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The Table Video

Thomas Oord& Alan Tjeltveit

How Does Studying Love Help Us Love?

Theologian / Philosopher, Northwest Nazarene University
Professor of Psychology, Muhlenberg College
June 9, 2017

How studying love bears upon our real lives.


Let me ask about perspectives on love that help us be more loving in our particular actions. So in theological and psychological and philosophical work on love, is there anything that can be learned and sort of formed in our character that then conduces to becoming better people, more loving in our actions towards others? This is a question of can theology and psychology make us better? [group laughs]

One hopes.

A lot of wasted time and energy. [group laughs] I think this is a common criticism or a misunderstanding that work on love is really just to think about esoteric and very ethereal concepts, but we don’t see it come down into real life. And I think that’s a mistaken notion, but one which is difficult to sort out. So how does the study of love conduce to making us more loving?

Well one area of research shows that moral identity, that is seeing oneself to be someone who strives to be moral has a big impact on the course of someone’s life in terms of being more moral. So self-perception, self-identity. So here’s one of my role models, I think Tom’s been treated unfairly without going into any details.

But he’s written about love and he’s kind of worked through this with an intention of being loving and I’ve seen it. I have no idea whether he’s done so perfectly, I suspect not, but the intent is really important. So am I committed to being loving is a key.

I agree. I’ll go from a theological angle on this. I think fundamentally, nearly all of us, I wanna say all of us but I’ll say nearly all of us want to be aligned with what we think is ultimate in reality. And for the Christian, God is ultimate. And so I think if we want to be aligned to who God is and if we believe God is a God of love, then that will incline us, motivate us, move us toward being that kind of person.

Again, we might not do it perfectly all the time, but I think that can be a strong impetus in our lives to love. And then likewise, prompt us to ask what God’s love is like. There’s been a strong mode in the Christian tradition that says that God is entirely self-giving, entirely benevolent, entirely going outward. I’m of the theological opinion that God is also receiving, is also affected, there’s a giving and receiving in God’s love.

And if I am going to imitate that with my wife, with my kid, with my colleague, with my enemies, with a stranger, then I have to ask, okay, what do giving and receiving look like when I’m thinking about Donald Trump, who’s not in my wheelhouse of political likes? What does that look like? And his followers who are on my Facebook page posting things. What does it look like when I hang out with my brother who thinks about life differently than I do, et cetera. This giving and receiving love then as I try to align myself to what I believe is ultimate, should and I think does affect the way I live my life.