“You know, there is no word for ‘love’ in my language?” she says with a touch of exasperation.
She’s dumping spoonful after spoonful of sugar in her tea, a habit we joke about. I always keep my sugar bowl full, and by now I just hand her a tablespoon, rather than a teaspoon, to speed up the process.
She comes every week to my house. We talk, we pray together, we learn from each other. God has been doing a great work in her life, and I am honored to have a front-row seat to witness it right now.
“No word for love?” I say doubtfully.
I’m passionate about anything related to language. I am especially intrigued with how the use of language connects with one’s culture. So I dive in with my teacher hat. “Well, in English we use ‘love’ for many things, like ‘I love tacos, and I love my husband.’ So, our word for love doesn’t always carry a deep meaning.”
She stops, turns, and looks at me, creamer in her hand. “Yes, well, at least you have a word,” she says flatly.
I can’t let it go. “But, what about in the Bible, when it says ‘God is love?’”
She shrugs. “In my language, it uses a word that just means something like ‘a strong liking.’”
A strong liking. No love. I am silenced. How difficult it must be to grasp the Father’s love when it is reduced to a strong liking.
She goes on to explain that when the missionaries came to translate the Bible years ago, it was the only word they could use for ‘love.’” There was simply no word to describe the equivalent of what she understands “love” to signify. Up until that point, there was no need to describe what was not apparent or understood. A strong liking was sufficient.
“They didn’t understand love,” she says and sips the tea.
We sit back. And then it all makes sense, and our words tumble out as we process this together. For how could they understand love? How could they have a concept of love prior to being introduced to fact that “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). For, “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) and “… love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
Without knowing God, that He is love, and without knowing His standard of divine love, we are simply left with human inclination to strongly like.
And, it’s a wonder.
Yes, I know Bible verses on love, and I accept them as true. Yet, in many ways, I don’t yet understand the depths of just how true they are.
The evidence, the testimony of this woman sitting by me with her sweet tea, should not amaze me as it did.
Did I really imagine humanity would understand and exemplify love without knowledge of God? Did I really believe at all that God, only God, is love? I am humbled at my own realization. For time after time, spoonful after spoonful, God heaps on His love, heaps on Himself, and I’m steeped in Him – amazed at the power of His truth and His love.
This week we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Why? It’s only because God is love, and He first loved us.