The slogan probably preceded the 1960’s, but the Beatles definitely made it popular. If you are old enough or a big enough music fan, you probably have their tune bopping around in your head right now.
The problem is that the slogan sounds wonderful while being totally misleading:
- How do we define love? The definition alone makes a huge difference, and our cultural norms have changed the definition over time.
- What would we really have if we only had love? I agree that loving and being loved are basic human needs, but we have greater needs, as well.
So, let’s get started!
How do you define love?
Lately, love is being defined in popular media as “ultra-tolerance.” It’s the old “I’m ok, so you can’t say anything about it if you really love me” attitude. (A fascinating side note is that we have also become a culture of judgmental whiners at the same time — I may blog about the irony sometime.)
Is that really love? What about the human need for challenge and self-actualization? We are built by God to become better tomorrow than we are today. We develop good, strong qualities of character as we face and overcome obstacles in life. We grow as we reach for high expectations. The popular definition of love would deny us these opportunities.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches a lot about love. Love of God and fellowman is the basis of the gospel life. We need a correct understanding of what love truly is.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
— I Corinthians 13:4-7
The essence of love is kindness and is a genuine feeling. Notice, however, that the New Testament tells us that true love cannot rejoice in sin — it rejoices in truth. Sin holds a person back, limiting their earthly and eternal possibilities. So, being over-tolerant is not necessarily love.
And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.
The message to parents is clear: we have to discipline (teach and guide) our children in life walks that are pleasing to God. Letting them grow like weeds because we “love them so much” is NOT godly parenting!
With friends and other adults, things get a little trickier. We don’t have the mandate from God to stand over them as a guide and a teacher. We do, however, have the command to “be an example of the believers” and to “stand as witnesses” of Him at all times. We have to be taught by the Holy Spirit how to show love without giving the impression that we are supporting poor choices and sin. It’s a tough task.
What would we have if we only had love?
I think that goes back to the definition we choose to use.
By the definition that is currently popular, we have chaos. We have no sense of right and wrong, no sense of what good expectations we can live up to. In many ways, we lower ourselves toward a more “animalistic” existence of expecting people to love and adore us as we go about doing whatever feels good in the moment. The problem is, if they are doing the same thing, they’re not spending a lot of time adoring anyone else!
If we stand for love and truth as defined by God, we gain everything. We gain a sense of well-being. We build communities and connections with others. We encourage people to reach for the best within themselves, and we learn to do the same. We also gain the sense that can only come when living so that the Holy Ghost can be our companion — a witness that God is pleased with our choices.