It’s February – which means that countless young, starstruck lovers will soon be frantically searching for the most original way possible to express their love for their significant other. Older, seasoned couples will likely find simpler ways to express their much more mature love for one another. A widow or widower may find themselves grieving their spouse’s absence, while also looking back fondly on many Valentine’s Days together. A single person may be hoping and praying that God sends someone their way, or may be content with the other loving relationships God has blessed them with.
No matter which category we may fall into above, we’ll be forced to think about romantic love over these next two weeks. Grocery store floral departments will be bursting at the seams with roses and balloons, our favorite dimly-lit restaurants will be all booked up, and kids will be asking their parents for Valentine’s cards to exchange with classmates. Love will be in the air.
Perhaps you’ve heard preachers talk about “love” before, differentiating between different Biblical terms for it (and probably exaggerating the significance). C.S. Lewis wrote a book titled “The Four Loves”, breaking love down into four categories: affection, friendship, eros, and charity. The first is broad; it can apply to one’s love of country, love of home, or love of food. The second is more specific; Lewis focuses on friendship as something between affection and eros between two members of the same sex. The third is explicitly romantic; the word “eros” is where we moderns get the word “erotic”. And the fourth seems to stress the idea that love is no mere sentiment, but shows itself through action.
Of course, there’s a place for taking a deeper dive into the different ways we use the word “love”, especially in a society that throws it around flippantly (for example, my love for the Cincinnati Reds is quite different from my love for my wife and children). There’s also a place for studying the different ways the Bible uses the word “love”. But in this post, I’ll simply turn your attention to one:
The Hebrew term “hesed” is used hundreds of times throughout the Old Testament. It carries connotations of obligation to one’s surrounding community, loyalty, faithfulness, favor, kindness, and grace. But when translators land on this word in the Old Testament, they often translate it as “steadfast love”. In the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word that replaces “hesed” in Exodus 34:6 (one of the most famous occurrences of the word) is a form of “eleos”, which carries connotations of pity, mercy, and compassion. “Hesed” is a notoriously challenging word to translate into modern English; there just doesn’t seem to be one word that adequately captures all of its meaning.
Perhaps a simple lesson, then, is that the love God has for his people is hard to put into words. Maybe a more fruitful means of understanding God’s love for sinners isn’t so much through studying words, but by studying Jesus.
Jesus is the perfect embodiment of God’s love. As the Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-11, Jesus “humbled himself”, “took the form of a servant”, and “submitted himself unto death; even death on a cross” (the ultimate form of self-sacrifice and humiliation). He did this, according to Mark 10:45, “to give his life as a ransom for many”. And as Paul writes so movingly in Romans 8:31-39, nothing can separate believers from the love God has shown for us through his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the best way to learn about God’s love. It’s seen all the way back to his incarnation, carries through to his crucifixion and resurrection, and will one day be fully consummated in his return.
Whatever your relationship status – if you believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ – you can know this Valentine’s Day that you are loved by God. And the love God has for you is deeper, wider, and better than a love expressed through chocolates, jewelry, or messages written in the sky by an airplane. The love God has for you is hard to even put into words; the best way to understand it is to look at his Son.