Pause for thought
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In preparing Bible Studies, I often find myself diving down what can best be described in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” as a “rabbit hole”. I start in known territory but have no idea where a path will lead. So it was when I was pondering why so many people have dificulty with concept of “God is love”.

But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:8 NLT

Those who want to be argumentative with me on this teaching inevitably want to dive into Old Testament examples of what, to their mind, contradict this loving essence of God. But I think they are mistaking what is going on:

Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him. Deuteronomy 7:8-10 NLT

The problem arises when we fail to distinguish between motives and emotions. You will notice that both those words have a component which is “-mot-“. This comes from the 2nd conjugation Latin verb “moveo, movere, movi, motus” which among other things means to “move, stir, agitate, affect, provoke, disturb” and even “dance”! It’s where we get words like “move”, “motor”, “motion”, and “locomotive” among others.

Emotions are hard to pin down. A lot of work has gone into trying to catalog and describe the feelings common to humans in various circumstances. The emotion annotation and representation language (EARL) proposed by the Human-Machine Interaction Network on Emotion (HUMAINE) classifies 48 emotions in 10 groups:

Negative and forceful Anger, Annoyance, Contempt, Disgust, Irritation Negative and not in control Anxiety, Embarrassment, Fear, Helplessness, Powerlessness, Worry Negative thoughts Doubt, Envy, Frustration, Guilt, Shame Negative and passive Boredom, Despair, Disappointment, Hurt, Sadness Agitation Stress, Shock, Tension Positive and lively Amusement, Delight, Elation, Excitement, Happiness, Joy, Pleasure Caring Affection, Empathy, Friendliness, Love Positive thoughts Pride, Courage, Hope, Humility, Satisfaction, Trust Quiet positive Calmness, Contentment, Relaxation, Relief, Serenity Reactive Interest, Politeness, Surprise

You will notice that although love is in the list (under “caring”) it only represents a little over 2% of the emotions that swirl about in our lives even though popular entertainment and social media would lead you to think it should have 90% of our attention!

Motives, on the other hand, are much simpler to define and understand. A motive is something (such as a need or desire) that causes a person to act. A motive can be any goal we wish to attain. For some, ambition is what motivates them, for others power, or fame, or wealth, or attention. The list is almost endless! Even although you may “love” a daily coffee from Starbucks, Peets, Costa, or McDonalds, the goal of saving for retirement might be the motive that informs your actions! Motives help us to make choices (not always wise ones!)

Paul, writing to the church in Corinth sets forth his motivation for his actions:

If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. 2 Corinthians 5:13-15 NLT

The “love” that motivates him is not the warm squishy good feelings of emotional love, but the motivating love that seeks the best outcomes for every human being. This is why we can “love” people we don’t even “like”!

We see the same motive quoted by Jesus himself in explaining why he came to earth:

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 NLT

And he wants his followers to embrace that same motivation:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. John 13:34-35 NLT

Or, as John the Apostle expresses it:

We love each other because he loved us first. 1John 4:19 NLT

So, the next time someone confronts your faith with a question that begins, “…how can a God of love…?”, be sure to point out that they are being confused by emotion when they should be looking at motives! We should be happy that God is not confused or swayed by human emotion, He only wants what is truly best for us and is working all circumstances out for our good! All the time!

For more characteristics of motivational love, may I suggest a reading of 1 Corinthians 13. You’ll love it!

Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black

P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at