I thought of D.A. Carson at a U2 concert last week.
U2’s concert began and ended with love. “Love and love is all we have left, The only thing that can be kept” Bono sang before we could even see him. The second last song returned to the same theme: “Love is bigger than anything in its way.”
It’s a powerful theme, especially in contrast to hatred. A video montage in the middle of the concert displayed scenes of racism and hatred. The tension broke as the scenes showed scenes from the Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, as well as more recent protests against hatred.
What’s not to like about love?
The theme motivated me, and it also unsettled me. Strangely, it made me long for an even better kind of love, a love described in an older book with an odd name.
The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
In 1999, D.A. Carson wrote a book called The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. According to Carson, most believe that God is a loving being. “That is what makes the task of the Christian witness so daunting,” he writes. “For this widely disseminated belief in the love of God is set with increasing frequency in some matrix other than biblical theology.”
We believe that God is loving. We just don’t understand what love is according to the Bible.
The result, according to Carson, is serious: “that the love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable. The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized.” We empty God of his other attributes like his sovereignly and wrath, and miss out on what God’s love is really like.
My initial response to Carson’s book title is that he takes a good topic — God’s love — and manages to make it sound bad. On the contrary, Carson does us a favor. He takes an important topic and helps us understand it. He doesn’t want us to settle for a misunderstanding of God’s love. He wants us to know, and experience, the real thing.
While Carson talks primarily about God’s love, I suspect the same is true when it comes to what the Bible says about our love for others. Love is powerful, but what’s even more powerful is the way that the Bible defines love. It’s so powerful that it’s the most compelling proof that we’re Jesus’ disciples. It’s enough to transform relationships and even cultures. Biblical love truly is bigger than anything in its way.
Better Than U2’s Love
As I walked through Montreal after the concert, I felt unsettled. When U2 sings about love, it resonates. U2 is so steeped in biblical concepts that it comes pretty close to expressing Christian truth in some songs. But without a biblical understanding it falls short.
We indeed need love. But the love we need isn’t a love that’s simply found in tolerance and acceptance. The people who left the concert may be inspired by love, but our definition of love is weak compared to God’s robust definition. We need the love that only God can give. We need the love that only the Holy Spirit can provide. We need the love found in the one who is love himself.
I love U2. They do a good job of pointing to the power of love. But we can go even farther. We have the privilege of pointing to the ultimate love — a love that’s robust, unfathomable, and life-changing. And we also have the privilege of extending that love to our neighbors. That’s even better than U2’s kind of love.