Phenomenal – a word that means extraordinary or incredible to describe anything that escapes our efforts to explain how it happened, why it is happening and why it continues to baffle us because of its unnatural nature. A phenomenon, after all, is a remarkable event that merits our attention, if not for mere curiosity’s sake, then for some serious gain, whether financial or emotional.
That is why media are quick to grasp phenomenal personalities and events. And when a phenomenal person creates a phenomenal event, we have the perfect mix for hero-worship and even idolatry. Others would call it objectification, which is a mouthful, in order to avoid religious connotations.
But everything boils down to religion if we talk about belief in or dedication to an ideal or a person. If you believe a person to be worth following what he/she says or does (how many millions follow the Aldub Nation Phenomenon to watch the couple because they believe and admire the pair?), then that comes close to describing an adulation arising from some form of faith that is based on the worldly hope of happiness, no matter how fleeting it is. To a certain extent, entertainment has become the new religion of the masses. For when people look up to others for their own hope, happiness or welfare, they inevitably devote time and effort and, hence, practice a pseudo-religion that cannot fall far from a psychological or intellectual admission of dependence on the abilities of others to provide fulfillment of a desire in life.
With respect to God, however, faith is a complete dependence on His powers or abilities to sustain life and provide health, blessings and also eternal hope. Idolatry, as defined and repudiated in the Bible, takes away that faith or worship ascribed to God alone and transferred to something or someone else. Why is it abominable to God? For the very reason that adoring others or yourself results in the misdirection of love. And misdirected love is not true love but a delusion designed by God’s archenemy.
Love for God is the foundation of great love. All other forms (self-love, fraternal love, marital love, love for others and parental love) stem from it. Without knowing the significance of that original command to love God, we fall prey to those who take it as their mission in life to deny God or to use Him as a tool for their own glorification.
Phenomena come quite often nowadays through media, especially the Internet. We have seen great musicians, artists, singers, actors, athletes, writers, political figures and even ordinary people exhibiting dazzling feats. And while their 15-minute of glory lasts, we glue our attention to their continuing brightness. We all participate in the communal rite of becoming the adoring crowd at the feet of great performers on the world stage.
And talking about great romantic love, we feed the frenzy to fly high on the wings of love stories by our patronage of films, books, videos and TV shows that highlight them. Through the eyes and ears, the heart becomes captive to love’s magnetism or addicting allure. We would rather die than not give in to the siren’s call or the muse’s invitation. Religion and commerce, in the same manner, have perfected the art of capturing human minds and hearts – and ultimately souls – to the fleeting joys of this world at the loss of genuine worship and devotion to God.
We all have the capacity to love deeply, just as Solomon had. Reading his Song of Solomon would put to shame any poet, artist or lover at the man’s capacity to verbalize the complex and inexpressible tugs of romantic love on the human heart. Sure, any songwriter or poet can write a four-verse song or even a twelve-verse sonnet in honor of love; but Solomon made an eight-chapter long tribute to immortalize the depth and wealth of his affection for his beloved “lily of the valleys”.
Yes, thousands of books have been written about love, making it the most talked about topic ever. And as the saying goes, “Love makes the world go ‘round.” We all march to the tune of love, literally for that matter; for almost every marriage began at a wedding when two lovers walk in step with Wagner’s Wedding March. If not, to another tune created by a composer’s love-smitten heart. And the best-selling book of all, the Bible, is essentially the story of God Who showed His great love for humans through various real-life stories, using thousands of words whose meanings have helped us climb up the ladder to greater awareness of life and love.
Greater love than this no man has that a man should lay down his life for his friends. How is it possible for someone to give up his or her life for others? What gain is there to such kind of love? To lose yourself so that others would find themselves? Phenomenal or great would not suffice to describe such love. Divine is the only adjective that comes. The Greeks called it agape – one word to capture what we try to do with two words.
When God gave us life in a body, it came with the potential to love. No one is born with the ability to love. In truth, we all start with zero capacity to love. We receive full love from our parents and siblings as infants. How do we learn? Obviously, from others. The real question, however, is: How do we really learn great love? Not from others but from God. People can serve as windows of God’s love, just as the word of God explains how ancient people lived that love in their own life-stories. However, all those people learned directly from God through His conversations with prophets and other messengers. There is no other way. Abraham would not have become the Father of Faith had he not learned true sacrificial love through his obedience to God’s call, not once but many times. He pictures agape for millions today because he learned it through faith in and obedience to God’s word – not written, but spoken into the heart. Until the same love is written and living in our own hearts, great love will never be possible.
All the knowledge, wisdom and teachings about love humans have ever derived came from our understanding and interpretation of agape or divine love. We love because God loved us first. Our parents loved us because they were also loved and learned love. The first parents loved their children when they were born because God, their Father, loved them with a perfect and everlasting love.
Great love does not happen accidently. Life in this world did not just appear out of inanimate or inorganic substance but came out of a Spirit Who has the ability to impart love as well. What we exhibit or display as our love derives from our own appreciation for that great love. Our capacity to love comes in proportion to how much of that love came our way through those who taught us what love is and also from our own effort to learn how to love deeply.
Our potential to produce great love does not come from us but from the innate power that agape or divine love has to produce it in us. It is God Who plants and nurtures that love within us. In short, without God, we are nothing. But with God’s perfect love, we can be perfect and we can have perfect love.