Does anybody love anybody anyway?
-Howard Jones, "What Is Love"
Valentine's Day is long passed this year, and we're a ways from June, the month in which most marriages statistically take place, but love is a pretty eternal topic. Even the most curmudgeonly sort of person wants love, at their own pace and in their own way. And while the legend of the Russian experiment raising babies without any affection is probably myth, it seems plausible that humans would wither away without any kind of kindness or affection.
Love in modern culture is portrayed in one of two ways: sex or infatuation. The focus is either on emotional intoxication or love is just a euphamism for sexual activity. "I just want to make love to you" means "lets make the beast with two backs." This use is shocking and confusing today when older material is read and heard in songs when "making love" meant "pitching woo" or an attempt to get someone to fall in love with you. It literally meant making love, not making babies.
The infatuation side gets the most attention outside of popular music. Love stories are about the beginning of a romance, and while that culminates in marriage in many cases, the parts after marriage where you lose that explosive feeling of infatuation are left out of the tale.
Infatuation is essentially that massive buzz you get from having someone care so much for you and about you, that feeling of wonder that they really, really like you and want to pay so much positive attention to you, and that feeling of personal pleasure from liking someone else. Its almost entirely self-focused: how I feel, how she/he makes me feel, that floating feeling that makes you forget to eat and what day it is. How awful I feel when they aren't around, how great I feel when they are, etc.
It is drug-like in its power and intensity, and it only lasts a while. Once you get really used to them and the little fun things they do start turning into the little annoying things you wish they'd quit doing.
And that's not love.
C.S. Lewis wrote a great book entitled The Four Loves in which he examined four different sorts of love, in increasing strength and significance, and what it all really meant. Love is, Lewis thought, a positive thing, always good. But it must be real love, not self-love. He said the four loves are these:
Affection - The kind of love that comes from familiarity and fondness, such as love of a country, of people in your club, or family.
Friendship - The love that develops between people based on shared interest and common goals
Romance - The love between a man and a woman that is romantic in nature rather than friendship or affection.
Unconditional love - Love that is entirely outwardly focused and not based upon the person's character or action; love for its own sake.
Lewis was good about pointing out the difference between merely sexual attraction and real romantic love. He said the distinction is between loving women and loving a woman. Instead of being about sexual pleasure and conquest, it becomes about that one special person that can express its self through sex, but is not defined by and limited to it.
The tendency of modern society to reduce love to sex is seen in the general inability to comprehend how two men can be such close friends (Frodo and Sam, for example) without there being homosexual undertones.
Because people do not understand love, reducing it either to sex or infatuation, this leads to a great deal of confusion in society and how we should show love. It also leads to a great deal of confusion when someone says we should "be loving" and tries to explain Christian love.
For example, modern society's misunderstanding of love leads them to think that punishing or disciplining a child is not loving and should not be done. If you do something the child dislikes, is angered or hurt by, then you're necessarily doing evil and not love. Why? Because love is being defined as "doing nice things" or "being nice to people." Its the infatuation concept of love - the part that makes everyone feel wonderful.
The assumption is that doing anything that someone doesn't like, that offends or disturbs them, or is unwelcome cannot be love, since it is not something that leads to people feeling good and doesn't feel "nice." Love defined as infatuation cannot accept the concept of doing something people might need and that benefits them that they view as unwelcome or unpleasant.
Again, in a culture that focuses almost exclusively on what makes you feel good, makes you healthy and comfortable, and on what makes you feel "sexy" the concept of discipline leading to a better person is abhorrent and alien. Because society is perpetually stuck in a state of dating where you fear doing or saying something that will drive the target of your affections away, they misunderstand love completely.
Yet if you truly love someone, you must do things that at times they will not care for. If you truly love your child, you will punish them for doing wrong, so that they understand that it should not be done, and will avoid that in the future. And this loving response need not be punishment.
Here's a silly example. Our cat Dexter wants to go outside so bad he cries about it. He longs to be outdoors and exploring everything, he stares and stares out the window. He thinks it would be the most wonderful thing ever.
We know, however, that if he goes outside he will be beaten up by other cats, get ear mites and fleas, and possibly be mauled by dogs and hit by cars, because he's a silly, friendly cat with no fighting skills and experience whatsoever with the wild world.
We know that its better for him to be inside, no matter how much he thinks it would be heaven. We understand he's better off safer and indoors than outdoors. And having battled fleas in the house, we're not going through that again.
To the cat, we're being unreasonable - as far as he understands reason - but this is for his good, no matter how awful it seems to kitty. He's just a cat, so he'll never understand this, but humans usually do eventually, even if they dislike it at the time.
The truth is, its unloving to not punish the criminal. Its unloving to not stop someone from doing something awful, and to not call someone to account for doing wrong. Letting them continue in their deeds is damaging to them and to the world around them, which is unloving. This violates the basic comprehension of love in modern culture, because they do not understand love at all.
Love is, as simply as I can put it, the greater concern for the other person than yourself. It is when you put someone or something else above self interest and what you gain. It is self sacrificing in this sense; an outward focus on the other person's good and well being even if they dislike how that plays out. Not because you desire dominance and control, not because it feeds some personal need or fits a philosophical comprehension of the world, but because you desire to do them good.
As C.S. Lewis points out in his book, the closer you get to this totally outward focus, the closer you get to real, true, and pure love. The less your love is tainted by self interest and self focus, the more loving it becomes.
And this brings us to a bit I wrote last week. In my Christian Response series, I wrote about how Christians should react to the current push to crush any dissent to homosexual "marriage." In it I said
Our response should be measured by love and humility, not frustration or anger, or even fear
So without being angrily defiant or bowing to the pressures of culture, we should be confidently, humbly, and lovingly true to God and His truth
A commenter responded:
Respectfully disagree with your moral equivalence on sins...to paraphrase, "all sins are equal, y'know, like, whatever".
Nor can one ONLY respond with "humility and love"...as you suggest.
THROWING OVER TABLES and CHASING WITH WHIPS goes along with that too, buddy.
AND: if the gaystapo insists upon thrusting themselves upon us ever more often with their ever more aggressiveness, there is EVERY REASON AND JUSTIFICATION to respond accordingly.
Humility and love? NICE WHEN YOU CAN FIND IT, BABY.
BUT IT AIN'T THE *ONLY* Biblically JUSTIFIABLE RESPONSE.
Now as far as this person's intent and meaning, I agree. They are rejecting what society portrays as love: passive kindness and avoiding doing anything that offends or displeases the other person. I agree completely with that attitude. But that's not what I meant.
Christian love is not about being passive and nice, it is about focusing on the good of the other. And while this is a subject for another bit entirely, real humility isn't about self deprecation or scuffing a foot and denying compliments, it is about being un-self-focused. Real humility is when you genuinely and honestly recognize the greatness of others and delight in it, when you aren't thinking about you at all. Its the kind of response a child gives when you compliment them - not gloating or self pride, but wonder and happiness at the compliment from someone else.
When I call for Love and Humility in these Christian Response bits, its short hand for this kind of response. Not anger and fear, no defensiveness and bitterness, but genuine heart-felt concern for the other person and what is true.
Sometimes that love means compassionate support, sometimes that means strict holding people to account for what they are doing wrong. Sometimes it means opposing them, but always with love. How do you do this? By being more concerned with them and the truth than you are yourself, by being more worried about doing right than being right. By being more concerned about them than your cause or what you fear might happen or being angry about how they act, you're showing humble love.
The loving part comes from why you act and what you intend to accomplish, not what you do. Because how you act comes from why, and is shaped by what you mean to do. The actions you take in response to something are done in response to what is inside you and what you believe. A call for Christian love and humility is a call to shape your response with that in mind and foremost in your desires, not success or punishment.
Ultimately love, real love, is actually what the world needs. The problem is that people think love means never doing something people might call "mean" or "offensive." Sometimes real love can bring offense. There's never yet been someone thrown in prison who was not offended and upset by that action. There's never yet been a child who wasn't upset they got punished for doing wrong.
But love requires us to take action even when that can be the response. The problem is, if you utterly reject the very idea that there can be any overarching, absolute standard of right and wrong, all that's left is how you feel about it. And when feelings trump truth and right, then you end up tailoring all your actions around how people react and feel about events.
And that's not loving at all. Its pandering and traps everyone in a childish state of tantrum-throwing infancy.