I don’t often get caught up in crazes roiling the internet, but I’ll have to say the current intense focus on events surrounding the death of Gabrielle Petito have gotten my attention. The widespread public engagement has powered a tsunami of supposition and wild speculation, but the commotion has had some benefit, analysts say. The attention given this sad story has produced a surprising secondary effect, as one online researcher noted—a unity of purpose, a civility of communication not common in our country these days. One frequenter of social media said she’s having an online back and forth with some who would have shunned chats of any kind just a short time ago. In a society as fractured as ours, it’s a welcome development. Why all this interest?

Commentators mention the love, youth, and beauty portrayed in the appealing photos, now gone viral on news and YouTube channels. The fascinating travelogue-gone-dreadfully-wrong has gripped the national, even global imagination. People who knew neither Gabby nor Brian can’t speak without weeping. Everyone has a comment—everyone, from experts to talk show hosts, from individuals to the thousands, it seems, checking photos, blogs, maps, time stamps, anything relevant. The pictures, the terrible, unexpected turn of events prompt a second look.

Internet images supplied by the young couple have opened their story as if through a bright window, a window now gone dark.They were in love? What does that mean? We rethink—images and reality, the real and the unreal, the true and the untrue, actuality and illusion? The Bible has much to say, especially about love.

Picture that black volume gathering dust on a shelf–maybe yours? If the words printed in gold on the spine tell you it’s the Holy Bible, maybe you say, Too hard to understand, dated, not relevant and leave it there. If so, I’ll suggest two subtitles perhaps more accessible. How about this–The Holy Bible: War and Peace. Or, even better–The Holy Bible: True Love. War, peace, true love. We know a lot about these things, but yes, we’d like more. The topics are interesting.

One is on everyone’s mind these days. As the song goes, “All you need is love, love is all you need . . ..”

Isn’t love what humans are after? Ask psychologists, ask philosophers and historians, writers of fiction and non-fiction, ask reporters and writers of biographies, ask playwrights and poets, teenagers and retirees, the married and single, men and women. It’s love we want, isn’t it? Something akin to love fuels our sympathy and sorrow when we think of Gabby and her grieving family.

Amazingly, John, whose three letters are found near the end of the Bible, states flat-out: God is love, and in the same letter writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (I John 7, 8b). The point is an open window on the Bible because God’s book says what love is, what it means, where to find it and how. The topic is as big as the Book, the following just a glimpse of what it contains.

Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14: 21a)). Wondering what that means? You aren’t alone. A lawyer asked Jesus about the greatest commandment. He replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind. This is the great and first commandment and a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22: 36-39). He told another questioner, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so anybody who believes in him won’t perish but will have life that doesn’t end.” Then he added, “because God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world could be saved through him” (John 3: 17).

How’s that? Jesus told his disciples: “Nobody has greater love than the one who gives up his life for his friends” (John 15: 13). The Hebrew part of the Bible makes the same point–especially in Isaiah 53, God’s description of his Suffering Servant. This is the one who will “lay down his life for his friends.” And there’s more: Because the Servant “bore the sin of many” (Isa 53: 12a), Paul could write the Roman Christians: “There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8: 28, emphasis mine).

What now? Just this, we love back “because he first loved us” (I John 4: 19). And the news stories? We have to rethink some of our assumptions, it seems.

Revised from the Edgefield Advertiser, oldest newspaper in South Carolina, September 29, 2021

With thanks to sampath-betha-1402533-unsplash for the great image.