The God of the Bible is called love. And Christians have two main charges: love God and love people. So, “love” is central and vitally important to this faith.
Gary Chapman is a Christian and he invented the Five Love Languages; also writing a book under the same label. The advice he gives is mostly directed at how to apply his tool to relationships. That is, how to love people better. Now because of the status of “love” within Christianity, it is no surprise that someone like Mr. Chapman would be on the forefront of new advances and understandings of love.
And yet, one possible problem arises when Christians try to apply the Five Love Languages to the first commandment: which is to love God.
Before I get into that, let me quickly summarize his book. Per Mr. Chapman, there are five love languages: Touch, Acts of Service, Gifts, Quality Time and Words of Affirmation.
Whatever we didn’t get as a child, tends to become our main love languages as an adult.
- So, if you were rarely touched, you may become Touch as an adult.
- If no one ever gave you anything, you may become Gifts.
- If no one ever did much for you, you may become Acts of Service.
- If you were neglected, you might become Quality Time.
- If no one ever praised you, you could become Words of Affirmation.
As we mature, we tend towards all five of these styles, but in a preferred order. Usually one, two or three of them are most prominent. This becomes how we both show love to others and desire to receive love from others. It’s mostly involuntary, and to try to love differently can be difficult. However, with any language, they can be learned with perseverance; they just will never be one’s “mother tongue.”
One of the reasons that marriages fail is because one or both members do not feel that they are receiving the love they need. And instead of learning a new love language, they don’t.
So why did I say earlier that there could be a problem when applying the Five Love Languages to the First Commandment? Well, let’s go down our list.
- How can you physically touch God? And how can God touch you?
- How can you give God a gift? And how can God give a gift to you?
- How can you do stuff for God? And how can God do stuff for you?
- How can you spend time with God, in two-way quality conversation?
- How can you verbally praise God? And how can God verbally praise you?
See, the problem is that God does not operate in the physical dimension (except some might contend as the Holy Spirit). And that is why a relationship with God is so different from one with a person. Meaning, God does not physically touch people, nor does he speak audibly to us. In fact, he is not even visible to people. So, the human five senses are pretty much out the window when dealing with God.
(By the way, this is why on the Myers-Briggs assessment, that some believe that it is only when people get in touch with the N-intuitive side, can they really connect with God. Apparently, they say, God operates almost exclusively on the N-intuitive side and almost not at all on the S-Sensor side. Which if true, seems pretty much of a bummer for the 75% of people who involuntarily prefer S to N. In fact, it makes one wonder if the N’s of the world invented religion. Curious.)
Ok, back to the discussion. Let me unpack this a little bit.
- Physical Touch: Can we touch the Father? Not even close. But we can touch the poor. And the Bible says that when we do so, it is as if we are touching Jesus. Ok. I can fathom that. I guess it might go the other way too. That is, when the poor touch us, Jesus is touching us. Ok, so we have a way to ascribe “touch” to the Messiah, by touching people. Interesting. But that’s as close as we get.
- Gifts: With Gifts we have a similar dynamic as with Physical Touch. We can’t give anything physical to the Father nor to Jesus. We can only give to people and expect that to be attributed to us. For example, if we give water to a thirsty man, it is as if we are giving it to Jesus. When we receive things (like a new job, a gift, money, etc.), we can also give God the credit. Right? I hear this kind of thing a lot. For example, “God provided me with a new car.” That is, we can choose to believe it is a gift from God directly, but that’s also as near as we get to this love language.
- Acts of Service: The passage of the Bible that comes to mind is the one about Martha and Mary. From the Scriptures, we could assume that Martha was Acts of Service and Mary was Quality Time. And in the story, Jesus said to Martha that it was better to give him Quality Time than Acts of Service. Was that his human preference/love language? Or can we project that tendency onto Jesus’ Father God? Meaning, does God prefer to spend time with us instead of having us do stuff for him? Well, regardless, even if we try to do stuff for God, it almost always is done to people. Think about it. If I asked you to serve God, how might you do so? Volunteer at church? (people) Go on a mission trip? (people) Start a church? (people) Help the poor on the streets of Calcutta? (people) See, so most things we could do to serve God involve at the center, people. The only things I can conceive of that are not about people are things we might do for animals or for the environment. And maybe to build monuments to God. But even then, for say a chapel or cathedral, it is only people who can benefit and enjoy such objects. All that to say, we can’t do much directly for God.
- Quality Time: Again, based on Mary and Martha, we might be able to assume that Jesus (and maybe the Father too), prefers Quality Time. Maybe. Even so, that played out differently when Jesus walked the Earth, because you could sit down and talk to him. Nowadays, the closest we can get would be prayer. Which, per Chapman’s book, doesn’t really count, at least when applied to humans. Meaning, if you sit and watch your spouse talk to you, but never talk back, then you have not given Quality Time to the other. So, therefore, one could say that it is impossible for God to directly give his loved children Quality Time. Again, many Christians learn to feed this need through prayer, which they have to conclude is mostly one-sided, at best.
- Words of Affirmation: This last language might be the easiest for humans to apply to God. And that is because we can sing and write songs. When Christians gather to worship, they can collectively speak affirming words to God. It can also happen alone. In fact, it can be a daily running dialog on the part of the believer. The big issue, however, is that it is only one-sided. God never speaks directly to people. He might send a messenger, but that is also quite rare.
In summary, I do not think that the Five Love Languages are particularly applicable for a human-God relationship. They seem to work great between people, but are lacking with respect to the divine.
To put it another way, if you were the only person on the planet, could you effectively use the Five Love Languages in your relationship with God? Well, I would say, not really:
- Touch? No.
- Gifts? Well not really, but I suppose you could build shrines to God.
- Acts of Service? Not really. Except maybe to take care of your body and your surroundings.
- Quality Time? You could think about God all day long, which is kind-of, sort-of Quality Time; but excessively one-sided to the point that Chapman might say it does not really qualify.
- Words of Affirmation? You could wake up each day and look at the heavens and say, “God I love you.” You could also praise God through words and song.
Now having said all that, I must make a confession. I really tried to do this. I was in Southeast Asia for an extended period of time and I decided to see how I could apply the five love languages to my relationship with God. I practiced daily worship and prayer which is how I handled Words and Quality Time. I tried to do things for others (Service) and give stuff to them (Gifts), specifically calling to mind verses which say we that when do unto them, we do unto Him. So I felt pretty good about those four. However, I just did not know how to deal with Touch. I struggled over this for weeks and finally gave up. Then the next day I jogged up and down the beach and after getting warm, took off my shoes and walked straight into the ocean. I stood where the water was up to my neck and held out my arms perpendicular to my body. The waves were gentle, and they soothed my muscles. I bobbed up and down and let the water caress me. After a few minutes, I sensed that maybe this was one way to handle Touch. To touch the creation…to interact with that which we believe God has created. It was as close as I ever got but for my experiment, I will admit that I was satisfied.
A Better Way
Even so, I think I have made two important conclusions. Firstly, that God has placed us in and among people so that while we are not yet primarily spirit beings, we can love more particularly and more practically. And while we are on Earth, for human (and even some animal) relationships, the Five Love Languages are tremendously valuable and helpful.
Secondly, I would like to suggest that there might be a more effective approach when it comes to the first commandment. I would like to propose that the three best ways for humans to express love for God, and to receive divine love in return, are these:
- Being Thankful to God
- Trusting God
- Caring about the Things God Cares about (the honor and glory of God, people—particularly the poor, holiness, the coming Kingdom, etc.)
© 2019, Alignment Life