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The View from Here: A look at what love is from gospel sources

It's Valentine's week, and love is in the air — or at least it's supposed to be. (Well, that, or you could write the holiday off as a reason to sell flowers and chocolates. But I digress.)

Pop culture in general is more than a little obsessed with love. Turn on the radio, visit a movie theater or switch on the TV, and your odds of finding love — romantic or otherwise — as a major theme are quite good. Case in point: Right now, a third of the films now showing at the movie theater down the street from my apartment are romances, and the quick creation of a smart playlist in my iTunes pulled up 152 songs with "love" in their title (and who knows how high that number would be if it were smart enough to search lyrics, too).

Clearly, the world has an awful lot to tell us about love, some of which might even be considered wise and good — and some of which is decidedly not. So, in the spirit of a week in which store displays, the media and our associates will make it virtually impossible not to think about what love is, here's a brief sampling of some of my favorite thoughts on love — and not just the romantic kind — from other sources.

1 John 4:10: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us." There's more to this scripture than I've quoted here, but just this first line is a striking reminder that real, divine love is void of even the slightest trace of selfishness. It doesn't depend on another's thoughtfulness or generosity, or even their desire to be loved. It doesn't withdraw when things get hard, and it never demands anything in return. Later in the same chapter, John writes that we love God because he first loved us, which seems a more comfortable description of the kind of love that's often practiced in the world. But as John reminds us here, there is a higher ideal: The pure love of Christ that endures forever.

"How Do I Love Thee?" Jeffrey R. Holland: The best thing I can say about this address is to go read the whole thing for yourself — or, better yet, download and listen to it. More specific than the kind of love John was talking about, Elder Holland's focus here is on romantic love, and what each person involved in such a relationship ought to contribute. It's hard to pull out just one passage to highlight, but the spirit of the thing is perhaps best summed up in his explanation of the title, taken from a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "I am impressed," Elder Holland said, "with her choice of adverb — not when do I love thee nor where do I love thee nor why do I love thee nor why don't you love me, but, rather, how. How do I demonstrate it, how do I reveal my true love for you? Mrs. Browning was correct. Real love is best shown in the 'how.'"

Matthew 22:35-40: This passage, in which the Savior identified the great commandments of love, has less to do with what love is than it does with where it is to be directed: We are to love the Lord "with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind," and we our to "love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]." These powerful, instructive verses are well-known and often invoked, but one message of the second great commandment is perhaps less considered: If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, hadn't we certainly better love ourselves? Not more than others, not in vain or prideful ways, and not in ways that keep us from bettering ourselves. But among other things, the Savior seems to be telling us here that despising and berating ourselves, refusing to see the good we possess, is not only personally destructive, it's an obstacle to doing his work.

"The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword," Marvin J. Ashton: To my mind, this quote concerning charity — the pure love of Christ — sets up a beautiful framework establishing how we are to love one another.

"Perhaps the greatest charity," Elder Ashton taught, "comes when we are kind to each other, when we don't judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone's differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn't handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another's weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other."

1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear." These wise words, again from John, are appropriate to many kinds of love. But having spent as many years as I have in singles wards, my first thought when I read them has to do with dating — and something else Elder Holland says in the talk linked above: "You cannot succeed in love if you keep one foot out on the bank for safety's sake," he counsels. "The very nature of the endeavor requires that you hold on to each other as tightly as you can and jump in the pool together."