What is love?
This article refers to parts of my book, "I Will Give You Rest." Some of
those portions of the book are on the website, and some are not.
In my book I talk a lot about love, but what exactly is it? We fall in love and
out of love. We love our children, we love our car, and we love sports. We
love a certain movie, or we love to sleep in on Saturday morning. We love
alcohol (spoken as an alcoholic), or we love chocolate (spoken as a
Our culture is very confused about what love is. As it turns out, the
English word “love” is a very fuzzy word. (See Endnote #13-2 on fuzzy
words, not included online). Sometimes “love” means an awesomely
wonderful thing, and sometimes it means an incredibly destructive thing.
We sometimes seek for love in all the wrong places. Why do abused
women stay with the abuser? They love them. Why do children
constantly pursue abusive parents? They need their love.
God is love (1 John 4:8), and yet this attribute of God can’t be what is
wounding and destroying these people. God only brings life and
God’s Love Is Essential
God is love. His kind of love real love, and is it is essential to our
wellbeing. He wants to pour out His love upon us. In fact, we can only
love Him because He first loved us. And yet for some reason God has
made us in such a way that we must receive some of His love through
another human being. To equip us to transfer God’s love to another, there
is a part of us that is made in God’s image.
However, every other part of us is not inherently filled with God’s love. To
the degree that every other area is not filled with God’s love, our fallen
nature impacts our brand of “love,” and in reality is a counterfeit of the
real thing. To keep a supply of God’s love in our hearts to bless us and to
flow to others to bless them, a one-time infilling is not enough. We need
to be continually receiving. God is the only source of real love, and we
can’t produce any of it on our own. If we receive real love from another
person, they are simply giving us the love that God placed in them.
We need God’s love so badly that when our supply of it gets too low, we
must to try to find other sources, and we may be impelled to accept
substitutes. God’s love is the one essential that keeps us from going
down a path of death and destruction. Previously, we were all suffering
death and were being destroyed, which is why God sent Jesus to redeem
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whoever believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life
(John 3:16 NKJV, underlining is mine).
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from
the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2, NKJV, underlining is mine)
Without His Love We Become
As children start out in life they are incredibly vulnerable to wounding if
not given real love. There must be a continual infilling of love from both
father and mother. The flow of love must be from their parents to them,
not the other way around. When children do not receive this love on a
continual basis, they desperately seek it. If they are unable to get their
parents to give them what they need, they will surely judge themselves as
being unlovable. They begin to believe there is something wrong with
them, and they begin to build The Wall inside (see Chapter 9).
Whenever we are not filled to the brim with God’s type of love, we
desperately seek it. We must have it, or we are miserable. If we have
never received much of it, we don’t really know what the real thing looks
like, and so we latch onto anything that seems to feel a bit like it. We are
willing to accept substitutes. In fact we may think that the substitutes are
as good as it gets. A teenage girl who becomes sexually promiscuous is
seeking love. The attention of the boys seems to help her emptiness. But
it never really works because it isn’t really love. The flow is actually in the
wrong direction, because the boys are using her to get their own needs
met, not giving to her. They are actually draining her further.
You may remember my example of dirty water. You have a gauging
system inside that tells you when you need more water. If you have
plenty of water in our body, you aren’t thirsty. If I would then offer you a
dirty glass of water, you would say, “No thank you,” because you don’t
need any water. You know that the dirty water might make you sick, and
you are in a position to be particular. However, if you are out in the desert
for three days without water, and if you saw that I had a dirty glass of
water, you would do anything to get to drink it. You are then so needy
you will accept a substitute for good clean water.
We have a similar gauging system that tells when we need more of the
God type of love, and a similar dynamic happens. If we are filled with
plenty of real love, we aren’t needy and will be particular about what we
accept. However, if we are empty and desperate for real love, we will
accept substitutes. These substitutes are actually destructive to us,
because they drain life from us instead of filling us.
God Is The Only Source of Real Love
God is ultimately the only source of His kind of love. But the fruit of the
Spirit is love, joy, peace . . . (Gal. 5:22). God gives it to us through His
Spirit abiding in us, and this good root produces good fruit.
If we receive His kind of love from another person, it is because that
person has a full reservoir of it. Somehow they have received a bountiful
supply, and it overflows to us. No person can be a source of this kind of
love. Anything we crank up out of our own resources is tainted with sin,
is not the real thing, and will therefore not bless another person.
For instance, if we find out that the Bible says we are to love others, we
may try to do so. But when we are “trying,” our motives are impure. We
may be doing it because we are afraid God will be unhappy with is if we
don’t. Or we may try to do it to appear spiritual. Or we may try to do it to
be accepted, or to feel important.
The flaw is that in each of these cases we are using the other person to
meet our own needs. The counterfeits of God’s love all have this fatal
flaw: the flow is in the wrong direction. The person we are “trying” to love
has a sensor inside them that knows whether they are receiving the real
thing, or if they are being used and sucked dry. The other person would
in fact be better off if we weren’t there “trying” to love them.
Unfortunately, when we have never received the God kind of love we don’
t have access to the information from our own love sensor. When we
were a child, since we were always empty, our love sensor was constantly
sounding the alarm. This didn’t feel good, so we had to find a way to
silence this bad feeling: we built The Wall inside. Now as adults, because
we can’t hear our love sensor anymore, we don’t consciously know when
the other person is sucking us dry instead of filling us; so we allow them
to do this to us. And, since we are in fact empty inside, we are
subconsciously impelled to go around trying to get our tank filled up from
others. We then begin to suck them dry!
Further Wounding Results
When we have lost the ability to tell God’s kind of love from counterfeits
we can make huge mistakes. When we have not received lots of real love,
we can be susceptible to becoming enmeshed in destructive
relationships and organizations. When this is our history, we are then
looking to have our tank filled, and aren’t very adept at telling the
difference between the real thing and counterfeits.
This has been my history. My parents were “nice” people, but they were
very neglectful. They were so caught up in their careers and in licking
their own wounds that there was very little love available for me. I did not
receive The Blessing talked about by Gary Smalley , so I built a huge wall
(see Chapter 10).
When I was in college I met an attractive young lady who showed great
interest in me. She always remembered what was going on in my life, and
when I would again see her, she would ask about these events. “How did
you do on your math exam?" "What time did you get home from the
game?" "When are you leaving to go on vacation?” For someone who
had disinterested parents this was huge. I was drawn to her, and “fell in
love.” She became my wife, and we were married for 25 years. We had a
very dysfunctional marriage, and towards the end of it I discovered that
what I had fallen for was not love. It was control. She had to know where I
had been, what I was doing, etc. It was about her needs, not mine.
However, I didn’t know the difference, because I had never experienced
real love. Had my parents exposed me to lots of the real thing, I would
have been able to sense that what she was offering was not going to fill
me up, but would empty me.
I have also been susceptible to destructive organizations. Some years
ago I became involved in a small church. It was started by Bruce (not his
real name), a Christian psychiatrist who formed a “home group” made up
of his clients, including me. Because of the success of the group, we
became a church with Bruce as the pastor. There were some great things
about this church, because it is where I became aware of inner healing.
We would pray for one another, and much healing occurred. Bruce took
great interest in each of us, and we were drawn to him.
However, as we began to heal, we wanted to be involved in the leadership
of the church. When we expressed this, Bruce became very abusive.
While we were in the condition of wounded children, he was in control
and felt important. He was the parent and we were the children. He was
using us to fill his needs. But once we began to heal and become the
adult people we were meant to be, the church was no longer meeting the
pastor’s needs for power and significance. Because of Bruce’s long
standing bitterness and neediness, a dark spirit manifested itself (see
Chapter 16, “Deliverance and Inner Healing”), and the church
How could something that felt so right go so wrong? The answer is that
in the beginning the members were all wounded people. The attention
Bruce gave us felt good, and being a part of the group was rewarding.
However, the flow was in the wrong direction: it was from the members
towards the pastor, not from the pastor towards the members. My
problem was that I didn’t know the difference, and this was probably true
of most of those church members.
If I had not been wounded and empty inside, I would not have made these
mistakes. I wouldn't have been needy, and I would have known that what
I was getting was not real love. Because healthy people do know what
real love is, they don't make these kinds of mistakes.
Many Do Make the Same Mistake
Gangs hook people in the same way. Gang members typically come from
very non-nurturing homes. They are looking for a place to belong, and
they find acceptance and affiliation in the gang. But they are actually
being used by the leader of the gang to fill his unmet needs for power and
control. The members are so powerfully drawn in to get their needs met
that they will do anything to retain membership, including committing
crimes and exposing themselves to injury or death.
You may recall the tragedy with the Jim Jones commune. To start with
Jim Jones was a Bible believing pastor who had a way of drawing people
to himself. The members’ needs to belong eventually led them to leave all
they had to move to the jungles of Ghana with the group, and eventually
to suicide. This charismatic leader mutated into an abusive tyrant. Yet,
despite his control and harshness, the people stayed with him because of
their need for love.
Our need for real love is so great that people will suffer abuse rather than
do without it. They will even die for a counterfeit, because they are
desperate. Tragically, they don’t know that what they are receiving isn’t
the real thing.
These are just a couple of examples, but the world is full of abusive
organizations. They are abusive because the members and the leaders
are all trying to get their own love tanks filled at the expense of the others.
It is very possible they don’t consciously realize what they are doing,
because they are impelled by unconscious forces to do this. The
counterfeit love, which is sin, opens the door to evil, and a curse rests
upon the organization. This is explained in the book of James:
"But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not
boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from
above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-
seeking exists, confusion and every evil thing will be there . . . Where
do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from
your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do
not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and
war." (James 3:14-16, 4:1-2, underlining is mine).
Real Love Is Good Fruit
This can seem very discouraging. If I can’t love others by setting my own
will to do it, how can I possibly obey God? After all, he tells us over and
over to love one another. Therefore the question isn’t whether we are to
love others, but rather how we can.
We can’t love others rightly, but God can do it through us.
Remember, the image of God dwells inside each of us, both in our
Treasure Inside and those areas of our “Honeycomb” where we have
invited Him in. Those areas of our inner being can love the way God
loves. We need to let our Treasure Inside out of jail, so that he or
she can be free to live, and we need to remove the bitter roots in our
“honeycomb.” Remember that the reason our “Treasure Inside” is not
free is because of our wounding - we built The Wall (see Chapter 9).
We do therefore need to set a goal of being able to love with God’s kind of
love, but this will come about as we are changed into the image of Jesus,
not through trying hard.
Our love must be good fruit from a good root. 1 John Chapter 4 makes it
clear that we can only love others because of His presence dwelling in us.
How to Love
Then, in a practical way, how do you truly love others? The answer, as
we have seen, is that it must come from Jesus dwelling inside. If you are
not feeling love or compassion for another person, there is a bitter root of
some kind in the way. So the answer is not to try harder, but to seek the
root. This will probably entail forgiving that person and being forgiven by
the Lord. With some people you may need to do this over and over again.
We will know we have accomplished forgiveness when we find ourselves
feeling differently about them.
So what is love? Real love is an attribute of God. We only have it to
give if we have first received it from Him. God’s love residing in us gives
to others rather than taking from them. Real love is the life of God in us,
and it gives life to those who receive it through us. 1 John 4:9-19 (see
footnote on the prior page) professes that good fruit grows from a good
root. Jesus is the good root, so the only way to increase in love is to
continue to be changed into the image of Jesus. Then Jesus will love
others through us. Anything else is not of God and tears us all down
instead of bringing life.
Copyright 2007 Edward Kurath
Being changed into the image of Jesus