It was summer 2014. I was working at Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs, Colorado, where my fellow staffers and I spent our days between manual labor, mentoring high school campers, and singing the 70’s classic, “Hooked on a Feeling.” The song, introduced to our millennial consciousness by the recent Marvel movie Guardians of the Galaxy, was infectious. All any of us had to do was bang on a table twice, and every staffer within earshot would belt out “I-I-I-I-I, I’m hooked on a feeling‚ I’m high on believing, that you’re in love with me!”
We sang it because it was so irresistibly catchy (I apologize for triggering that “Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga” refrain in your head), not because we agreed with all of the lyrics. But when examined, the words reflect a deeply ingrained cultural perspective on why we should love: because of what we feel.
Where does love come from?
Love is difficult to define. Not the least because any attempt to ask the question “What is love?” will immediately be met with the popular lyrics, “Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.” When you finally get someone to stop singing long enough to ask the question again, a wide variety of answers will likely be given.
The question is complicated by the fact that there are many categories of love, including romantic love, platonic love between friends, divine love, and more. But regardless of the type of love being discussed, our culture seems united that it should emanate from our feelings about someone or something.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines love as “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.” Love stems from our feelings and is itself merely a feeling. This is not others-centered love, but a self-focused statement about us. We’re either hooked on a feeling, or we’re not. The popular breakup phrase “I don’t love you anymore,” usually means “I don’t feel the way I did before.” But is this really what love is?
More than a feeling?
The Bible mentions love hundreds of times. To find the source of love, let’s examine 1 John 4:10,19, which says “Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. … We love because he first loved us.”
The ultimate source of our love is God’s love for us, not our feelings. God Himself is love. He is the root of all authentic love, and our love—when it is genuine—is merely a reflection of His.
What’s so amazing about this is that God’s love for us is not earned. In fact, the Bible tells us that God’s greatest act of love for humanity was completely undeserved. Romans 5:8 says “God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The contrast with culture’s definition of love couldn’t be more clear. Society says “I’ll love if I feel it.” God loves self-sacrificially when He has every right to be angry.
Jesus forever changed our understanding of love when He said “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Not only are we to love someone when we don’t feel like it, we’re to love someone who doesn’t deserve it.
We also see here that love is more than emotion—it requires action. God didn’t just feel fondness toward us—He gave His life to save us. True love acts self-sacrificially toward someone to benefit and bless them. As the classic DC Talk song said, “Luv is a Verb.”
How should we then love?
Even as a Christian, it’s easy to fall into the cultural understanding of love. We only love when we feel like it, and as long as we have that positive emotion toward someone, we don’t have to take any concrete action. When we are tempted to think like this, we must remember the way Jesus modeled love for us. Even on the cross, He prayed for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying Him. He loved unconditionally, and so should we.
This doesn’t mean that our feelings are unimportant, or that they aren’t involved in acts of love. But as C. S. Lewis pointed out in Mere Christianity, the cultural order often needs to be reversed. He said, “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.”
Love is more than a feeling; it is a decision to act. And as Christians, the best motivation to take such loving action is the recognition that we have been loved unconditionally. Our love must flow out of God’s love, or it will always be vulnerable to our rapidly changing feelings.
May we love as we have been loved by Him.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 116