

C. S. Lewis also wrote about love in his work The Four Loves. Lewis focused on what he described as gift-love and need-love. Gift-love is the divine love reflected in the relationship between the Father and Son. [2]  Lewis develops the foundation laid by Augustine and others from earlier centuries of Christian thought. Lewis compels his reader to consider the relationship between gift-love and need-love. His remarks on need-love are an important in redirecting our love.  

We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves. [3] 

Applications and Conclusion  

Naturally, our human love is misguided. It, along with everything else in this experience we call life, is tainted, broken, and misaligned on account of original sin. Naturally we cannot love God or people like we should. We do not have to imagine what love is like for God describes it repeatedly through His word, but He also embodies love through the person and work of his son Jesus. My purpose in writing has been to encourage us all to think about the ways in which our human love is misguided. One dangerous consequence of misguided love in our day is that we have exchanged the meanings of the terms tolerance and love. We have begun understanding love as something that never confronts us or invites us to consider the ideals which scripture drives us to including beauty and excellence. Our love is misguided. We need to intentionally set our affections on the things above, though we will fall short and need both God’s grace and accountability. Here are some application points in light of what I have written:  

  1. Reflect on the way Christ embodied love through his active and passive obedience.  
  1. Consider the implications of God’s love for horizontal relationships. The relationship between vertical love for God and horizontal love for others must not be overlooked.  
  1. Prayerfully consider one way you can reflect Christ’s love to someone else this week.  

[1] Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans. Ed. R. W. Dyson, (Cambridge University Press, 2022), Book XIV, 632.  

[2] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves in Signature Classics, (Harper One: New York, 2017), 743. Lewis provides great insight on the relationship between the Father and Son. It is admittedly frustrating that Lewis does not develop this further and elaborate on the love which has existed eternally in the Trinity.  

[3] Ibid.  

%d bloggers like this: