Perhaps you have seen or heard the pseudo-wisdom expressed in the slogan “love is love.” What does that mean? In most cases, that slogan is being used to justify an idea that runs directly against what the Bible tells us is genuine love.  

Given the confusion surrounding the word “love,” it is really tempting to just scrap the word in favor of a synonym that carries less baggage. This word, however, is worth rescuing.

What is the opposite of love?

In many cases, it is helpful to consider what a word means by thinking of its true opposite. That is straightforward in many cases: the opposite of “hot” is “cold.” The opposite of “good” is “evil.” The opposite of a more difficult word like “abstract” is illuminated by considering its opposite, “concrete.”

So what is the opposite of “love?” It is tempting to say “hate.” But “hate” is better understood as a perversion of love, not its opposite. The true opposite of love is “apathy,” or lack of care. The classic terms for this include words like “sloth” and “acedia.” Even the modern slang term “meh” captures the idea. As the angel in Revelation says to the church of Laodicea, “because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” –Revelation 3:16.  

What is worth desiring?

So how can you walk the path of genuine love, when apathy or lukewarmness is the easier path to follow? The great medieval Italian poet Dante gives a helpful metaphor right in the middle of his masterful Divine Comedy (Purgatorio, Canto XVIII). Dante invites you to imagine something or someone very desirable knocking on your door. You open the door and see the desirable object in front of you. You are naturally drawn to it—in other words, you love it. But now you have a choice: are you going to allow that desirable thing into your house, or not? The way Dante puts it is that we must “defend the threshold of consent.” If it is a good desire, by all means, allow it into your home. But if it is a bad desire, only a fool would allow it inside, or even allow the door to remain open for long—for the longer one considers and gazes at the object, the more desirable it becomes.  

Is time love?

Later, Dante says, “Time is love.” What he is emphasizing is that, yes, love is “natural.” However, that does not mean that love is spontaneous, that it just “happens” to us for no reason. What we are naturally drawn to—what we love—is largely the result of what we choose to cultivate. The more we gaze at something, the longer we stand at the “threshold of consent”; the more we allow something into the house of our soul, the more we will naturally be drawn to it.  

“Time is love.” The enduring truth is this: what we do with our time reveals what we love. What we do with our time also becomes what we love.

Meditating on true love

Being an educated person is not ultimately a matter of what facts you know; rather, it is about ordering what we love. The apostle Paul puts the matter so clearly: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” –Philippians 4:8. When, in both our formal education and in our leisure, we choose to meditate on the things that God considers good, then and only then will we find ourselves naturally drawn to them. In this way, our love is made perfect.