God is love, but love is not God. So wrote C.S Lewis in The Four Loves. When we make love a god, Lewis thought, then whatever we love is legitimate:
Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done “for love’s sake” is thereby lawful and even meritorious. (C.S Lewis, The Four Loves p. 216)When love is god we twist the term, detaching it from the one who is love, and attaching it to parasites.
There are certain features found among those who truly love each other. Pride, for example, is not one of them. Pride is a parasite, a destroyer. Wherever there is pride there can be no love, only human selfish desire under another name. I know this in part because God says it (1 Cor 13), but also because I have plenty of first hand experiences of my own pride. Yet I also know the love of God. And in his love I find no pride whatsoever. Christ’s love propelled him not to self-aggrandizement, but to the humility of the cross on my behalf. To know Christ’s love is to yield to a humble love not a manipulative, puffed up love.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew the purely human kind of love. In 1930's Germany he watched a nation become enraptured by a powerful orator pursuing the love of his "children." He wrote:
Human love makes itself an end in itself. It creates of itself an end, an idol which it worships, to which it must subject everything. It nurses and cultivates an ideal, it loves itself, and nothing else in the world (Bonhoeffer, Life Together).Bonhoeffer suggested that human love was deceptive because it is accompanied by "lofty moods that come over us like a dream." There is a transcendence in love, a feeling of rising above our circumstances. But such a love can turn out to be hate in beautiful costume.
Much of our problem comes from an assumption about the moral nature of human beings. Contemporary culture tells that we are essentially good, that what we desire proceeds from essentially good hearts, that our loves are, with very few exceptions, good loves.
The problem with such a view is clear. If all human beings are in such a condition, then how do we know that what we find morally praiseworthy is the essentially good part of our humanness? It could very well be the reverse. That is the problem Bonhoeffer spots. It is our inability to avoid being hoodwinked by the ideal of human love detached from God.
Christians who say we are not as good as we think are maligned as saying something offensive, something that destroys human dignity. But human dignity does not come from believing that we are mostly good; it comes from a humble acceptance of our idolatry, a sorrowful heart over our sin and the experience of the love of God in Christ. And by knowing the Love of Christ we can learn to spot a fake.