top of page
  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When love is an emotion

“And you probably know someone,” writes Pete Greig, “who makes you fall in love with Jesus all over again.”

I’m currently reading his excellent book, How to Hear God: A Simple Guide for Normal People, about our need to develop the ability to hear God speaking to us, “one of the most astounding yet confusing things you will ever learn to do.”

However, I stopped short on reading this particular sentence. Do I want to fall in love with Jesus? Or is the reality that I am too emotionally uptight, even damaged, to use such intimate language to express my Christian faith?

After all, what does God require of us, as human beings made in his image?

The key verse has to be the Shema which would have been recited daily by Jesus as a Torah-abiding Jew: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4f)

The big surprise of the Hebrew scriptures is that our primary response to God is not to obey him or fear him or even honour him but to love him - and to love him with our whole being.

So falling in love with Jesus would seem to follow from this first commandment.

Which has made me think over these last few days what does it mean to love God? And more to the point, is the phrase “falling in love” appropriate for a disciple of Jesus?

Author Dee Brestin would think so. After all she entitles her book: “Falling In Love With Jesus Abandoning Yourself To The Greatest Romance Of Your Life.”

(Why do Americans love the upper case so much, viz the New York Times which I subscribe to?)

And what about the Old Testament book Song of Songs, a poem described in Wikipedia as “two lovers are in harmony, each desiring the other and rejoicing in sexual intimacy?” This has been traditionally requisitioned by the church to describe the relationship between Jesus and his church – but is that an appropriate use of the scriptural text?

I recall a conversation years ago with my college friend Sandy Millar who went on to become vicar of HTB. He spoke of the need in worship to use intimate language, and I’m sure he’s right. Except some of such worship songs don’t work for me.

The issue at stake, I think, is the use of romantic language in our relationship with God. Romantic love, of course, is important: it has the power to ignite and launch relationships. It can wreck your nerves, of course, but the potential to be hugely enjoyable and more to the point in our culture is highly prized. Witness the early Beatle songs.

But at the same time such love is transient, even adolescent. And unreliable, for we can fall out of love just as quickly. “The bottom line,” writes Jodi Picoult, “is that we never fall for the person we're supposed to!”

I’ve just read in this morning’s Times that Wolfgang Porsche, the 79-year-old sports car billionaire, is divorcing his wife who has dementia. Apparently, he is in love with someone else. “Can one leave the sick partner for a new love?” Bild asked yesterday.

If nothing else, love is for the long haul. Which means that it cannot rely on our ephemeral emotions for foundation. And therefore it is a mistake to seek to cultivate such emotion. In contrast if we are to love in sickness and in health, we need to focus our energy elsewhere.

For the record one of Jacqui’s favourite songs is from Don Francisco: Love Is Not A Feeling. (He’s an American!). It concludes:

Jesus didn't die for you

Because it was fun

He hung there for love

Because it had to be done

And in spite of the anguish

His work was fulfilled

Cause love is not a feelin'

It's an act of your will

Of course it is Jesus who in his cross gives the definitive definition of love. So he teaches: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43)

And in such love we don’t wait for the emotion: we just do it. As C S Lewis wrote: “Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.”

For such love is to be at the heart of our discipleship for the simple reason that love is in the very heart of God. And the Bible in both testaments uses a special word.

The Hebrew word in the Old Testament is hesed which expresses God’s side of his covenant with his people: it is his commitment, his promise. And in the New Testament, the unusual Greek word agape, defined by Wikipedia as “the deep and profound sacrificial love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance.”

Essentially such love is not something we work up. The very opposite, it is a gift from God himself as we abide in Christ. As the apostle Paul rejoices: “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

And what do we do with such love? We simply get on with it and wait for our emotions to catch up, and so prove to be disciples of Jesus.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page