A matter of definition

Confession time: I really enjoyed the movie Frozen the first time I saw it.  And the second.  And the third.  And the several dozen after that too.  You see, two of my three kids are at a prime Disney age and so were immediately drawn in by what Disney movies have classically done best: great animation, great voice talent, great music, great story, great picture.  After about the second viewing our oldest was already singing along with all the songs.  So we had to get the soundtrack, right?  (If you have young kids you understand.)  Now we can listen to Frozen everywhere we go.

So then, after listening to every song from the movie several dozen times I can officially announce my favorite: “Reindeer(s) Are Better than People.”  Why?  Because it’s just silly.  And Jonathan Groff’s voicing of Sven is hysterical to me.  That would be a silly thing about which to write a blog, though…at least for ABPnews/Herald.  So I am proud to announce my second favorite song: “Fixer-Upper.”  Why?  Because it’s a lot of fun and who doesn’t want a rock troll singing you a marriage song?  But, given that this is a serious news organization and not my personal blog…which doesn’t actually exist…yet…allow me to offer one more reason.  The song touches on a deep theological truth.  At least, it does if you have all the words defined rightly.  Let me explain.

Most of the words in the song are entirely without complication. Bugs…got it.  Confirmation…I know that one. People…that gets a little bit of debate in some circles, but most of us are pretty sure which of God’s creatures are people and which aren’t. Pear-shaped…easy. But there’s one word, the key word in the song actually, that can cause some trouble if we don’t get it right…and we get it wrong a lot. This word?  LOVE.

In our culture today, love is defined in a hundred different ways to the extent that without a healthy dose of context, it’s not at all clear what is meant.  I think perhaps the confusion here is best brought out in the junior high lunch conversation between two friends:

Friend 1: “It’s pizza day!  I love pizza!”

Friend 2: “Then why don’t you marry it?”

Friend 1: “Oh man, you know what I mean. You can’t marry pizza!”

Friend 1 is absolutely right: you can’t marry pizza.  And yet, when a man and woman exchange vows at an altar, promising to love each other until death does them part, surely they have in mind something a bit stronger than Friend 1’s expression of his personal preference for pizza. On the other hand, when couples actually go to an altar these days (recent data suggests that marriage rates in our culture are down and falling), the high incidence of divorce for reasons other than infidelity or abuse suggests that those marital expressions of love don’t go much deeper than mere feelings which have a tendency of changing over time, especially in the midst of periods of relational disharmony.

Adding another load to this camel’s back, however, is that, for Christians, we bring yet something else to the table when we think about love. We talk about the love of Christ. We talk about needing to love people like Jesus did. We talk about the love between a husband and wife being modeled after the love Christ has for His church. We talk about God the Father being the source of all love. Cultural colloquialisms to the side, it would seem that all of this should have a pretty profound impact on a broadly functional definition of this notoriously thorny word.

Indeed, consider the final phrase of “Fixer-Upper”:

“Everyone’s a bit of a fixer upper
But when push comes to shove
The only fixer upper fixer
That can fix a fixer upper is true love.”

The whole idea for the song is that all of us have our quirks and warts which serve to make us somehow less than ideal (an astute theologian might call these the effects of sin –whether ours or somebody else’s).  With a liberal application of love, however, we fixer-uppers can be fixed. In order for this to be true, however–and I think it is true — we have to have the right definition of the word. Expressions of strong preference for pizza to the side, what we need is a definition that can simultaneously cover every kind of love: the love of a husband for his wife, the love of a wife for her husband, the love of parents for their kids, the love neighbors should have for each other, the love we are to have for our enemies, the love we have for fellow brothers and sisters in the faith, the love we show to others when serving them, the love of Christ for us, the love we are to have for Him, and so on and so forth.

That’s a whole lot of love, though, isn’t it?  I mean, is there a definition that could cover all of that? I think there is. After a good bit of study and reflection, I think there is just such a definition which, if widely adopted and liberally applied has the potential to fix a whole lot of fixer-uppers. It has the power to bring a great deal of clarity to our conversations about this chief of the virtues. I happen to think it is a definition that concisely captures the heart of the nature of the love of God. Are you curious about what it is yet? You’ll have to wait for part 2 of this blog when I’ll share it and unpack why I think it is so powerful.

Jonathan Waits

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Jonathan is the pastor of Central Baptist Church in Church Road, VA. He's the husband of one beautiful woman and the father of three active boys. A graduate of Denver Seminary, he loves connecting the dots between the Christian worldview and culture.

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