How did Jesus understand love and what it meant to be loved?
Some languages have it easier. The Greeks have more than one word for love. They have eros, philio, agape. Those choices seem to have suited them well. Yet, to write in English, I haven’t found a lot of help in substituting Greek or any other unfamiliar words. To explore love in the mind of Jesus, in the psychology of Jesus and how he loved rather than new words for ‘love,’ I propose in Jesus that we see love in two forms, two types, two kinds which are both familiar and universal.
Both types of love are full of wonder, joy, and excitement. Both forms can be puzzling, overwhelming and painful. Both kinds give life meaning and can make any day worth living. Yet, one, more than the other, can be found in God as described in the gospels and understood by Jesus. One, more than the other, is what shaped Jesus understanding of himself, served as the foundation for what he taught, and defined the norms with which he treated others. One, more than the other, is found at the center of the psychology of Jesus.
Love type #1: Value Recognizing Love
Value recognizing love is a beautiful type of love. When we ‘fall in love,’ we are experiencing value recognizing love. We love what we see in another. This love marks, observes, notes, appreciates, and celebrates value. As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” This love appreciates what the beauty it beholds as worthwhile and valuable. To someone you love, you may say, “You are so beautiful.” “You are so strong.” “You are so smart.” In doing so, we show our appreciation for the person’s beauty, strength, and intelligence. We say words that all of us want to hear, “I find value in you! I love you because of who you are.” Value recognizing love can lift the spirits, give connection, foster joy and happiness, and affirm identity. For this love, value = good feelings.
Sports Fans show value recognizing love. When a football team wins, people show up at the airport to welcome them home. “You are so amazing! You’re the greatest! We love you! Yeah!” Winning feels great for players and fans alike. However, when the football team loses, and loses repeatedly, the fans don’t come. They don’t see value. No one shows up at the airport and says, “You are so average! You are actually less than par! We love you!” When you lose, there is no love because there is no achievement therefore no value to be recognized. In value recognizing love, perceived value leads to appreciation, lack of value produces no appreciation. No value = no feelings or bad feelings.
So, while value recognizing love can be a very wonderful sort of love, it can also be a very painful sort of love. In marriages, or in any longer term relationships, there can come a time when value recognizing love no longer perceives any value. Those who once proclaimed appreciation, approval and admiration, become quiet – or worse as they become negative. “You used to be so… this and that… now you are just …neither this nor that. You’re not the same person I fell in love with. You changed. You’re different.” This essentially means, “I saw value. Now I see none.” Or, perhaps even more painfully, “I don’t know why I loved you in the first place.”
Sooner or later, lives built on value recognizing love alone, bring us pain. In our insecurity, we go from person to person, relationship to relationship, asking, “Do you find any value in me? Do you like me?” terrified that our significant others, our mirrors for forming our sense of self-worth don’t see value, we ache. Lives lived in search of value recognizing love alone are tragic. Elizabeth KublerRoss summed up life under value recognizing love when she wrote, Most of us have been raised as prostitutes. I will love you “if.” And this word “if” has ruined or destroyed more lives than anything else on this planet earth. It prostitutes us; it makes us feel that we can buy love with good behavior, or good grades… If we were not able to accommodate the grown-ups, we were punished…[ii]
Fortunately, there is another type of love.
Love Type #2: Value Giving Love
Value giving love doesn’t recognize value, but it gives value. It doesn’t require, but it offers. It doesn’t demand, but it empowers. Value giving love is the type of love Jesus believed he saw in God. This type of love was foundational for the psychology of Jesus as it was the type of love Jesus trusted in and offered to others.
To understand this love, we must do more than study the life of Jesus, we must do more than ponder the teachings of Jesus, we must do more than believe in Jesus. To understand this love, I believe, we must see ourselves as Jesus. For many of us, imagining ourselves as Jesus is not an easy task as Scott Peck related,
Not long ago I participated in a conference of Christian therapists and counselors, where the speaker, Harvey Cox, a Baptist theologian, told the Gospel story of Jesus being called to resuscitate the daughter of a wealthy Roman. As Jesus is going to the Roman’s house, a woman who has been hemorrhaging for years reaches out from the crowd and touches His robe. He feels her touch and turns around and asks, “Who touched me?” The woman comes forward and begs Him to cure her and He does, and then goes on to the house of the Roman whose daughter had died.
After telling the story, Cox asked this audience of six hundred mostly Christian professionals whom they identified with. When he asked who identified with the bleeding woman, about a hundred raised their hands. When he asked who identified with the anxious Roman father, more of the rest raised their hands. When he asked who identified with the curious crowd, most raised their hands. But when he asked who identified with Jesus, only six people raised their hands.
Something is very wrong here. Of six hundred more or less professional Christians, only one out of a hundred identified with Jesus. Maybe more actually did but were afraid to raise their hands lest that seem arrogant. But again something is wrong with our concept of Christianity if it seems arrogant to identify with Jesus. That is exactly what we are supposed to do! We’re supposed to identify with Jesus, act like Jesus, be like Jesus. That is what Christianity is supposed to be about the imitation of Christ.[iii]
In numerous places throughout the book, I will ask you as I have already to imagine you are a character from the gospel text. On several occasions, as here, I will ask you to imagine you are Jesus. These exercises are crucial to understand the Psychology of Jesus, especially in this chapter. Jesus lived his life, saw others, was able to love, risk, try, grow, reach, do all because he lived under this second type of love. To understand this value giving love, we must put ourselves into the story of Jesus. To understand the psychology of Jesus, how he thought of himself and how he approached others, we must imagine ourselves as Jesus. We must be Jesus.
Jesus’ baptism is the doorway to answering how a foundational answer to “Who am I?” can shape our lives. So, before we can go any further, imagine you are Jesus on the day of your baptism. Let me give you some background. Some of this I am speculating, but most comes from what we know of Jesus from the gospels.
You are walking with the crowd toward the Jordan River.
You know this is the first step for you in beginning what you believe God is calling you to do.
You have waited for a long time for this. As the oldest child in the family, you stayed home to help raise your brothers and sisters. You worked as a carpenter, helping the family by making what money you could. Now that your siblings are old enough to take care of themselves, you start to follow the calling you received from your heavenly father. This begins at the Jordan River…
What others think of you is in the air. Some have heard John speak of you, though he didn’t mention your name. John said many things about your coming, your purpose…
John said many things. There were whisperings in the crowd. You hear them as you move forward, but you know those things have more to do with the speaker than the one spoken about. There is another voice you long to hear.
You walk to the water. John says he should be baptized by you, you tell him this is part of a greater purpose. You know you are there for another voice. Another voice you had heard before.
You go under the water as John pushes down. You rise up. You feel the Spirit of God descend like a dove. A voice speaks, “You are my child. Beloved.”
Yes. That was the voice you were listening for… Now a new day begins.
In Jesus we find good news for all about God’s type of love. Jesus heard the voice of God not at the end of his ministry, but at the beginning, before he healed anyone, before he taught anyone, before he did – anything! He didn’t do great things so that he would be loved. Jesus did great things because he understood he was loved. The love which declared his value gave him the freedom to grow, to question, to reach, to think, to feel, to believe, to care, and most of all, to love. If we see ourselves as Jesus, then we will understand the baptism story of Jesus in scripture belongs not just to Jesus, but to all of us as God says to us for the entire world to hear, “You are my child, my beloved.” If we see ourselves as Jesus, then we can claim God’s declaration of Jesus as the declaration of us, we are God’s children, beloved. If we can see ourselves as Jesus, we understand that “beloved” is a label that comes from God, is as set in stone as the Ten Commandments, and is beyond human threat, challenge or question. If we can see ourselves as Jesus, then we can let go of “Who am I?” as a question answered, a mystery solved, a riddle explained, and liberated, we can move, like Jesus, onto other questions. If we can see ourselves as Jesus, we can not only claim value for ourselves, but offer it to others, letting others know they have value, they are beloved.
For those living under value recognizing love, a simple voice of value giving love can be life changing.
Fred Craddock is a famous preacher and teacher of preaching. He and his wife were vacationing in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They were enjoying breakfast together, when an elderly man came over to the table. The man obviously had a story to tell, and he didn’t know the Craddocks so he sighted them as a fresh audience.
The man spoke, “Hey, my name is Ben Hooper, what is yours?”
“Mine is Fred Craddock.”
Then the older gentleman said, “What do you do?”
Craddock sighed, his goal of some alone time with his wife was clearly threatened. He replied, “I am a professor of homiletics at a seminary,” hoping the lofty title would scare the intruder away.
Then the man said, “Oh, you’re a preacher.” He then pulled up a chair and sat down. “I’ve got a preacher story for you. Mind if I join you?”
Fred said nothing. Ben Hooper began his tale, “I grew up in those hills over there. I was what they called an illegitimate child. They called me names everywhere I went. When I went to school I always sat in the back of the room because I was ashamed of who I was. When I walked down the street, I had this terrible feeling that everyone was looking at me and saying, ‘I wonder who his father is?’ My mother would never tell me who my father was. I never knew. I was so ashamed.
“When I was thirteen years old, a preacher came to town one day and everybody was talking about how good he was. I wanted to see this new preacher. I snuck in after the service had started so no one would see me. Then I snuck out before it was over so that no one would speak to me. I have to admit that he was a good preacher. I went back the next Sunday and the next Sunday always sneaking out so that no one could speak to me. One Sunday though, the sermon was so good that I forgot to leave. And before I knew what was happening they had sung the last hymn and everyone was pushing out into the aisle. I tried to get out of the church, but before I could make my way through the crowd, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and I looked. It was the preacher. He was 6’4” and dressed in black. He looked down at me and he said, “Hey, son. What’s your name? Whose boy are you? Who’s your father? Whose son are you?”
Then Ben said, “Mr., when he asked me whose son I was, I almost started to cry. I felt so hurt. Then he suddenly said, “I know who you are. I know who your father is. There is such a close family resemblance I couldn’t have missed it no matter how hard I tried.” I looked up into that preacher’s face because I felt that maybe he knew who I was. Maybe he held the secret to my identity. And he looked down at me and said, “I know who you are. You look just like your father.” Then he said to me, “You are a child of God.”
Then Ben said, “Mr., that simple statement changed my life. And that’s my preacher story. He got up and he left.
The waitress came over and asked the Craddocks, “Do you know who that was?”
“Ben Hooper?” Fred asked.
“That’s right,” she replied, “Ben Hooper, former governor of Tennessee.”
Ben Hooper had lived in the shame that is the byproduct of a psychology built on value recognizing love. Because his family history was different than others, because he had no male parent that saw value in him, he could see no value in himself. The hand of the minister and his declaration came like a voice of God to Ben. He went forward from that day living in a world shaped not by value recognizing love, but value giving love. He went forward able to do great things not in hopes of seeing himself as loved but because he believed that he was loved.
Challenge for Us
Jesus didn’t spend much of his life asking “Who am I?” because it had been answered for him. He found in God not a love that recognized value, but instead a love that gave value. His value was a gift, and therefore, a given. God’s answer, though often challenged, for him, was enough. After claiming that value for himself, he offered it to others.
The psychology of Jesus is based on value giving love that sees self and others as beloved. The challenge for us is to find that same sense of self-worth which enables us to live a full, Jesus-like life, and then share it with others as we search for ways to give value to others.
Read the following. How do they relate to the passage and concepts above? Where do you see value recognizing and value giving love?
Romans 8: For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
If Thou Must Love Me
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
If thou must love me, let it be for naught
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
”I love her for her smile. . . her look. . . her way
Of speaking gently.. .for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”
For these things in themselves, Belovéd, may
Be changed, or change for thee, – and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.
by Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so? I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
Who do you hold in highest regard? How do they shape your sense of self? What role does God play in your life?
What do you believe God believes about you?
If you are part of a church that baptizes babies, how significant for you is the declaration that you are a child of God before you are even aware of it? When you see a baptism, do you celebrate your own baptism affirming that you are beloved of God regardless of your attempts to prove it or earn it, regardless of what voices might tell you otherwise?
Read Raymond Carver’s “Last Fragment” again.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so? I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
When you get to the end of your life, will you be able to answer the questions in the same way as Carver? Why or why not?
List five times recently you have experienced being beloved. Who showed that love to you? Who defined you as loved?
This blog was adapted from The Psychology of Jesus. For more information, see under ‘Books’ or to see inside click the picture below.