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What is The Functional Purpose of Love?

View from the bottom of a vineyard in Paso Robles

Why are things beautiful? I mean, what’s the functional purpose of beauty? Of a breathtaking sunset? The truth is, in and of themselves, sunsets are not beautiful. So what’s the difference between a real-life sunset, and a picture of a sunset, or a drawing of a sunset? The only real difference (that I can discern), is that real-life sunsets poke a spot in my brain that recognizes beauty. Other things that poke that spot in my brain include: wildflowers, the ocean, fields of tall grass in the wind, Zion National Park, the starry sky when I’m far far away from manmade lights, etc. And I only find them to be “beautiful,” because my brain tells me it thinks they’re beautiful. Makes sense, right? But why? Why do we have a spot in our brain that is excited by beauty? What functional purpose does it serve me as a human that I recognize beauty?

Same goes for love. We certainly don’t need “love” for the purposes of procreation (we can look at the stats on random hookups and pregnancy for that one). As a matter of fact, animals do just fine without love. Why are we capable of love when we could be wired, like animals, to instinctively procreate and nurture our young until they are self-sufficient? What functional purpose does love serve to the survival of the human species?

Same goes for fun. Same goes for pleasure. Same goes for grief, and loneliness, and laughter and tears, and music and dancing and celebration. What functional purpose do any of those serve?

When people ask me to explain my belief in God, I can’t do it. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I can’t. Something deep down in me–in my heart, or in my head, or both, I can’t tell–compels me to believe, but I cannot explain why, just like I cannot explain the purpose of beauty, or love, or grief or laughter or tears. We’re endowed with a capacity for feeling life, and an ability and instinctive desire to love others. God is in that. I think that’s a tiny glimpse into the very heart of God, and he’s given it to each of us, freely and abundantly.

I believe that the functional purpose of each of those miraculous gifts is to help us to begin know and understand a God that is so much bigger than ourselves, and so far beyond our understanding. We will never comprehend the fullness of God, but we can comprehend the beauty we are surrounded with, the love we feel for our children, and the love we feel for each other.

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2 Comments

  1. Amanda

     /  July 5, 2012

    Amen!

    Reply
  2. Terry

     /  July 11, 2012

    The best thing would probably be to read a couple of books on evolutionary or biological psychology, to give you an answer to questions like this. Lots of different strands feed into the current understanding of how it developed, its function, and biological basis. The reality might not be as poetic and romantic as we like to imagine, but it is fascinating nonetheless.

    Reply

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