The “love-hate relationship” is a well-known and studied psychological dynamic that is sometimes found among people in close relationship, and it can also exist in the hearts of people towards certain things (e.g., work, technology, money, etc…) rather than another person.
In this three-part post, my intent is to look beneath the surface of this emotional dichotomy, to examine the specific dynamics of love and hate themselves, and to explore their relationship to each other. If we can understand this fundamental “love”-“hate” relationship, it will not only make the interpersonal “love-hate relationship” more understandable but also shed light on other psychological, cultural, and even spiritual dynamics as well.
It also seems there is a pressing need to focus on this matter at this specific time because the emotion of “hate”, in particular, is front and center in the culture wars and political battles that are raging in our world right now. It seems there is a common misconception, however, that underlies much of people’s perceptions of “hate” that leads to very polarizing and even dangerous assumptions, judgments, actions, and reactions. This highly-inflammatory, culture-shaping focus on “hate” will most likely increase in the days ahead, and so it is all the more necessary that we have a deep understanding of its roots, nature, and how it can possibly be diffused, tempered, and even channeled in positive directions.
To begin with, then, I’d like to pose a few questions and then seek to answer them. First, where does “love” come from and what is it? Next, where does “hate” come from and what is it? Then, how are these two opposing dynamics related to each other? And, lastly, how can we bring the strong emotions of love and hate in line with God’s heart, mind, and will?
First of all, then, let’s consider “love” and where it comes from. John 1:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God.” The next verse says simply and profoundly, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (vs. 8) Love, therefore, is an eternal and essential attribute of God’s nature and of the Divine “community” of His Triune Being, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All love finds its source in God Himself and would not exist apart from Him.
Furthermore, because mankind is made in God’s image and likeness, love is, likewise, an essential attribute of the human constitution and the human community.
The two greatest commandments given by God to mankind are commandments to “love”.
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ ” Mark 12:28-31 NIV
We also see in Scripture that all of God’s law is summed up in love. “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10), and, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14.) The testimony of Scripture shows the absolute primacy of love as to the Divine intention, design, and calling of mankind who is created to bear His image and likeness and is called into the Divine community of His Triune Being.
This gives us the most fundamental understanding of where love comes from, but what actually is love?
The Greek language has four words that are translated in English as “love”: “agape”, “phileo”, “storge”, and “eros” which express differing aspects and forms of this Divine/human virtue. (C. S. Lewis explores these in his book, The Four Loves. For a summary, please see here.) The English language has merely the one word “love”, which is used in a wide range of expressions and applications of this same virtue. It should also be noted that the word “love” is both a noun and a verb. It is a virtue of the heart and it is corresponding action that flows out from that virtue.
As I’ve looked to discover the most essential aspect(s) common to all of these words, their meanings, and forms, it seems one element stands out as central and essential to them all. That element is summed up in the word, “value”.
I once expressed it this way in a tweet:
We “like” what we RECEIVE something of value from.
We “love” what we GIVE something of value to.
Liking often precedes loving for we generally give value to (i.e. “love”) that which we first receive value from (“like”). For instance, we may say, “I love pizza!” and that is because we have received (or anticipate receiving) something of value from that pizza.
“Love” is not entirely dependent on “liking”, however, for God calls and commands us to: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Such love is unconditional as to whether we receive something of value from our neighbors or not; whether we may “like” them or not. God’s love, “agape”, is not based on receiving something of value from its subjects, but, instead, of investing something of value into its subjects.
Since “love” is both a noun and a verb, we should look at how this matter of value applies to love along these two lines. “Love” as a noun is a virtue, attitude, affection, and/or emotion of the heart. Essential to its nature is that it inherently values its objects. Words such as “esteem”, “respect”, “honor”, “appreciate”, “prize”, and “treasure”, as well as others like “precious”, “worthy”, and “dear” all have fundamental to their meaning the aspect of value and are the kind of attitudes and emotions that love holds towards its subjects.
This connection between value and love can also be seen in what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We could paraphrase that in the context of what we are saying as, “For where what you value is, there your love and affection will be.”
Love is not solely a passive virtue of the heart, though, but is made complete when it acts in accordance with its inherent nature. It is not merely a passive noun, but an active verb. The primary action that “love” engages in is that of giving. (Reba McEntire and Michael W. Smith both agree that “Love isn’t love until you give it away.” 🙂 )
Since love inherently values its object, what it gives away to that object is that which is, likewise, of value. The greater the love, the greater the value it desires and is willing to give. This giving is, first and foremost, of value to the recipient. It can also be of negative value in the form of cost/sacrifice to the giver. The greater the value to the recipient and the greater the cost/sacrifice to the giver, the greater the love that is expressed.
We can see the supreme example of this in the most well-known passage of Scripture, John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV)
Here we have God’s love that so greatly values the world that He desires and is willing to give the most costly, sacrificial thing He has to offer, His only begotten Son, so that the world may receive the most valuable gift He could possibly give to them in rescuing them from eternal perishing and giving them everlasting life! In every respect, Love doesn’t get any greater than that!
The apostle John further said in his first epistle,
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18 NIV
Here, again we see that love is made complete by the giving of that which is costly/sacrificial on the part of the giver and valuable/beneficial on the part of the receiver. This is the essence of love!
Finally, there is one more characteristic of love that is important to note. Love has a directional tendency/relational effect as well. That tendency/effect is one of drawing the parties involved towards each other unto unity. Love is both outreaching and attracting. It breaks down barriers, bridges chasms, draws its object, gathers what is scattered, and binds up what is broken and separated. Scripture calls love “the perfect bond of unity.” (Colossians 3:14 NAS)
This is, once again, supremely seen in the greatest expression of Love of the Father giving His Only Begotten as a sacrifice to reconcile the world unto Himself. He moved toward us in Love, removed all barriers to unity, and is now drawing us towards Himself in Love until we come into perfect unity and union with Him. This is the directional tendency and relational effect of love.
So, in summary, love is an esteeming affection, a sacrificial/beneficial action, and a drawing/unifying effect, all in one. This is the essence of God and of His high purpose for you and I, His sons and daughters, made in His image and created for union and communion with Himself.
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In Part 2 of this post, we will look at the opposing dynamic of “hate” and explore further the “love”-“hate” relationship that exists between these two very powerful forces.