A few weeks ago, my former intern was in town and called me. We met for lunch, and I was so happy to see her before she went back to college for her Junior year! (I could swear I was just at her high school graduation!) As is often the case with us, our talk turned to writing. As we talked, I told her of a topic that’s been on my mind for a long time. It’s based on a pet peeve of mine. So here we go….
The topic is about “loved.” Note—past tense. When someone talks about someone who died or even a recent breakup, they may say, “I lovED them so much!” (I’m emphasizing the past tense.)
Why do we talk about love as if it “was” instead of as it “is?” Y’all, my grandfather died in 2011, and my grandmother died a year ago this month. I still love them. That love isn’t past. It’s very much present.
I’m reminded of the final scene from the movie Ghost. Patrick Swayze’s character, Sam, says, “It’s amazing, Molly. The love inside, you take it with you.” And while this is a Hollywood moment, I can’t help but believe they got this one right.
Let’s visit the parable of the rich man and poor man (Lazarus) from Luke 16:19-31. The rich man, agonizing in hell, calls out to Abraham to send Lazarus some relief. Abraham explains that the rich man has received his comfort on earth, and he is beyond help. In verses 27-28, the rich man says, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (ESV).
What strikes me is a point I don’t know that I’ve ever heard mentioned…the dead man who was anguishing in torment had enough emotion to care about—dare we say “love”?—his brothers. So much so that he asked for someone to go to them and warn them, so they could escape his fate.
I’m speculating, and there may be a theological perspective that says those who suffer in hell would warn their worst enemy. I’m sure that’s true. But the story doesn’t say that the rich man asked for Lazarus to be sent to all his friends and the rest of humanity. He singled out his brothers.
If a rich man in torment can care enough for his brothers from the bowels of hell, then why do we define our love in the past tense? After all, the rich man is dead, past the reach of help, yet his care is in the present.
Is it because we treat love with a cavalier attitude? After all, we love ice cream, and we love our children. We use the same term to refer to a temporary sweet fix as we do to the very flesh and blood of our bodies.
I’m not judging. I do it, too. But the past tense issue—that’s the one that really gets under my skin.
As Mallory and I talked about this topic, she referred to John 3:16, and asked me how I felt about the past tense usage there. It’s different, I told her. It doesn’t insinuate a diminished emotion when it says, “For God so lovED the world…” That past-tense usage explains the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross as payment for our sins.
I told her that I go back to the verse that says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 ESV). We love (present tense) because God showed us what true love looks like when He loved us enough to send Jesus to die for us.
We skip down to verse 21, which reads, “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (ESV).
“But Denise, you may argue—the rich man is in hell! What about his love?” Note the distinction in the phrase, “whoever loves God” (present tense) from 1 John 4:21.
We can also refer to Matthew 7:11, when Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” (ESV). Even those who don’t know God can love someone else and care for them. It’s the Christian’s love for God that is the difference.
All this to say—love, real love, doesn’t have an expiration date. Just as God is everlasting (Psalm 90:2), He is also love (1 John 4:8). And as we are made in His image (Genesis 1:26), we are made with the capacity to love. And with that in mind, let us live (and love) accordingly, as it says in 1 John 4:11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (ESV). Loved as an example; love in the present.
The Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8). Jesus modeled overwhelming love for us when He suffered and died on the cross. And because of that love, we know that true love never dies and it never ends.