Love as a Moral Virtue
Love is not a weakness. On the contrary, it is a virtue, which is related to the Latin word vir, meaning, “man” and, hence, “manliness.” Like most moral virtues, the practice of love is hard, not easy. In fact, it often takes a lot of time and hard work, requiring constant repetition, to develop the moral virtue of love.
For example, in the New Testament, love is often a verb, an action. It is something that believers must do. Often, love is also in the imperative mood. In other words, Scripture tells or commands individuals to love. It is not, then, some kind of vague sentimentality, a “warm,” tender feeling. The reason is that feelings are passive, receptive. They come to a person. But love is active, going out from him or her, issuing from his or her choice.
Love as an Act of Self-Transcendence
Which is easier: To seek one’s own good or the good of others? To be focused on oneself or others? It is all-too-easy to be self-centered rather than centered on others. Thus, it requires no moral strength to be selfish. But that is not true of love, because, at its very nature, love “is not self-seeking” (I Corinthians 13:5, NIV).
Therefore, love, at its essence, is an act of self-transcendence, a moving away from oneself, focusing outwardly on the good of others. Psychologist Archibald Hart rightly observes, “I have never met a person who is … focused on helping others … [and] is unhappy or dissatisfied with life.”1 Happy people are that way, “… because they are directing their attention away from themselves.”2 Similarly. psychiatrist Viktor Frankl writes,
“[S]elf-transcendence is one of the basic features of human existence. Only as man withdraws from himself in the sense of releasing self-centered interest and attention will he gain an authentic mode of existence.”3
Love as a Form of Inner Strength
Love, then, is a strength, not a weakness. Love is a form of fortitude, which is related to the Latin word fortificare (from fortis, meaning, “strong” and facere, meaning, “to make”), meaning, “to make strong.” It requires strength, inner strength or strength of character, to love others. With each choice to love and practice it, the human spirit develops strength. The practice of love takes human beings, in their various kinds of weaknesses, and makes them strong.
Love as Both Easy and Hard
Of course, there is a sense in which love is easy, for love in the abstract, theoretical love, is as easy as saying, “I love everyone.” However, to love a specific, here-and-now, concrete person with all of his or her idiosyncrasies and imperfections: Now that is definitely a challenge! That is why love is also hard: It wills the best for another person, often despite himself or herself. It requires, then, strength to love. Abstract love is all-too-easy, because to love everyone, in general, may actually be an excuse for loving no one, in particular.
1. Archibald D. Hart, The Anxiety Cure: A Proven Method for Dealing with Worry, Stress and Panic Attacks (Nashville, TN.: Word Publishing/ A Thomas Nelson Company, 1999), p. 223.
2. Ibid. Italics are the publisher’s.
3. Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1967), p. 46.