Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger

“What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Ironically, this song title, which themed the 1993 cinematic impression of the life of Tina Turner, carries a bittersweet one-two punch. It questions (through implication) whether love was really important to the singer herself and whether it had anything to do with her meteoric rise to stardom. The answer is resoundingly, yes, on both counts. The man she loved and married had a decidedly powerful influence on her life and her career. Over the course of time, however, his violent behavior almost destroyed her life. In the end, it was Ms. Turner’s love for both, her life and her career, that helped her not only survive, but to rise through incredible personal challenges — even if her love returned sour grapes in the marriage itself. 

How difficult it can be to invest so much in another person and to end up being treated by that person without due respect and love returned. It may even cause one to question one’s own love. In fact, no one should be held responsible for abuse of any kind suffered at the hands of another.
One cannot blame Ms. Turner for feeling lonely and abandoned, or even for expressing a certain cynicism about the possibility of mutual love. In her loneliness, she and others with similar experiences should know that they are hardly alone.

“I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” — music by Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David for the musical “Promises, Promises!” (1968) — might well be the ageless manifesto of many a spurned lover, famed or forgotten. Yes, but until the next time … No matter how often love may be spurned, should its possibility be dismissed because that love is sometimes rejected, often cruelly and brutally? 

We cannot live without love. Life — and, yes, even death, desired or driven — is a search for love or, more precisely, a loving response. By God, life is Love itself! Yes, that may be a faith statement, but being a matter that faith believes does not mean it is not completely true! God IS love, is the bold assertion St. John makes in his first letter. He knew Jesus well. The Gospel associated with his name contains numerous narratives about the love between Jesus and the God he calls his Father, how God has an infinite desire to let us know that we are so loved, and a wish that we will accept that love. The core truth of our Christian faith is, in fact, that God IS Love.

This is not a mere personification, some deification, of a feeling, a passion, an unattainable yearning. It IS the core reality from which all creation literally goes bang from the very start. It is not confined to the optics of physics, biology or psychology or spirituality alone. It embraces all of reality. The dance of time is no solo step, an impersonal sequence of chaotic events. There is an order, a pattern that leads toward harmony and beauty. The desire we have to love and be loved is something that we experience ourselves as almost “hard wired” for. The reason we seek is that we are sought. God reaches out of time into time itself — also a creation of God — and seeks our hearts. Unconditionally.

It might be best not to characterize God’s love — true love — as unconditional and, by implication, every other kind of “love” conditional. Love can never really be qualified by any adjective (God IS Love). “Abiding” love is perhaps a better term, as it really is not a qualifier. It is just saying that true love endures, continues, renews and never fails.

This is another way of saying, it seems to me, that love always remains what it is and does not change or become what it is not. “Love” that devolves into cynicism, defensiveness or, God forbid, hate has long ceased from being love. In a fallen human order, where patterns of sin creep into all of our relationships and structures, love must express itself prudently, of course. This implies a respect for human, natural boundaries of time and space, and concerns for health and safety. This requires sacrifice, patience and, quite often, suffering.

Note well. It does not follow that love tolerates evil, deceit and abuse in its many forms. It gives to all who will receive it, but does not allow hatred or violence to distort its innocence or integrity.

The most perfect expression of pure love in human form is witnessed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One might call this “the God factor” in all true love. In Jesus Christ, human flesh became a fit dwelling place for God. Keep him in your heart always and you will possess true love. Throughout the Scriptures, there is no doubt about God’s abiding love, and in the face of the often tepid and mercurial response God’s love receives from humanity, even the people God calls his own. What is so unique about the Incarnation is that it affirms that one with a human nature can contain a divine person, that the human heart can become the tabernacle of true love. Let no demon ever talk you out of this as Satan did with Adam and Eve. Two human beings, seduced by the Evil One, questioned Love — God himself — even without ever having been deprived. Doesn’t Love deserve a better response?

Editor’s note: This is a reprint of column that was first published on June 6, 2019

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