Grey Thoughts
Love - Is it a choice
Wink, over at Parableman decided last week that love is not a choice. But, as this has been stewing in my mind, I find I cannot agree with wink. From the post
First off, love is indeed not a feeling. It is far more than feeling. However, Love must include feeling. There is no such thing as emotionless love. A love that has no affection or warmth or feeling is no love at all. Try to imagine such a love--cold, unfeeling, a love that does not like its object. That "love" is not worthy of the name. No matter how much that "love" seeks the best for its object it is not love without some level of affection.

However, that is not my main point. And Adrian's daughter may well have meant "Love is more than a feeling" as opposed to "Love is not a feeling". Perhaps she was just being a tad careless in speaking. My larger concern is with the idea that "Love is a decision", or as I have more commonly heard it "Love is a choice".

I think the real issue is not whether Love is a choice, but how we define love. And that is why I think Wink is wrong. Because he has defined love as requiring a certain feeling, then obviously this has implications for how much choice is involved in love. If at some point, you don't have those feelings, (for instance, if you you are angry at your spouse, then you don't have those feelings) do you stop loving? If you act on feelings that are not considered loving, does that make the act not loving? If you feelings change with moods and circumstance, how can you love unconditionally?

These days, we use the term love is many careless ways (as with many words). We talk of falling in love, loving football, loving thai food. But the real question to ask first is how the bible defines love.

The New Testament has 3 words for love. Agape for unconditional love, philos for brotherly love and eros for erotic love. Now if we are talking Philos or Eros, I may be more inclined to agree with Wink. Both of these concepts of love do seem to contain some sort of feelings. But when we come to Agape love, it seems to me that the bible refers to actions with a purpose, not feelings. (E.g. Greater love has no one than this, that he lays down his life for his friends, love they enemy, Love works no ill towards his neighbour). And if love is an action with a particular purpose, then I think it is simple enough to see that this sort of love IS primarily a choice.

But I also want to revisit the other types of love, because I don't think we have a complete picture of them either. Wink seems to be reducing choosing love down to a quick choice, and if it doesn't produce feelings straight away, then obviously love is not really a choice. However let me give a counter example.

Before I became a Christian, I had a wide group of friends at uni. In this group of friends there was one guy, whom I will call Fred, that I absolutely hated. It was instant aggravation whenever we were in the room together. We just didn't get on, at all. Yet when I became a Christian, I made the choice that I would 'love' Fred. That I would care about him and not be hostile or argue with him. The change wasn't immediate, but over time we actually grew to like each other (He of course was distrustful for a long time). My choice to treat him with unconditional love resulted in brotherly love appearing. So, my love was not emotionless and cold because my choice to love unconditionally grew emotion and warmth.

This, I think, is what people are referring to when they say that Love is not a feeling, it is a choice. Our choices (will) strongly influence our feelings. Just as our feelings can influence our choices and actions. The real question for each person I think is, which do you allow to have more influence? Personally, I know that my feelings are quite prone to mislead me, change frequently and come and go, yet my will can be constant. I think our choices and will are a much more reliable thing to base love on.

Now look at wink's challenge in light of these ideas
That statement is simply not true most of the time, and indeed might never be true. In my experience, I have almost never (and quite possibly never) chosen what I loved and hated, liked and disliked. Try it. Choose something that you hate--say "torture of babies"--and choose to love it. Or choose something that you love--say "Compassion"--and choose to hate it. You can't, can you?

I believe you can. It may not be instantaneous, but over time your choices can result in such a huge change. As an example, I hate the taste of coffee. To me, it tastes like disgusting pig swill. Yet I am very confident that if I chose to drink it regularly (I would have to force myself at first), that over time I would learn to appreciate and enjoy the taste. My choices would influence my feelings and tastes.

What do you think?
He hasn't just defined love. He's argued that what scripture calls love involves the affections. The chief evidence for that is in I Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter. The main point of that chapter is that real love involves action. It also says, however, that if you do all sorts of wonderful, altruistic deeds but don't have love then you're just making noise. That means the deeds can be present without the love. How can the deeds be present without the love unless the love involves something prior to the deeds? Love must involve the affections, or it's simply not love. Mere altruism is not love, according to Paul.

So your examples have an easy answer. If you are angry at your spouse, you might still love her. You might be angry that she is hurting herself. You might wish, given that you love her and want to be with her, that she wouldn't do things that harm your relationship. What you can't do is have no feeling toward her whatsoever and then do good deeds for her and then call it love. That would be false.

The command is to love. That means if your feeling drifts you must get it restored. Our desire should be to acquire God's attitude toward things, which means seeking to feel something of what he feels toward things. This is commanded of us. We are to seek to be like him. We are to perfect in our emotions as he is perfect in his emotions, just as we are to be perfect in our actions as he is perfect in our actions. So you can't act as if it's impossible to love just because you're not at the moment experiencing the emotion required for love. That would be like acting as if you can't do good deeds simply because you've lost the desire to stop acting selfishly.

Biblical scholars have shown that there isn't enough of a difference between 'agapao' and 'phileo' to merit most of the distinctions people have made between them. The former word is used of Absalom's love for his half-sister, whom he raped. It's not as if the word has some inherent meaning having to do with the higher love of God. It's not absolutely synonymous with 'phileo', but the two words have enough semantic overlap that in many contexts they're virtually synonymous, e.g. when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him three times, and Peter doesn't always respond with the same word.

This is almost irrelevant, though, because you're treating this word as if it has some different meaning. What's important is whether the Bible says distinctive things about what love really is, and that's obviously true. It would say them about love as described by either word, but it says them, and that's what matters. It says that love always leads to action. It says that love for Jesus leads to obeying his commands. It says that love for a brother or sister leads to forgiveness and to seeking to build up rather than to tear down. That doesn't mean the actions themselves are love. The actions are loving actions. They stem from love. They are not themselves the love. The love leads to them. If not, then it's not really love.

I'll let Wink answer your issue with what he means by 'choice'. That may turn out to be a semantic dispute. If not, maybe I'll have further thoughts, but I can't think of how your examples shouldn't threaten what he wanted to say, which makes me think it's purely a semantic dispute. My guess is simply that you've misunderstood his view. He doesn't think that your choice isn't involved in loving actions. It is. It's just not involved with love itself. I think the last issue I want to address might have some bearing on this as well, so I'll move on to that.

On the last part, I wonder if this will clear the issue up a little. What he's saying is that you can't simply choose to like something that you don't at the moment like. You can choose to engage in actions that will eventually change what you like, but that takes time. You can't simply choose to like coffee, but you can act in such a way that your opposition to it gets deadened and your taste buds can become used to it, eventually coming to appreciate it. That's not choosing to like coffee, though. It's choosing to do things that will develop in you a like for coffee.
Jeremy, it may be that we may just have a semantic issue, but your first paragraph is way off the mark.

1) "He hasn't just defined love. He's argued that what scripture calls love involves the affections."

He has put forward a definition of love (that you think he feels is appropriate to the bible). I.e. He HAS defined love.

There is no reference to the bible in his post and no particular verse references. His entire post was argued on the basis of this definition and used secular examples to support his conclusion.

2) I Corinthians 13
(a) real love involves action
(b) deeds can be present without the love
(c) love involves something prior to the deeds
(d) Love must involve the affections, or it's simply not love. Mere altruism is not love, according to Paul

(d) does not follow from (c) as you are unnecessarily restricting the possible prior 'somethings' to affections.

Clearly, there are many motivations for actions. Warm fuzzy feelings are one such motivation, but then so is a committment of your will to the true good of the other person.

Either of these two motivations could be considered as 'love' (I.e. wink's definition and my definition) and both are completely consistent with 1 Cor 13. Hence your first paragraph is incorrect.

You may define (biblical) love as wink does, but this is begging the question. Just as Wink defines Love as requiring feelings begs the question because all of his examples seem to rely on the person 'feeling' love after they have tried to use an act of will to love.

Re: biblical scholars.
The use of the term love in the bible has many variations, as we do in life today. I sought to make this clearer by choosing 3 of the definitions commonly put forward. I am always cautious when people say that 'biblical scholars have shown...' because it is almost never the case that there is unanimous opinion.

That being said, I hope you realise that it was Absalom's full sister tamar that was raped by Amnon, who was Tamar's half brother. The hebrew word 'ahab' used is not necessarily the same as the greek work agape.

What's important is whether the Bible says distinctive things about what love really is, and that's obviously true. It would say them about love as described by either word, but it says them, and that's what matters. It says that love always leads to action. It says that love for Jesus leads to obeying his commands. It says that love for a brother or sister leads to forgiveness and to seeking to build up rather than to tear down. That doesn't mean the actions themselves are love. The actions are loving actions. They stem from love. They are not themselves the love. The love leads to them. If not, then it's not really love.
I agree completely! I just disagree that it is necessarily feelings that decide whether an action is loving. I think it is the motivation that decides whether it is loving. Feelings may help to achieve that correct motivation, but are not necessary. The motivation of wanting to achieve true good for the beloved is what I think is necessary, and from my experience, the feelings can arise from acting on this motivation.

Feelings are unreliable things. Someone can feel soooo 'in love' and yet what is really happening is they are focused on their own needs, not the other persons. I would say that their actions are not loving, and that what is missing is a true focus on achieving a true good for the other person.
There's no definition of the word 'love' in Wink's post. I didn't think there had been, but I read it again to be sure. All he does is present the definition Adrian Warnock's daughter gave and explain why it's incorrect. He does offer two theses. One is that love is not a mere feeling. The other is that it must involve feeling. Those are theses, not definitions. They're necessary conditions for love. That doesn't mean they're sufficient. It won't be a definition unless he also declares that he's listed sufficient conditions, and I don't think he's prepared to do that.

You're correct that (d) doesn't follow from (c). It's (c) that I Corinthians 13 supports, and it's (c) that refutes the claim that love is a choice. To get (d), you'll need to see how the words for love are used throughout other parts of the Bible. It involves delighting in things or in someone. Look at places where God delights over us (e.g. Zeph 3:17). The idea that love is mere action or choice comes from the medieval idea that God has no emotions, which scripture rejects. It's God's emotions (i.e. his love for us) that drive what he does for us. He loved the world so much that he gave his Son for us. The love is the reason for the action, not the action itself. Look also at how the words for love are used in the Psalms. Love for God involves delight in God, which is clearly an emotion.

I think part of the problem here is that you're thinking of the only possible emotional content of love as "warm fuzzy feelings". That's not what Wink is talking about. He's talking about delight in someone. It's desiring to see someone achieve what's best for them. That doesn't at all require "warm fuzzy feelings", whatever those are. It's not mere commitment to a person's good, however. It's wanting that good through seeing how good it is for the person to have what's good. Commitment to helping someone attain what's best is good, but I wonder if it's love without the desire to see that person attain what's best.

It's Amnon's love for Tamar that 'agape' is used for, not Absalom's. It would show little if it were Absalom's love. I'm not talking about the Hebrew word, either. I'm talking about the Greek word that translates it in the Septuagint. That word is 'agape'. It is used to refer to the kind of love that would rape someone. That shows that there's nothing in the linguistic content of the word itself that requires some higher love like God's. It's like the English word 'love' and can mean many things. The issue isn't about what the word means but about what the Bible says about the kind of love we should strive to have.

I think you're underestimating the significance of our desires. I don't think we will ultimately do anything unless we desire it. We act according to what we think will be best. That might be what is morally best. It might be what is best for us in some self-interested way. It may be what is for someone else's best. But we wouldn't do it without wanting that action to achieve our goals. That's an emotion. Desire has affective content.

I wonder if you're thinking of emotions the way the Stoics thought of the passions, the way the Vulcans and Jedi do, as whatever emotions are extreme and can lead you astray. The fact that Spock finds things fascinating shows that he's got plenty of emotions. It's the ones he doesn't want controlling him that he cuts off, not the ones that don't control him.

Augustine says a lot about this. He thinks the Stoic view is wrong because some emotions are good. I think he's right in saying that our will chooses what our desires are pointed toward. He says love is the key virtue, and love can be rightly or wrongly ordered depending on how our desires are ordered. If we desire the wrong thing, we'll love the wrong things and act accordingly. If we desire the right things, we'll love the right things and act accordingly. Given the way we're constructed, the emotions are part of everything we do, and it's not as if we choose in a way that conflicts with our emotions. We bring another emotion to bear and give it greater priority. Our love for the good allows us to choose against our love for physical pleasure. Our desire to see other people not harmed brings us to overcome our desire for comfort and do courageous things.

Now consider that and look again at how you concluded your comment. I suggest that your view is much like the view I'm outlining. You distinguish between feelings and wanting to achieve good for a person. I say the latter is an emotion. What you mean by the former is what the Stoics would call the passions, which are emotions that are so intense that they control us and have little of reason behind them. What you're referring to by the latter still seems to me to be an emotion. You just aren't calling it an emotion. So I think it's a semantic debate after all.
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