A Manual or Immanuel?
A Manual or Immanuel?
Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
Eric Scalise, Ph.D.
Robert Frost, well-known Pulitzer Prize winning poet, captured this thought: “Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.” Not only did God love the creation that bore His image, He put within the heart and spirit of humankind the need and the capacity to both love others and to be loved. We were created in relationship, through relationship, and for relationship. Yet for many, relationships have become just a complex list of Do’s and Don’ts, Rights and Wrongs, the Latest 10 Principles for Connecting, and all the How-Tos when it comes to success and happiness. We want the Manual! Give me the manual! Please don’t misunderstand me here – as a counselor, of courseI’m interested in what the research has to say, as well as the thoughts and insights of other experts. My only caution is that we become so “busy,” we lose our focus and our priorities and then have the tendency to morph into human doings rather than human beings.
With the progressive unfolding of God’s story in the book of Genesis, He first declared what He made – the heavens and the earth and all that they contained – as “good.” Then He fashioned Adam from the dust of the ground, breathed life into his form, and said that it was “very good.” After resting on the seventh day and blessing it as holy, God led Adam into the Garden of Eden and told him that it was, “not good for man to be alone.” He was speaking about our very nature, our eternal DNA – that we were designed for relationship, humanly speaking along with the divine.
Love may be a many splendored thing, as the 1955 American film classic portrays, but it can also be a many faceted and complicated phenomenon too. Over the centuries, poets, philosophers, novelists, artists, songwriters, even scientists and researchers, have all attempted to define love’s boundaries, its influence and power, its nuances, its complexity, and yes, even its simplicity. From a psychological perspective, love can be explained as consisting of a number of elements…companionship, interpersonal attraction, commitment, passion, pleasure, attachment, and intimacy. So, is love a noun… a feeling – something that is tangible and visible, or is it a verb – an act of the will or a set of observable behaviors? The answers are “Yes” and “Yes.” If we were then created through an act of love – to give and to receive love – then what does this say about the nature and character of God Himself?
When Jesus was tested by a Pharisee who asked Him which was the greatest commandment, He essentially distilled the entire Old Testament message into His response. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:36-40). One could further condense the Lord’s discourse into just four words: Love God – Love people. This process beautifully reveals the very core of all who God is – simply put, He is love.
John, who is often referred to as the Apostle of love because he wrote much on the subject and is viewed as a true intimate of the Savior, had this to say in his Epistle, “My beloved friends, let us continue to love each another since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God” (1 Jn. 4:7-8 – The Message). What then was His greatest act of love? Again, the Holy Spirit uses the words of John to proclaim in one our most beloved verses that, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
Most of you reading this will have experienced both the wonder and excitement of love’s journey, as well as the heartbreak and grief that comes with failure, rejection, and the fallen state of mankind. Satan, as the great deceiver, seeks to twist, deform, falsely mimic, and destroy anything that speaks to the love of God. If God is love personified, as evidenced through the life of His Son, then the enemy of our soul will stop at nothing to distort the image. We see a daily confirmation all around us that litters our cultural landscape – sexual abuse, adultery and fornication, gratuitous sex without any real commitment or relationship, rampant pornography and sexual addiction, broken relationships and families through divorce, and the list could go on. In the mental health field, counselors address issues of relationship more than any other single presenting problem.
How does all of this translate into our marriages? Our role as parents? Our friendships? Even our walk with God? Many a child spells love T-I-M-E. I often get asked what is more important… quality time or quantity time? The answer is , “Yes!” And that applies across the board in almost any relationship. We must never forget the power of presence… simply to “be” with another person is one of the most life changing and transformative dynamics I know of. I often wonder what changed the disciples more over the three years they walked with Rabbi Jesus, head knowledge or heart knowledge?
Jesus never offered the disciples a manual, but He did offer Himself. Matthew 1:23 prophesied this reality, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means, ‘God with us.’” Likewise, in his Gospel, John tells us that, “The Word [Christ] became flesh, and dwelt among us” (1:14a).
Someone once asked me when I thought life began… at conception or at birth? I responded that I was oriented before either event. In the first chapter of Jeremiah, God makes the following declaration to the young teenager, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (vs.5). The word, “know,” in this verse is the Hebrew word, “yada.” For you Seinfeld lovers out there, you may remember that he would often comment on something in the show by saying, “Yada, yada, yada” or, “I know, I know, I know.” Depending on the context, this can mean I know something or I know someone. Here in this passage, God is saying that before Jeremiah was conceived and before he was born, in His essence… in His being, He knew (yada) Jeremiah relationally, God didn’t just know about Jeremiah, but had already envisioned a relationship with him.
As that thought sinks in, let it draw you to your own relationships. Yes, of course pay attention to saying and doing all the right things, but don’t forget to be with your spouse, be with your children, be with your friends, and be with your loved ones.
Eric Scalise, Ph.D., is the former Vice President for Professional Development with the American Association of Christian Counselors, as well as a current consultant and their Senior Editor. He is also the President of LIV Enterprises & Consulting, LLC, and a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with more than 36 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, leadership development, addictions, and lay counselor training. He is an author, a national and international conference speaker, and frequently consults with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.