Article: Love: The True Mark of Intimacy | Jacob Varghese
One of the most profound words used in human relationship is “Love”. In our contemporary world this word is loosing its meaning and significance. Recently, I began to reflect on the meaning of the word “Love” from different perspectives. Perhaps it is better to reflect on some of the qualities of love, the experience of it, rather than a definition of it. Love should be understood in terms of gentleness, intimacy, trust and companionship. We must understand about how an authentic love is realistic. Contrary to the old cliché, love is anything but blind. Love is something that helps us to see God, ourselves, other people, and the whole world as they really are. A person who truly loves never settles for less than the best in any relationship, and never offers less than the best of him/herself. Love is not a sort of vague, formless kind of nice warm feeling, but rather a very specific, concrete, reality oriented sense.
It is to a very particular understanding and practice of love that we are called as Christians. Simply put it, we are to love one another as God has loved us. Our attitude towards others can never be merely what we might think that others deserve or what feels right to us. This attitude must be God’s own, and if it is not, then our morality is not Christian. God has bound us together in a relationship that is indeed marked by something more than human. Love is our willingness to act in the best interests of someone whom we know perfectly well, would not be willing to do for us. That does not mean just being polite, just showing good manners: but it is a real willingness to truly promote the welfare of that person.
The kind of love to which Christ Calls us is really an act of faith, directed towards each other. Loving one’s enemies really can’t be done on a purely human level. It requires something more; it requires making a judgment about reality, about the world and the people in it, a judgment to the effect that it is something more than what it seems to be. A judgment that there is something about this person that I am picturing that must be respected, honored, and served; something, which cannot be felt, experienced, sensed, but which must be believed. This is possible because Christ binds us together into a relationship, to an intimacy, which is something more than human. This has to do with knowing God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Christian faith has nothing whatsoever to do with religion, but it’s all about relationship. It’s all about the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Knowing God is faith and faith is a personal relationship with Jesus. We know God because He has chosen to reveal himself through Jesus. We would never know another person unless he/she chooses to reveal him/herself to us. A person can reveal a false personality. But we can never really know others until they make the choice to reveal themselves.
God has chosen to reveal himself to us through Jesus Christ. Through Christ Jesus we know God personally. It is only our sin that knocks us out of relationship with God and it is grace that God extends to us with open arms, and says, “Come home and know me.” He is calling us to a new relationship where we can experience Him and know Him intimately. But this relationship needs to be nurtured just like any other relationship. Once we get intimate with the Lord we are never lonely and we never lack understanding or compassion. We can continually pour out our hearts to Him without being perceived as overly emotional or pitiful. The Christian who is truly intimate with Lord will never draw attention to himself but will only show the evidence of a life where Jesus is in complete control. This is the outcome of allowing the Lord to control every area of life. This picture resulting from such a life is that the strong, calm balance that our Lord gives to those who are intimate with Him. For God has created us for an intimate relationship with Him. He desires that we reflect this sense of intimacy in our relationship with others. Jesus said that the first and most important commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” If we are growing in a genuine and all consuming love for God it will flow into every areas of our lives, particularly in our relationship with fellow beings.
In the secular world, intimacy is understood as closeness, which often includes sexual closeness. It also involves such concepts as transparency, the ability to share with the other person, one’s deepest longings and vulnerabilities. But these are by products of intimacy, not the thing itself. And even “openness” and “vulnerability” can be forms emotional exhibitionism that serves selfish needs, rather than contributing to true intimacy. But the Biblical understanding of intimacy has nothing to do with self and everything to do with the other person. Such an intimacy involves a high degree of transparency and vulnerability. Here the focus is taken off one’s desires, needs, hurts and it is placed on the other person’s desires, needs and hurts. The joy of intimacy is not in receiving but in giving, not in being served but in serving. It is this that Christ has done for us. He gave himself for us and became the servant of all. It is our commitment to Christ that we need to exhibit through our intimacy with others.
The true measure of commitment to Christ is revealed in the horizontal aspect of our relationship. It is here we practice Christian love and compassion as Christ has shown through his life. How willing are we to be servants of one another, enough to become deeply involved in the lives of others? To have them involved in ours? How much do we really care about our neighbors at home, at work, or in the church? Jesus showed us these through his life and is calling us to imitate him. Putting mud on the eyes of a blind man was an intimate gesture. The good shepherd who could call out each of his sheep by name had an intimate relationship with them, even though there were lots of them, even though they all looked much the same. The good shepherd goes back to look for a sheep, which is lost and in human terms that means not only people who have deliberately turned away from God but also all those who have been rejected by others. This world today is full of people who are rejected by their families, communities and even by their churches. They might be called, in Jesus’ words as the “lost.” They are the ones who deserve our love and concern. We are called to extend our love to such people. God has called us to this type of horizontal relationship where we give ourselves for the sake of the others. We have experienced God’s love and we are expected to demonstrate this in our relationship with others. Because love is the true mark of intimacy, which can be expressed only through genuine relationship.