"What Is Love? Baby Don't Hurt Me"
Begging the Question
It’s an interesting question Haddaway asks in his electrifying dance single, but he isn’t the only one asking. Let's think about Hollywood: Aren't most romantic comedies all about sorting out some sort of love conundrum? It certainly seems like the characters that aren’t successful in those movies are the ones that don’t understand even the notion of love. But aren't we all running around wondering the same thing? Really, what is love?
The dictionary is usually a good place to define what a word means so I did a search at good ol’ Merriam-Webster:
1): Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
2): Attraction based on sexual desire: Affection and tenderness felt by lovers
3): Affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
When I read the first definition, I got the distinct impression that a dictionary may not be able to give a satisfying answer. Sure, love is associated with a strong affection, and certainly people feel kinship when they love someone – or maybe that's just sexual desire – but all these things seem more like possible results of love rather than a concrete understanding of what love actually is. We can all experience kinship, attraction, and affection without having experienced love, right? However, the third part of the above definition may be on to something; the affection is out of admiration or benevolence, but maybe it feels empty to me because I’m still not satisfied with a cause for the admiration.
Then, the fourth definition caught my eye:
4): Unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as 1): the fatherly concern of God for humankind 2): brotherly concern for others
Hmm... This seems a bit more promising. Unselfishness? Benevolent concern? These both definitely sound like qualities of love. But then God comes into the picture, which kind of makes sense when you read something like this from John 4:8: "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.(NIV)"
God as Love, Love as God
God is love. Well, at least this definition is easy to remember, but how can God be love? If you follow the Gospel of John, [SPOILER ALERT] Jesus, the Son of God, heals the sick, teaches people about the nature of God, and allows himself to be killed so that God’s creation – humankind – can know him personally and live with him in Heaven after they die. Again, though, that’s what God is willing to do because he loves. So, what exactly is the love part?
It seems that the love part is God’s overwhelming desire to overcome all obstacles for all people to know him. You may not trust that John’s Gospel is accurate about who God is, but I do think the Gospel’s description of God provides an ideal picture of love. A being that is so concerned with the well-being of people that he’s willing to lose his son in the process of helping them, even those who reject and kill his son. Essentially, love is given to everyone, despite the fact that most of them probably don’t deserve it.
Oh, the Irony!
So, I guess when Haddaway asks what love is he really doesn’t know if he’s so worried about getting hurt. That classic bumper sticker sounds closer a little closer to the truth; I suppose it’s hard to beat love if it ignores any faults that could get in the way. I mean, I’m not sure what the contest is, but it sure seems like a contender.
It’s a beautifully ironic idea for a person to say “I love you.” The phrase makes a person vulnerable, revealing their inner feelings and giving the receiver the power to reject those feelings. But if love is a depth-defying kind of reaching out, similar to what is happening in the Gospel of John, the response hardly seems to change the speaker’s position.
This leaves something to be said for the motivation behind our treatment of one another. When someone tries to please another for their own validation, it’s too variable. Immediately, a goal becomes clear: If only I can make the other person laugh/listen/compliment me, I’ll have what I want, what I need. It seems that love forgets the whole “I” part of things. Honestly, it sounds a little reckless.
Maybe love is unreasonable. Maybe it’s for the best.