Last week I wrote about why I run, but I didn’t mention how I keep my mind occupied while I’m running. A serious racer needs to stay focused the entire time, monitoring pace, effort, and (during races) the competition. I, however, am not fast enough to be a serious racer. I try to distract myself during many of my runs. Lately I’ve been listening to General Conference talks while I run. This week I was listening to a talk by Ezra Taft Benson about Godly Characteristics, and I learned something interesting about charity and how it is different than the popular view of love.
Is Love Selfish?
I really don’t want to be controversial with this topic, but I have been wondering about this idea for a while: is love selfish? The love described on the radio and in the movies is often quite selfish. “I love you because you care about me.” “I love you because you make me feel good about who I am.” “I love you because you love me.” This kind of love is not just conditional; it is conditional on the other person doing something to benefit me. While it is not necessarily a bad thing, it does seem to be a lesser form of love. I think this is what Jesus was referring to when He gave the higher law of love:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you...
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
The Pure Love of Christ
In some translations of the Bible, the word “charity” has been replaced with the word “love”, perhaps because “love” is a bit easier to understand and has not been conflated with the concept of alms giving. Truly, love and charity are very similar, but I think the distinction is strong enough to warrant some examination (and to warrant two separate words). Paul wrote to the Corinthians about charity, saying that is “suffereth long” and “is kind”, “seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil”. Contrast this with the common, but selfish, love described earlier. When we have charity, we love someone not because of what they do for us, but sometimes in spite of the things they do to us. Truly, this is a higher law, much harder to follow.
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Mormon describes charity as “the pure love of Christ.” I have heard and considered many explanations of this phrase: “the pure love of Christ.” I would like to add one more possible explanation that has been beneficial to me. The scriptural proof of Christ’s love for us is beyond debate. For the faithful, the living proof of His love for us is similarly concrete, though harder to prove by physical means. On the other hand, the scriptural and empirical proof of our individual and collective rebellion against the laws of God is indisputable, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”. Therefore, Christ does not love us because of what we do for Him, nor any benefit that He gains from our relationship. Rather, Christ loves us because He is full of love, grace, and truth. He loves us because of who He is, not because of what we do. He has taught us that we too must have charity, and He has shown us the way. Through much faith, work, and prayer, we can each be “filled with [that] love.” I can’t imagine a happier way to live.