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The Endless Quest for Love

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People_at_cafeIf there is anything the world is convinced of, it is that happiness depends on loving and being loved. If there is anything the world pursues – in romance, in friendship, in family – it is love. Why then is there so much unhappiness and so little love?

C. S. Lewis famously observed that without God’s love, all human loves fall of their own weight.[1] They become twisted out of shape. They fail to live up to their name and to deliver what they promise.

Familial love, famous for its comfortableness, acceptance, and devotion, is also famous for its presumption, rudeness, and manipulativeness. We all know our tendency to treat worst the ones we love most. We treat family in ways we would never treat anyone else, for we would be mortified what others would think of us. But family members owe us to put up with us. We’re family!

We have all seen, if not experienced, the “smothering love” that is born more of a need to be needed than a desire to fill need. We have all known the “living martyr” who sacrifices in ways no one wants and ladles out guilt when no one responds with “appropriate devotion.” And yet, as clear sighted as we are in recognizing these faults in others, we tend to be equally blind to when we ourselves are guilty of them. The end result is that most family members measure love by their right to stay the same while insisting the others change. Familial love, which could and should be the healthy soil of comfort and growth, often ends up being the toxic soil of conflict and debilitation.

All these traits of familial love extend in varying degrees to our other “families” as well. They show up in our church family, in our workplace family – in any group with whom we are thrown together and must function in close quarters on a daily basis. The more time we spend together – the more our lives are intertwined – the more we behave like family in good ways and bad.

Then there is friendship love – or “comrade love” – which is the love we share with those whose company we choose because we share the same outlook or interests. Whether it is flying, cooking, rock climbing, investing, child raising, education, community service, politics, or theology, you will soon recognize the “club,” for its members talk of little else.

Friendship love has great capacity to recruit and to bind. There is always room for one more comrade. But friendship love, like familial love, is a mixed bag. It can be as destructive as it is constructive, for it tends to amplify the traits of its members, good and bad. The power of friendship love is seen as much in the criminal gang as it is in the community service group. Part and parcel of friendship love is peer pressure, which has potential for great good, but is also legendary for the evil it produces. And in a fallen world, we all know that one bad apple outweighs a half-dozen good apples. When you hear, “He (or she) never would have done it if they hadn’t been with that group,” is it good news or bad that you expect to hear next? ‘Nuff said.

Finally there is romantic love, with its epic power to bind two together and to inspire them to sacrifice anything on altar of their love. Whereas friendship love focuses on common outlook or interest and admits of any and all, romantic love focuses on common emotion and admits of only two.

Romantic love is like a narcotic, and like a narcotic it has great capacity for good when properly and narrowly applied. Otherwise it is as destructive as it is addictive. Proverbs pictures romantic love as an eagle gliding in the air or as a clipper cutting through the sea. (Prov 30.18-19.) Each moves, as it were, by magic. There are powerful unseen forces at work. But the forces that lift the eagle and move the ship can also destroy them. As anyone who has been around a smitten couple knows, those under the magic aren’t in the best position to harness it. Disastrous romances are born every day, and virtually all of them are accompanied by friends or family telling one or both of the parties that they are making a big mistake. Such nay saying is nothing but fuel for romance. The more the world is against them, the more they are against the world, and the more they are confirmed in the belief that they were meant for each other. What are a few jealous friends or family members stacked up against the thousands of books and movies telling them to “follow their heart”? It is only after the inevitable train wreck that reality breaks through. They had thought romance was a magic plant that grows in thin air. Now they realize it is a plant that needs soil – soil with unromantic ingredients such as commitment, responsibility, hard work, and a certain amount of that most unromantic stuff called money. It turns out there is one thing worse than being unhappily single, and that is being unhappily hitched. Yes, and all these lessons they will remember, until they fall in love the next time – which will likely be next week.

With each of these loves – familial, friendship, and romantic – it is the promise of happiness that keeps us coming back to the well again and again. But it is their failure to live up to their names and to deliver what they promise that leaves us unhappy and searching.

This is where God’s love comes in. It is the foundation for all forms of human love, and without it they collapse, having nothing solid to build on and nothing to give them proper shape. It is divine love – God’s love to us and our love in response to His – that enables familial love to be devoted without being blind, familiar without being presumptuous, comfortable without being rude, and sanctifying without being caustic or manipulative. It is God’s love that enables friendship love to affirm and amplify good character, not bad, and to cause comrades to seek the good above the gang. It is God’s love that enables romantic love to be harnessed to good end instead of blowing wild and leaving carnage like a hurricane.

This is why Scripture speaks of God’s love for us in terms of all three human loves – familial, friendship, and romantic. In Christ, we are God’s children, God’s friends, and God’s bride. (Rom 8.15-17; John 15.13-15; Eph 5.25-32.) All three of these loves were created to reflect aspects of God’s love for us and our proper love to Him in return.

But behind all these aspects of God’s love is His unique love – the love that led the Triune God, who stood in need of nothing, to create everything. The entire creation, as G. K. Chesterton observed, was an act of pure extravagance.

We often daydream of being wealthy and powerful, so we can have everything just the way we want it. And in our perfect dream world, we are free and unencumbered from the unwanted needs and demands of others. “Needs and demands – not good!” But we see something very different with God. He created a world filled with people, animals, insects, and myriads of other things, all completely dependent on Him. And then He bound Himself in love to His creatures and especially to mankind, whom He in an act of further extravagance made in His own image. Talk about needs and demands! But God calls it all, “Very good.” (Gen 1.31.)

When we compare the “perfect” dream world we imagine with the perfect real world God created, we begin to see how unselfishly giving God is and how unlike God we are. It turns out our fallen instincts on the true nature of happiness are off by mile. If we want happiness and fulfillment, we must be more like God, not less. God has forever bound together our happiness with His glory and the good of others. (Rom 8.28.) That being so, we are free to love God, seeking His glory, and to love others, seeking their good, with abandon.

It is true that our fallen world presents challenges not originally present in the world God created. Still, the main source of our unhappiness is not without but within, and it lies precisely in the degree to which we fail to image the One in whose image we were made. This is the missing ingredient in our human loves. Here is where we must begin if we would redeem our loves and pursue the real blessedness that love in all its forms promises.

But is it possible for us to love as God loves? No and yes. We can never love God in quite the same way He has loved us, for our love will always be dependent on His. Our love will always be a response to Him who first loved us. (1John 4.19.) But what we cannot do toward God directly, we can do toward one another. In Christ, we are capable of loving one another as God has loved us – indeed we are commanded to do so. (John 15.9, 12.) This is an immense privilege. Here alone, in our love for one another, we have the opportunity to love like God – to love first, to love unmeritedly, and through love to minister life. Being loved does not make us like God; loving does. It is no wonder that loving one another as God has loved us is our one and only badge to the world that we are Christ’s disciples. (John 13.34-35.)

And now we see why Paul penned 1Corinthians 13. It is a meditation on God’s divine love which we are called to imitate toward one another. In so doing, we redeem all our loves and show the world life as it was meant to be.

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[1] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves . This article is largely a synopsis of Lewis’ insights and observations, with a few of my own sprinkled here and there. If you want a real treat, listen to the audio recordings of Lewis giving his “Four Loves” talks during WWII over British radio. The sound quality of the first lecture suffers a bit, but the rest are quite good.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Point of 1Corinthians. | FaithWorking - [...] This is the second in a series on Christian love. You can read the first post here: The Endless Quest…
  2. Love: The Point of 1Corinthians. | FaithWorking - [...] This is the second in a series on Christian love. You can read the first post here: The Endless Quest…

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