In Christianity, hell is often characterized as a realm in which God or love is completely absent. The great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky may not have been far off when he said, “I am convinced that the only hell which exists is the inability to love.”
Few would argue that the ability to experience love (to receive and express love) is important in determining one’s joy and happiness, but there is evidence that love can also be vital for a healthy life. Harvard researchers McClelland and Kirshnit found that subjects who watched movies about love had significantly increased levels of immunoglobulin-A in their saliva (one’s first line of defense against upper respiratory infections) compared to those who watched films with no such love theme.
In addition, a very interesting study done by researchers Medalie and Goldbourt brought to light the possible relation between love and heart disease. They asked nearly 10,000 men with major risk factors for cardiovascular disease (high serum cholesterol, hypertension, high anxiety levels, etc.) to complete lengthy psychological tests in order to find the most accurate psychological predictor of angina – pain in the chest.
The researchers monitored subjects’ reports of angina over the next five years. The single response on the tests which predicted angina more than any other was the answer “no” to the question, “Does your wife show you her love?” In fact, men who reported that they did not have a loving wife had nearly twice as much chest pain as those answering that they did! I’m betting the same is true for women married to inexpressive or unloving men.
Author of “Love, Medicine & Miracles,” physician Bernie Siegel writes, “I am convinced that unconditional love is the most powerful known stimulant of the immune system. If I told patients to raise their blood levels of immune globulins or killer Tcells, no one would know how. But if I can teach them to love themselves and others fully, the same changes happen automatically. The truth is: Love heals.”
What’s love got to do with it? Perhaps a lot.
When Jesus called us to an abundant life in Him, He was calling us to live as He lived – loving God and our neighbors as ourselves, unconditionally and sacrificially. And just think, if we could do that — even for one day — what would our lives look like?
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.