No, not Vandross. Though the silky smooth stylings of that Luther seem appropriate on Valentine’s Day, I prefer Martin Luther’s take on love.
In Thesis 28 of the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther states:
The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of [humanity] comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.
In his explanation of this statement, Luther reveals the differences between the love of God and the love of humans. People, he says, love what is pleasing to us, and that which is good or attractive or beneficial to us. We orient our love toward the people or things and places that we, as products of our consumer culture, dictate to be beautiful and deserving of our love.
On the contrary, God’s love, according to Luther, turns its attention toward those things that we would not find to be beautiful, valuable, good, or deserving of our love. God’s love is oriented toward the people and things and places that our human love neglects––that which is unlovable. “Rather than seeking it’s own good,” Luther says, “the love of God flows forth and bestows good.” God redefines beauty by loving that which we would never call beautiful.
Conforming our love to God’s love means orienting our love downwards. God’s love is oriented downward toward the poor, the broken, the marginalized, and those who are invisible to us by way of a culture of denial that refuses to be inconvenienced by the suffering of the Two-Thirds world and those underneath the surface of the privileged First World.
Martin Luther fiercely challenges our understanding of love. Loving that which is (by human standards) already lovable, and loving in order to receive love in return is contrary to God’s love. Rather, imitating God means directing our love toward that which our culture does not deem lovable. This entails redefining who and what is beautiful and who and what is deserving of love. It means a allowing our love to be determined by mercy instead of personal gain, selfishness and hopes for reciprocity. For ourselves, it means fully living out of the reality that we are truly and deeply loved by God as we are, and that we do not need to constantly worry about proving ourselves and our worth to God or to anyone else. This is radically difficult in the face of a system that spends so much time, energy, and resources to convince us that we are not good enough, pretty enough, lovable enough, and that we do not have enough stuff or the right stuff to satisfy our needs. Luther claims that we are beautiful because we are loved, not loved because we are beautiful. In other words, we are all beautiful because God’s love determines beauty. And God loves a lot.
Lets actively seek to redefine both beauty and love by following God in praising and loving that which is contrary to what our consumer culture deems beautiful and of worth. What might that look like for you?