ords mean things,” says Rush Limbaugh. And, at least on this topic, however simple that phrase may seem, he has it dead right. Words mean things. And when, for whatever the reason, we purposely change the meaning of a word, we do a disservice to those we are communicating with.
I recently had a conversation with Mary about the definition of the word joy and the definition of the word happiness. I believe those two words mean essentially the same thing, but Evangelical Christianity has waged a multi-generational campaign to shift the definitions of those words in order to make an excuse for God, who promises us joy. Folks have rightly determined that most of us are not particularly happy most of the time. So well-meaning Christians have redefined the terms. Happiness now means the surface bubbly, giggly giddiness that comes from experiencing something you really enjoy. And joy (be sure to add the reverb in your mind since this is a very serious theological term now) is that unique deep down state that a Christian has for some mystical reason that causes him to be joyful even though everything in his life is heading down the tubes. That way we can assuage our consciences by saying to our friends, “I’m really, really sad and greatly depressed, but I have the joy of the Lord."
We don’t need to give God an out. If he says we will experience joy in Him, and we are not experiencing happiness (which means the same thing), the fault is oursit’s not a definitional breakdown.
That’s not, however, the topic of this post. That was to set the foundation for the definition of the term love. Mary and I are still having an ongoing discussion about happiness and joy, and we still disagree on those definitions. But I think we both agree with John Piper on the definition of love found in the following excerpt from his book, Don’t Waste Your Life. I am posting this because our friend Tim brought up an interesting question about how God could be a loving God if he has created some people who are destined for hell. Hopefully this excerpt will explain, more eloquently than I ever could, the true definition of the term love and what that love should look like.
e waste our lives when we do not pray and think and dream and plan and work toward magnifying God in all spheres of life. God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is. In the night sky of this world God appears to most people, if at all, like a pinprick of light in a heaven of darkness. But he created us and called us to make him look like what he really is. This is what it means to be created in the image of God. We are meant to image forth in the world what he is really like.
Does Being Loved Mean Being Made Much Of?
For many people, this is not obviously an act of love. They do not feel loved when they are told that God created them for his glory. They feel used. This is understandable given the way love has been almost completely distorted in our world. For most people, to be loved is to be made much of. Almost everything in our Western culture serves this distortion of love. We are taught in a thousand ways that love means increasing someone’s self-esteem. Love is helping someone feel good about themselves. Love is giving someone a mirror and helping him like what he sees. This is not what the Bible means by the love of God. Love is doing what is best for someone. But making self the object of our highest affections is not best for us. It is, in fact, a lethal distraction. We were made to see and savor Godand savoring him, to be supremely satisfied, and thus spread in all the world the worth of his presence. Not to show people the all-satisfying God is not to love them. To make them feel good about themselves when they were made to feel good about seeing God is like taking someone to the Alps and locking them in a room full of mirrors.
Pathological at the Grand Canyon
The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves. And each of these rare and precious moments in lifebeside the Canyon, before the Alps, under the starsis an echo of a far greater excellence, namely, the glory of God. That is why the Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
Sometimes people say that they cannot believe that, if there is a God, he would take interest in such a tiny speck of reality called humanity on Planet Earth. The universe, they say, is so vast, it makes man utterly insignificant. Why would God have bothered to create such a microscopic speck called the earth and humanity and then get involved with us?
Beneath this question is a fundamental failure to see what the universe is about. It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself. And he says it for us to learn and enjoynamely, that he is infinitely great and powerful and wise and beautiful. The more the Hubble Telescope sends back to us about the unfathomable depths of space, the more we should stand in awe of God. The disproportion between us and the universe is a parable about the disproportion between us and God. And it is an understatement. But the point is not to nullify us but to glorify him.
Loving People Means Pointing Them to the
Now back to what it means to be loved. The idea has been almost totally distorted. Love has to do with showing a dying soul the life-giving beauty of the glory of God, especially his grace. Yes, as we will see, we show God’s glory in a hundred practical ways that include care about food and clothes and shelter and health. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Every good work should be a revelation of the glory of God. What makes the good deed an act of love is not the raw act, but the passion and the sacrifice to make God himself known as glorious. Not to aim to show God is not to love, because God is what we need most deeply. And to have all else without him is to perish in the end. The Bible says that you can give away all that you have and deliver your body to be burned and have not love (1 Corinthians 13:3). If you don’t point people to God for everlasting joy, you don’t love. You waste your life.
John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life