Above all else, the human heart cries out to know, Am I loved? We’re hardwired for intimacy. Our experience with love forms our desires, our characters, and our core identities. Our love shapes our lives. We are designed to give and receive love, yet many of us feel deprived of it. Famished, our hunger for affection tempts us to settle for less than the best or put up with being mistreated or meet our sexual needs in ways we know are wrong. In the end, we’re worse off than when we began.
Here are two insights, based on who the Bible reveals God to be, under which we can take shelter when we feel unloved and alone. These insights help us see that we are loved and that deep, unconditional love exists and we can have it.
Insight #1: Love Rests on Two Pillars
First, God is a person, not a force. If God were a force, then “he” would be an “it.” An “it” cannot love you. But God cares personally. His love, Deuteronomy tells us, is like a wall that surrounds us so we can dwell in safety (see Deut. 33:12). And it never stops. The prophet Jeremiah affirmed this message from God: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3).
Second, God expresses his love through his presence. Unlike other ancient religions, the temple of God’s chosen people contained no statue of God because God himself was present. In fact, the Christian worldview teaches he is present everywhere. Saint Paul told a group of religious scholars in Athens that the living God does not live in temples made with human hands. We don’t give life to him; he gives life to us (see Acts 17:24–25).
God is personal. God is present. On these two pillars rests a deep kind of love that is hard to express in a day when we employ the word love to mean both our love of a favorite television show or steak dinner and the love we have for our family and best friends. But when Jesus revealed what kind of love God expresses, the world changed forever.
Insight #2: God’s Love Is Selfless Love
Unlike the language we use today, the ancient language of Koine (COIN-ay) Greek, the dialect that was used to write down Jesus’s words, specifies different types of love by giving each type its own word. Love of family is philos (think of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love). The word for romantic or sexual love is eros. But the Bible uses a third, less common word to describe the kind of love that comes from God. It’s the word agape (ah-GAHP-ay). Agape love is a selfless, self-giving love.
Everyone knows that God loved the world enough to give his only Son, as John 3:16 says. It’s the most famous verse in the Bible. But through his letters, Saint Paul clarified what it looks like for us to love that way. He wrote, “Love [agape] is patient and kind; love [agape] does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude…. Love [agape] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–5, 7). Agape love comes from God, Paul said, and God is the one who pours it into our hearts by his Holy Spirit (see Rom. 5:5).
Agape love is selfless love. As we receive it from God and give it to others, our hearts’ immune system grows strong against idea viruses that make us feel unloved and unloving.
Jesus Fills the Emptiness the World’s Ideas about Love Leaves
Think of all the solutions the world provides for our longing for love:
God does not love you; he’s not even real.
Love doesn’t mean anything; it’s all about sexual urges.
Life is survival of the fittest; focus on your own needs.
It’s dangerous to repress your sexual desires; we’re all just animals anyway.
How can it be wrong if it feels so right?
Only you know what is best for you.
The list is endless.
The Christian worldview stands in contrast to these views because of Jesus. He is proof that God is personal and present; through him, God became flesh and lived among us (see John 1:14). You want to know where love is? He’s right here. Eating. Drinking. Walking. Weeping. Conversing. Healing. Other gods rule through fear, taking the lives of others. Jesus overcame fear and gave his own life. There is no other God like this.
The selfless love Jesus taught is bigger than we could come up with on our own. Through traumatic life experiences, I’ve learned three things about selfless love. First, it meets the deep need for intimacy. Second, it grows through giving rather than getting. And finally, it tames self-love.
Selfless Love Meets Our Need for Intimacy
It was a marriage-counseling session, and it wasn’t going well. I could barely contain my panic. As the therapist asked us to complete exercises such as writing down our top five emotional needs, I tried to humor him. “Respect. Sense of purpose,” I wrote. “Peace. Feeling needed.”
Then I hesitated. Finally, I wrote “Intimacy.” What I really wanted to write was “Sex,” but the word intimacy seemed more, shall we say, appropriate.
When we were finished, the counselor asked me to read my list aloud. I did. There was a long pause. “Do you need to be married to meet these needs?” he queried.
I was quite sure I did, knowing what I meant by intimacy. “Which of these needs are you turning to your wife to meet rather than to God?”
The word intimacy stared back at me, burning a hole in the protective layer shielding my deepest doubts. “There is no way God can meet my need for intimacy,” I said.
“Because …” I said, pausing in the hope that a good rationale would come to mind. It didn’t. “Okay, what about sex? How am I supposed to experience intimacy with … God? That sounds weird.” The therapist was quiet for a moment. “I don’t think it’s my place to convince you,” he said. “Why don’t you take some time tonight to explore what the Bible says?”
I nodded, but I suspected that my sexual needs were purely physical. God couldn’t meet them. That night, though, after a couple hours of sleeplessness on the couch, I opened my laptop and Googled, “How can God meet my deepest needs for intimacy?” Evidently, a lot of people have wrestled with this already. Lists of Bible verses popped up. I spent much of the night looking them up.
When you’re drowning, a well-placed life preserver is a thing of beauty. That’s what the Bible was for me. As if for the first time, I realized that God cares for me (see 1 Pet. 5:7). He rejoices over me with singing (see Zeph. 3:17). He will never leave me (see Heb. 13:5). Nothing can separate me from his love (see Rom. 8:39). I could never have imagined God’s meeting my deepest needs for intimacy. When my life spun out of control, though, I began understanding that he is the only one who ever could. It is intimacy with God, not my sex drive, that forms my core identity.
Sill, receiving God’s selfless love is not easy. It requires something of me that I find very difficult. It asks me to change from being a “getter” to being a “giver.”
Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Experience Love
A Christian worldview says our need for personal intimacy is met at its deepest level through a cosmic love story penned by the Creator of the universe. It calls us to do many things differently.
Experience forgiveness and offer it. If Jesus can forgive the thief on the cross, he can forgive you. And you can forgive others. Selfless love relaxes our drive to figure out what we get in return. God meets our needs, so we just go ahead and love.
Let God take care of the timing. In my work with young adults, I’ve found that many make frantic decisions about things such as dating relationships. They are in a hurry to put an end to their feelings of loneliness. Selfless love shows us that no person can ultimately meet our deepest needs for intimacy. Only God can. First, we accept God’s unconditional love, and then we focus on giving love to others rather than using people to get the love we want.
Don’t just give to others what they want from you. Loving selflessly doesn’t mean being a doormat. If someone is hurting themselves and others, it’s not loving to enable them. Selfless love does what is right for others. It interrupts their obsession with getting, just as Christ interrupts ours.
Be chaste. Chastity is an old-fashioned term that most people think means saying no to sex. It actually means saying yes to sex, but within the boundaries of God’s design.
Stay focused on God’s perspective. In God’s economy, we receive when we give. When giving is hard, ask God to make clear to you how he sees the situation. God thinks long term and doesn’t meet every desire, sometimes on purpose. Unmet desires remind us that we were not made for this world.
Because of God’s selfless love for us, each of us can make this declaration of freedom: I am loved. Deep, unconditional love exists, and I can have it. Selfless love rescues us from ideas that make us feel lonely and inadequate. It shows us we are loved and it awakens our love for others.