Was Shakespeare Right: Is Love Blind?

Okay, so someone is bound to tell me it wasn’t Shakespeare but Chaucer who coined the phrase that love is blind. I’ll give you that, but Shakespeare popularized the phrase by his repeated use of it: The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Henry V all include it.

Before someone has the chance to object that some Persian poet who predated Chaucer really composed the line, I’ll concede the point, but the question remains. Was Chaucer and Shakespeare (and whoever else) right? Is love blind?

The answer depends on what one means by love. Eros, I think, is often blind. Friends and family watch the lover as he ignores glaring signals and stands poised to fall into a deep ditch. Love has made him blind to his situation and deaf to his friends.

Agape love, the kind supremely illustrated by Jesus, is anything but blind. The Apostle Paul understood that it is only love that truly sees. In his prayer for the Philippian Church, he asks God to cause their love to “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best…”

The word translated as “depth of insight” is used only here in the New Testament in its noun form. A good translation would be discernment. The word implies the ability to distinguish between things, especially between what is good and what is bad.

My wife Karen and I once spent a couple of hours at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, where we saw a quote attributed to a Senegalese poet named Baba Dioum: “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, and we love only what we understand.” Paul, I think, would turn that around: “We understand only what we truly love.”

People who try to understand God when they don’t love him never succeed. But the same is true on a more domestic level: we will never understand a husband or wife; we will never understand our children or parents, until we love them. When our kids do something that threatens to embarrass us or cause us harm, and our focus is entirely on ourselves, we won’t really understand why they did what they did. But when we are able to love them, to seek the best for them, then our understanding of them and their actions will grow. The depth of our understanding will always be limited by the extent of our love.

Every pastor has had people come to them, full of confusion and anxiety, and asking: “What should I do?” They need to discern what is best regarding a relationship, a job, a move, and the weight of the world is on their shoulders. They are so afraid of making a mistake. But if they are not loving God and others, they are already making a mistake. If we are not loving God and loving people, we cannot make a right choice. That’s not what people want to hear. They want a formula for discerning the will of God. It doesn’t work that way. We don’t need a formula; we need love.

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