I live in the city of Philadelphia, and one day I was eating at the Reading Terminal Market, a great American food emporium. Walking up and down the aisles debating over what I would enjoy most, I realized that I shared something in common with everyone else: we were all searching for something to satisfy the cravings of our stomach.
Besides our hunger, though, the crowd didn't share many similarities. We came from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. We had different occupations, we spoke different languages, and we wore different clothes. But we were united in our quest for delicious food!
I. CRAVING LOVE
That got me thinking: other than food, what do all of these people have in common? The answer came quickly: each one of us was hungry, not only for food, but for love.
The young couple, shooting flirty glances at one another, wanted to be loved. The old man, walking slowly with his cane, wanted to be loved. The mother, trying to corral her children, wanted to be loved, and so did her kids. The cashier behind the counter, frustrated by the customer's picky demands, wanted to be loved, and so did his customer.
It was a crowd of nameless people, all gathered in pursuit of culinary delights. At first glance, it looked like a diverse clash of cultures, colors, sounds, and smells. But really, we were all just people. And what do people want deep in their hearts? They hunger to be loved.
The desire to be loved is one thing that separates human beings from the rest of creation. We're deeply emotional and deeply social human beings. By the Creator's wise design, we weren't structured to be alone. God said it himself in Genesis 2:18 – "It is not good that the man should be alone."
We were created to be connected, to be dependent, to be communicative, and to be together. We were designed to give and receive a whole variety of love: familial love, marital love, brotherly love, parental love, community love, body of Christ love, friendship love, neighborly love, and more.
Love is the foundation of humanity.
II. BROKEN LOVE
There was something else I realized that day about all these people in the market. Many of them, if not all, were walking around with bruised and broken hearts. They had experienced love, but in a broken form.
There were those who had never found true love, and there were those who fled from a love gone wrong. Some experienced a love that died, while others still lived in a dysfunctional love but didn't know how to fix it.
There were those who told themselves they didn't need to be loved, but in their quiet moments, they didn't believe it. There were others so badly bruised by love that they would never open their hearts to it again. And there were still more who would do just about anything to hear someone say to them, "I love you."
If you have lived for just a short period of time with any sense of awareness, you won't need a blog post to tell you this: love is at once the sweetest and the saddest of human experiences.
But whether we recognize it or not, even if we experienced human love in perfection and to the fullest, our hunger for love would still exist.
III. HORIZONTAL LOVE
The problem with human love isn't just that human love is broken. We know it is - we've been on both the giving and receiving end of broken love. More significantly, human love is horizontal. Horizontal love – in other words, given between people – was never designed to give the human heart the peace, satisfaction, and rest that it craves.
Though horizontal human love will never satisfy our hunger, it has a very significant role to play in the ultimate contentment that we seek. Human love was designed by God to be a signpost that points us to the one love that has the power to give our heart the satisfaction it longs for.
Two biblical examples come to mind. First, Ephesians 5. The Apostle Paul spoke about marriage as a picture of a more foundational and satisfying love - that is, the love that Christ has for us, his church.
Another example is John 17. Jesus prays that the loving unity of his followers would point those who are watching to the love of God that caused him to send his Son on that sacrificial mission of rescuing and forgiving love that is the hope of humanity.
So, horizontal love has its place, and while broken, it still has a very powerful and very significant influence over the human experience.
But here's the mistake we all make at some point in our lives. This mistake causes us to be despondent, disappointed, hopeless and cynical about love. What's the mistake? We have asked horizontal human love to do what it was never designed and is never capable of doing.
So much of the hurt, disappointment, and anger that we experience in our relationships is the result of us placing an impossible burden on another person. We expect and demand what no human being is capable of, and when we do this, we're not just asking the other person to love us. No, we're asking that other person to be our own personal messiah.
IV. VALENTINE'S DAY LOVE
Let me take a moment to pause, because I don't want you to misunderstand me. I'm not writing this post to minimize human love – I already expressed how important it is.
I also want you to know how much I appreciate Valentine's Day, because any occasion that provides us with an opportunity to directly and specifically express our love for one another is a good thing.
We should build relationships of love with one another. We should look for ways of communicating and demonstrating that love. We should be grateful whenever someone blesses us with their love, and we should pay the blessing forward.
But, as we commit ourselves to the lives of love that God calls us to, we must be careful not to ask of loving people what only our loving Lord can deliver.
V. VERTICAL LOVE
So, if we were designed to hunger for love, but human love is horizontal and broken and unable to satisfy our souls, what's the solution? The answer is vertical love – from God, to us.
Vertical love will give us peace. Vertical love will make our hearts content. Vertical love will give us the ability to love others. Vertical love will plant in our souls an unshakable joy. Vertical love will give us ultimate worth and identity. Vertical love has saved us, is saving us, and will continue to save us.
Vertical love – from God, to us – makes for the best Valentine's Day card ever. It's not only a story of undeserved love, but of the ultimate sacrifice being willingly made so that love can be given to those who aren't seeking it and who don't deserve it.
This sacrifice of love is best pictured and summarized by Jesus in one moment on the Cross, an unthinkable moment when the Father turns his back on his son. Jesus, in the horrible pain of utter loneliness, now rejected both by people and by God, cries out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Here's what we need to remember: Jesus was willing to be utterly alone so that we would never be alone again. That's how much he loved us yesterday, today, and will love us tomorrow and for all the tomorrows to follow.
VI. INVISIBLE LOVE
That all sounds very encouraging, but if you're anything like me, this thought has crossed your mind: it's hard enough to deal with the love relationships with people that I can see and touch. How will I ever rest in the love of someone I can't see?
God, in tender love, helps us in two ways:
1. God makes his invisible love visible by sending people of love to give love to people who need love.
Why does God call us in Colossians 3:12-14 to treat one another with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and love? He calls us to this lifestyle, not primarily so that we would have comfortable human relationships, but so that we would experience his love.
We're called to be ambassadors of his love, that is, to make his invisible love visible in one another's life. We're called to be the look on his face, the tone of his voice, and the touch of his hand.
God knows how hard it can be to grasp the love of someone we can't see, so he makes his love visible. Through the people of love he sends our way, he reaches into our locations and situations and touches us with love we can see, hear, and touch. That's how much he loves us!
2. God ordains for us to experience the pain of temporary loneliness so we would esteem and celebrate his eternal love all the more.
God knows how tempting it is for each one of us to try and replace vertical love with horizontal love. So, in grace, he lets us taste the sourness of lost or failed horizontal love so that we would seek and savor the sweetness of his vertical love (Romans 5:1-5 points to that connection).
It's in these moments when human love fails that we begin to grasp the incalculable value of his eternal love that never fails. It's in the pain of human rejection that we begin to treasure the fact that God's love is so strong that he will never leave or forsake you no matter what.
You see, God allow what we're feeding on to leave us empty, not because he hates us, but because he loves us and wants us to learn to feed our souls on the only thing that can truly satisfy – his love.
So, celebrate the human love that you have been blessed to experience, but don't let your heart stop there. Run to the Lover whom that human love points to and let your heart feed deeply on his divine, eternal, vertical love.
Remember, it's not the Valentine's Day card that loves you - no, it's there to remind you of the love of the person who chose to lovingly address it to you. So it is with the love of Jesus.