One, true love

We have so many ways to talk about love. You’ve probably heard about them all:

The seven types of love (eros/physical, philia/“brotherly,” ludus/playful, pragma/steadfast, philautia/self, storge/child and agape/godly)

The five love languages (words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch)

The four types of love (family, friendship, acquaintances and romantic relationships)

The three people we love in a lifetime (first love/looks right, second love/hard work, third love/lasting)

Two types of love in marriage (intimate and selfless)

With a countdown like that, doesn’t it feel like there should be a drumroll for No. 1? While we generally only have one word for “love” in English, we know there are several adjectives that can describe a particular kind of love. Most of the time, when we describe love, it’s related to our love for other people, whether that person is a stranger or our partner. If you read back through that list, most of it is clearly focused on how we discover love with people, which may be why there is not a No. 1 in that list. 

A deeper understanding of love is found in at least three of the world’s major religions. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of all was, he quoted the Shema Yisrael from the Hebrew scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:4): 

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” That is basically the Sahada in Islam: “There is no god but God.”

When we think of this as the No. 1, it becomes amazingly clear. The singular, pure, true and holy love is God. The word that best describes a perfect love is “God.” In fact, when Jesus quoted the Shema, he immediately quoted the second verse: 

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5, Tanakh). 

Finally, Jesus lifted the challenge to live in the No. 1 love by adding another aspect:

“The second is this: You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:31, CEB).

As Jesus challenges us to find perfect love with God, he also challenges us to follow in God’s example by loving ALL with the love of God, and thus we begin to discover the truest form of love. Instead of focusing on our love for others first, we find that there is a single love that is like no other. That love — our No. 1 — is God. 

It reminds me of a scene from the movie City Slickers when Curly (the cowboy leader of the cattle drive) talks about how many people come looking for answers. He quickly points out that they only need “one thing.” And that’s what you’ve got to figure out for yourself!

What if that one thing is love, but what if that one love is simply called “God?” God is love. Start with that love, and all the rest will fall in line.

Mark McDonald