What is love? Love is a discipline of word and deed comprised of denial of oneself and affirmation of one’s beloved. How can one legitimately say to another, “I love you”? That is, what basis is there for one to declare love to someone else (other than a previous vow)?
Since love is comprised of deeds as well as words, a declaration of love must be followed by deeds of love to be a truthful declaration. So a true declaration of love includes promises of future actions as well as present intentions. How can one make true statements about the future? Either by making true predictions or by making faithful declarations. A faithful declaration is a true declaration in the present that remains true in the future.
So the question becomes: how can one make a faithful declaration of love? Either there is an accurate predictor of future love or there is a faithful basis for future love. Popular culture would say that ?falling in love? is an accurate predictor of future love for some period of time. But it is well known that such periods tend to be short-lived. The other basis is faith.
There are three reasons that could ensure future love:
(1) One loves others indiscriminately;
(2) One loves the beloved’s unchanging character; or
(3) One loves the beloved unconditionally.
Reason (1) would apply to one who loves all or to a love that applies to all. This is legitimate but we are focusing here on a special love of one for another. Reason (2) would apply to one who knows the beloved’s invariant personal essence and can declare in the present that one loves that essence which is timeless. Since empirical knowledge can never attain such categorical knowledge, no amount of time or experience would suffice to justify (2). Apart from a revelation from a timelessly reliable source (as in God), such knowledge is not available to us.
Reason (3) would apply to one who is faithful to their word and has faith that their love won’t be undermined in the future. So their declaration of love is true in the present and will be true in the future. Such a love is not dependent on the beloved or on circumstances but on the integrity and faithfulness of the lover. Knowledge of the beloved may help inspire or enhance such a love but cannot change its nature. This is a faithful love.
Now the question arises, how can one come to the point of making a declaration of faithful love? This is a process of coming to faith. It is similar to any decision in which one commits oneself to a particular future and cuts oneself off from alternative futures. We make these decisions all the time but some of them are bigger than others, that is, they have longer term consequences. We must be willing to cut off a potential future of our own, thus cut off part of our self. So it is an act of self sacrifice. We must also make a choice and open ourselves up to the chosen future.
In summary, one can legitimately say to another “I love you” if one chooses to love them in integrity and faithfulness.
16 March 2001