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Question: How do Latter-day Saints understand the concept of love?
Question: How do Latter-day Saints understand the concept of love?
Introduction to Question
Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been confused about the meaning of love from a Gospel point of view. This article seeks to outline principles of love that will affect the attitudes and behavior of the Saints towards commandments, their views about their identity, and so on.
This reflects the best efforts of the author to define love from the scriptural canon of the Church. Others are free to disagree with this if they have better scriptural exegesis and/or other philosophical considerations.
Response to Question
Definition of Love
The scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contain many mentions of love. In fact, there are over 600 occurrences of the words “charity,” “charitable,” “love,” “loved,” “loves,” “lovest,” “loving,” “loving kindness” and “loving kindnesses” in the entire canon. Readers are encouraged to either search out these words on the Gospel Library app or purchase concordances for the scriptures and explore each use.
Love is the cardinal virtue one can possess as a Latter-day Saint. The prophet Alma compares those that don't possess it to the worthlessness of the dross of metal (Alma 34:29). The prophet Moroni likewise says we are nothing without charity (Moroni 7:44). The Savior bases his entire ethic on the law of love (Matthew 22:34-30).
After the author’s own review of the scriptures, the following definition of love can be derived:
- Freely, rationally, generally unselfishly, and non-grudgingly acting so as to recognize and respect the full personhood of humans and provide survival, telic flourishing, and happiness—both temporal and spiritual—to all creatures so that ultimately all exist in a relationship marked by unity of both heart and mind.
Let’s break down each part.
A person must act freely when entering a loving relationship. Love can neither be coerced nor determined. This necessitates that there exist some ability in humans for free action. The locus classicus for the Latter-day Saint belief in free action is found in 2 Nephi 2:27:
- 27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
It requires a rational enough mind to give the moral law content. A person who has significant enough mental impairments cannot construct if/then statements like are required for morality. Some are not capable of thinking something like “if I murder person, then I’m doing something wrong." Thus one needs to have a rational enough mind to formulate moral sentences and evaluate their truthfulness.
Those who can’t form moral sentences rationally are not of any less worth than others. All humans, as will be explained below, are of infinite, intrinsic moral worth.
Love is an act that seeks the good of the other. It is not self-centered. As Restoration Scripture tells us, “charity...seeketh not her own” (Moroni 7:45). The Savior taught us that "[h]e that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:26) and that we should love our neighbors and God with all we have (Matthew 22:34-30). However, love is only generally unselfish. It is important to love ourselves since, if we don’t, we won’t be able to love others. We can’t love others if we’re emaciated from hunger and thus too tired to help others. We can’t help others when facing crippling depression. Thus, we should love ourselves. King Benjamin taught us that "it is not requisite that a man [or woman] run faster than he [or she] has strength" (Mosiah 4:27). We should seek to love ourselves not as an end in and of itself, but as a means to the end of loving others.
We shouldn’t be hesitant with our love. Love should also not be given out of duty. If given out of duty, then it is not love. Moroni tells us that we shouldn’t give gifts grudgingly (Moroni 7:8). The Lord told the Saints that they should be equal in temporal things, "and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld" (Doctrine and Covenants 70:14).
As the late Baptist minister and professor of New Testament exegesis and theology at Fuller Theological Seminary George Ladd wrote in his seminal work on New Testament theology, on the New Testament's view "[l]ove is a matter of will and action." Love is not merely being. You can say that you love someone until you’re blue in the face but it doesn’t mean anything until you actually do something to show it. The Lord told us that “if ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). To really be loving, you have to do things.
This is a crucial point that many don’t understand. In protest to certain Church standards, people will often say that we should just “focus on the heart” and “not judge others” by certain standards. The point deemphasizes the fact that love is and always will be a principle of action and God reserves the right to judge people by how well they act in accordance with Church standards.
So as to Recognize and Respect the Full Personhood of Humans
Latter-day Saint theology holds that all human beings are of infinite, intrinsic (and not merely instrumental) worth (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10). This because it is believed that they are sons or daughters of Heavenly Parents and thus have a potential to become divinized like them and hold dominion over the universe (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20). They are thus always of absolute worth. Nothing conditions their worth because they are, inherently, of the highest worth being gods in embryo. Humans are also the only creatures capable of having dominion over the earth and replenishing it (Genesis 1:26, 28; Moses 2:26-28; Abraham 4:26-28). They have the power to access other ecosystems and bring balance to them. A human can enter an ocean and bring balance to the habitat of fishes. A fish can't enter the habitat of a human and bring balance to it. They don't (and indeed can't without some form of miraculous technological intervention perhaps) have that type of intelligence.
Humans should thus never be treated as mere means to an end. They are persons and should never be treated as anything less than a person. Such would dehumanize them. If we love human beings, then we will never treat them as merely a means to an end.
The recognition of a person as having absolute value should accompany every other loving act we perform in relation to another.
And Provide Survival
It’s intuitive that our love should have particular effects. The effects are what we use to discern what we value so much about love.
Among these effects, survival is a good effect. We are commanded to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and administer to the relief of the sick (Mosiah 4:26).
Telic flourishing is also a good effect. A telos is a particular end or design that a thing has. The philosopher Aristotle posited that a thing flourishes when it acts or is used in accordance with its design. A basketball flourishes when it is bounced, passed, and shot through a hoop. One thing that Latter-day Saint theology explicitly indicates is part of the human telos is that of being united maritally and, within marriage, sexually as husband and wife to procreate (Doctrine and Covenants 49:15-17). A man is designed to be united with a woman and a woman is designed to be with a man. Thus, homosexual behavior (including same-sex marriage), pornography, adultery, and other sexual behavior outside the confines of marriage, since they can and do lead men and women away from fulfilling their telos, are not acceptable under Latter-day Saint moral standards.
Another thing that is likely a part of the human telos for Latter-day Saints is joy (2 Nephi 2:25). We find our greatest joy in committed, loving relationships. This is part of why the Savior commands that we love. Joy comes as we survive, flourish according to our telos, and have other things helped. For instance, a person with bad eyesight is loved by helping them regain it. True enough that a person with poor eyesight can be happy, but there are times when providing eyesight back can make them more joyful. We all want joy. Love given in this way can bring it. There is also a difference between temporal joy and spiritual joy. Temporal joy is getting a cool treat at the store from your parents. Spiritual joy is more enduring and primarily comes when we are acting in accordance with the thing that will bring us the most lasting joy like cultivating an abiding, intimate relationship with God. Temporal joy isn't necessarily bad, it's just not as valuable as spiritual joy. This may be why we're commanded to be "spiritually minded" (Romans 8:6,7).
To All Creatures
These effects should be brought to all creatures and not just humans. All creatures want to survive, to flourish according to their telos, and to be happy. Latter-day Saint scripture tells us that animals have spirits (Doctrine and Covenants 77:1-4). They also apparently have a telos. Doctrine and Covenants 59:16-19 explains this telos of animals and plants:
- 16 Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
- 17 Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;
- 18 Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
- 19 Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.
However, verse 20 of the same section provides this injunction:
- 20 And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.
This same caution against the use of animals in excess is repeated in Doctrine and Covenants 49:21. Another revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants clarifies that the Lord ordained the consumption of animals for times of winter, cold, famine, and excess of hunger (Doctrine and Covenants 89:15).
So that Ultimately All Exist in a Relationship Marked by Unity of Both Heart and Mind
Love ultimately brings about unity. This unity should be a unity of both heart and mind. Love is the "bond of perfectness" (Colossians 3:14). The Doctrine and Covenants exhorts us to be clothed in the bond of charity and calls it a bond of perfectness and peace (Doctrine and Covenants 88:125).
Unity of heart is being 1) willing to continue providing for the needs of the person you are in a relationship with and 2) having trust that they feel the same for you. What should our universal purpose be as creatures? Love. Particularly, loving in the right way at the right time. By loving in the right way at the right time, we all grow into understanding of the principle of love.
Unity of mind is being agreed in and knowing all things including purpose, morality, science, and so forth. Unity of mind can thus happen now, but it can also grow further into the eternities. Scripture tells us to "be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind" (Philippians 2:2).
Bringing about unity of heart and mind are why covenants are a big part of Latter-day Saint religious thought.
At the very root of the Latter-day Saint hope for the world is to create a relationship "of one heart and one mind" (Moses 7:18) with all of humanity. It is by this relationship that Latter-day Saints and indeed the entire human family can take on the very nature of God and become love personified (1 John 4:8).
If everyone were to face their attention outward and focus on the needs of others, eventually, no one's needs would need to be met. This is why the Savior wants us to lose our lives and begin to love others: so that we can eventually save ours and everyone else's life (Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24). If everyone is loving someone, no one will need love. If everyone has love, then we will all experience the greatest amount of joy that is possible to experience. This is the concept of Zion elucidated by Latter-day Saint scripture.
Thus, the Latter-day Saint philosophy of love would be something of a synthesis of the union, robust concern, appraisal, and emotion complex models of love in the philosophy of love.
- See for instance Strong's Concordance of the King James Bible and/or the concordances of the triple combination done by Gary Shapiro and Eldin Ricks.
- See also Moses 4:3.
- George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 131.
- Bennet Helm, "Love", in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/love/.