This is an excerpt from the first chapter of my brand new book Love Me Anyway:
The doo-wop group The Monotones were the first to wonder, wonder, who, bad-doo-oo-hoo, who wrote the book of love. For their part, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers wondered why fools fall in love. Songs like these speak to the seemingly uncrackable cipher of love. No animal instinct can explain it. No pragmatism can solve it. It’s the stuff of potions and angels and Mr. Sandman. The most popular songs of the 1950’s were much, much simpler than the pop songs of the late 2000’s, but they also wrestled with love in a way these later songs rarely do. Pop music, like a boy, grows up, and lust ends up poisoning the whole enterprise.
On the way to the coffee shop to write this chapter, I was listening to some old love songs on the radio and realized most of them wouldn’t rate today, and not just because the music style is out of fashion. When our forefathers sang about love, they stood in awe—both of the objects of their desire and of love itself. Sure, they’re praising external appearances a lot of the time, but like the ancient poets, they’re comparing eyes, hair, and smiles to heavenly beings, ethereal feelings, and the like. They are reveling in beauty and, as true beauty always does, it transports them, connects them to an ecstasy beyond what is merely seen. “Are the stars out tonight?” The singer can’t tell, because his love has arrested his attention with her loveliness. He only has eyes for her.
Fast forward to today’s fixation on faceless bodies, the comparison of women’s private parts to dump trucks and milkshakes. The poetry is gone. We’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.
I know I sound like a grumpy old man right now. And it’s not fair to compare the best examples of musical yesteryear with the worst examples of today. There are some good songwriters out there still wrestling with the mysteries of love and saying some profound things. But in terms of popular music, mainstream songs ostensibly about love have gotten cruder, ruder, and, indeed, less poetic. Our culture does not speak of love in lovely ways.
It may surprise some to know, however, that this is not because as a people we are more sinful today than anybody else was in the past. We may have grown coarser, but it’s only because we have gotten collectively tired of holding up the pretense that we are good people. There may yet be a revival of virtue and propriety—cultures do tend to swing like a pendulum from extreme to extreme—but we’ll still be just as sinful even when we recover our shame.
This cycle has played out from the beginning of time. The broken love of Genesis 3 spills quickly into the first murder. The wickedness intensifies then, calcifying in the earliest culture. It’s not long, historically speaking, before God pours his wrath out on everyone in the world, minus one family with which he means to reboot humanity. But even that reboot does not proceed sinlessly. Drunkenness, bloodthirsty violence, and sexual immorality reemerge into the world almost as soon as that family reemerges onto dry land.
The question of where love comes from—who wrote it? why do fools fall into it?—is this story. It’s the same story of sinful, broken people navigating a sinful, broken world. The best love songs, then, even written by Godless heathens still somehow manage to point to the peace and joy of un- brokenness, to the shalom of love fully known and realized. “I don’t know if we’re in a garden or on a crowded avenue,” sang The Flamingos who only have eyes for you, and they have, perhaps unwittingly, managed to summarize the civilizational progression of love itself. For we began in a garden and now find ourselves exiled on the avenue—crowded physically and mentally and emotionally—and still longing to return to that garden, where our eyes may be filled with the glory of love.
Every love song is a gleam of beauty falling on a jungle of imbecility. The gleams tell us there is a brighter light out there, a glory more glorious than even the glory of earthly loves. There is a story that makes sense of all the stories, even the terrible ones.
The story begins in the eternal mind of the Author. And it makes perfect sense that the greatest romance ever told would come from the God who is love in his very self. “God is love,” the apostle John tells us (1 John 4:8,16). It’s not just that he’s loving, though he certainly is. And it’s not just that he has love, though he certainly does. No, John boldly asserts that God’s very self is the very thing all humankind has always been starving for and searching for. Your constant need for love is fundamentally a constant need for God.
Now, how is it that God can be love in his very self? Some dullards have said that God made mankind because he was lonely, because in effect he needed someone to love. But this would make God not God at all, but more of a glorified proto-man. It was Adam whose solitude was not good; it was Adam who was perfected by receiving one to love and to love him in return. God did not become love upon his creation of anyone or anything. He is love. Which means he’s always been love.
But if there was a time before anything else was, but there’s never been a time when God was not, how can this be? Love needs an object, doesn’t it? You can’t love nothing.
Our knowledge of God helps us here. What do we know about the one true God? We know that he exists eternally in three Persons. There are not three gods; nor is there one god who sometimes manifests in one of three different personalities. Rather, God is a Trinity of equally and essentially divine Persons. This is how God is love. He has always had love within himself, enjoying the relational love between the Trinitarian fellowship. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father. The Father loves the Spirit, and the Spirit loves the Father. The Son loves the Spirit, and the Spirit loves the Son.
If we find love mysterious, is it any wonder? The very fountain of love, he who is love in his very self, is an eternal and inscrutable wonder. Have you figured out the math of how the Trinity “works?” Well, then, neither can you figure out the math of how love works.
The love of God is so intense, so perfect, and the glorious love each Person of the Triune Godhead gives to the others becomes the basis for expansion of this love outside of the impassable reality of itself. God doesn’t need anyone else to love, and he certainly doesn’t need to receive love, but he sovereignly wills to make creatures in his own image, to know his love and to love him in return, to reflect his own glory in a special way.
So when that naked guy stood there looking at that naked girl, and they both lacked shame, and they both felt nothing but the ineffable quality of love—so ecstatic and glorifying that the only reasonable response was to sing—they were experiencing something of the intra-trinitarian love of God.
It lasts for about a minute. Eventually that man and woman decide something else may satisfy. They don’t want to just know God but be in his place. The perfect experience of love is shattered. And this is still at the beginning of the Book!
But the sordid history book about love-hungry sinners reaches its climax when the Word becomes flesh. Love puts skin on. He is the new Adam—sinless and able to give love perfectly. Jesus says a lot about love, but he mostly just does it. He’s loving anyone and everyone. The people you expect he should. And the people you suspect he wouldn’t. Even some people you think he shouldn’t. He appears to be loving willy-nilly. He’s not asking anyone’s permission. He just loves freely, widely, promiscuously.
Jesus loves all the wrong people. People who can offer him nothing. People who cannot love him the way he loves them. People who hate him. He doesn’t seem hindered at all by their lovelessness or their unloveliness. He loves them so much, in fact, that he very often puts himself in their position, stooping to their level, touching their wounds, embracing their pain. He ends up loving so much that he takes their shame upon himself, even their sin and the condemnation it deserves. He loves all the way to the cross. And as the most popular Bible verse in the history of the world tells us, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
There is no greater love than this (John 15:13).
So now you know who wrote the book of love. The only one who could. God created this crazy little thing called love as a reflection of himself and of the story of the gospel—the good news of the radical love of God through Jesus Christ, whose sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection save sinners who repent of their sin and trust in him. The gospel helps us crack the code.
And now you know why fools fall in love. Because even sinners who don’t know God or want anything to do with his love have been made in God’s image. The reflection of Love is in their bones. Love, though corrupted because of sin and distorted because of the fall, is in every person’s DNA.
It’s for this reason that so much of what we consider love becomes not- love so easily. Sin is why we don’t always feel the love we want and more often don’t give the love we should. But the Book tells us something vitally important about that mess too.
Love Me Anyway: How God’s Perfect Love Fills Our Deepest Longing releases tomorrow from Baker Books. Order today!