Saturday, July 19, 2014

Preparing for Love

In three weeks we will begin preaching through the biblical book of 1 John at Redeemer. I am so excited about this! This is personal to me. Because my prayer for the past several years has been: "God, produce Your love in me so I might love as you do." Here are some love-thoughts as I am preparing for 1 John.

Love does Not Fashion Others Into One's Own Image

It is the height of arrogance, manipulation, and control to try to make other people into one's own image. I often meet people who try to make some significant other into a "normal" person like they are; into someone who thinks their thoughts, likes their likes, wants their wants, and desires their desires. Parents do this to children, friends do this to friends, lovers do this to their beloved. What is this evil thing that wants to live vicariously through other people?

Thomas Merton writes: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

Real love lets the other be who they are, and champions them to be better than they both are. The one who can love someone just as they are is a sign of the lover's freedom. It's an insecure person who needs others to be just like them and agree with them on everything. The truth is that if both people agree on everything then one of them is not needed. That's precisely how the other will feel as the image-controller manipulates them.

Discover the reality of your own self, before God, in Christ.

Release other people to do the same.

Doing these things makes life lighter, more truthful, and more joy-filled.

Love Always Protects

στέγω,v \{steg'-o}
1) deck, thatch, to cover 1a) to protect or keep by covering, to preserve 2) to cover over with silence 2a) to keep secret 2b) to hide, conceal 2b1) of the errors and faults of others 3) by covering to keep off something which threatens, to bear up against, hold out against, and so endure, bear, forbear

Love always protects. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

In my late teens when I had a date with a girl I would be thinking "Will she have sex with me?" One time I was with this girl in the back seat of a car and started putting physical moves on her. She pushed my hand away. She wanted none of that. I didn't understand and tried to convince her otherwise. That was the last time she went out with me. 

Good for her! She requested something of me. I did not respect her request. Feeling disrespected, she wanted nothing more to do with me. I was so self-centered that the concepts of honor and respect were not part of my DNA. I did not know love or how to love and be loved. I did not understand that love always protects.

The Greek verb stego means "to bear." This does not mean love "bears up under things," but that "love bears all things up." "Love carries everything." (Lewis Smedes, Love Within Limits, 94) Lewis Smedes writes:

"Love hates a scandal... [L]ove drives us away from scandal for deeper reasons than propriety and good taste. Scandal hurts people; and love hates everything that hurts people. This is why a loving person is turned off by gossip and rumor - out of concern for the people being whispered about." (Ib., 95)

Love carries our sorrows. Love never causes more sorrow. "Sorrow is a suffering of the mind, the hurt of knowing that something is wrong." (Ib., 97) Love is a cure for, not a cause of, emotional pain. The girl who refused my sexual advances refused to be victimized by my disrespect of her.

To respect is to protect. Love always cares for the other, with no expectation of anything in return.

Love is Kind

There may be no better book to read on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 than Lewis Smedes' Love Within Limits: A Realist's View of 1 Corinthians 13.

Chapter 2 is - "Love is Kind."

Nietzsche, in one of his
gentler moments.
"Kindness," writes Smedes, "is the will to save; it is God's awesome power channeled into gentle healing. Kindness is love acting on persons." (11)

Love is power.

One quality of love is kindness.

Therefore kindness is power.

The German atheist philosopher Nietzsche did not take kindly to this. Nietzsche hated Christianity (and especially Paul) for promoting kindness, which he saw as weakness and door-mat-ness. But "kindness," says Smedes, "is enormous strength - more than most of us have, except now and then." (Ib.)

"Kindness is the power that moves us to support and heal someone who offers nothing in return. Kindness is the power to move a self-centered ego toward the weak, the ugly, the hurt, and to move that ego to invest itself in personal care with no expectation of reward." (Ib.)

Only a free person can love this way. When I ask God to "set me free" I am thinking precisely of this kind of thing; viz., freedom to love; freedom to be kind.

Love Is Not Jealous

I'm reading more of Lewis Smedes's beautiful extended meditation on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Love Within Limits: Realizing Selfless Love In a Selfish World. This is, I think, the best book I have ever read on Jesus-like love.

Love, among other things, is not jealous. Pray for freedom from the bondage of jealousy.

The reason agape (the biblical Greek word for "love" used in 1 Cor. 13) is not jealous is because "it is the power to move us toward another person with no expectation of reward - not even the reward of exclusive loving. That is why agape is not jealous." (23)

Jealousy is not the same as envy. Envy is the wish that we had something that belongs to someone else. "Envy" does not have pain associated with it. "The people we envy are not a threat to us; they only happen to have what we would like to have." (24) But jealousy "is aimed at someone who threatens us, threatens to take away someone we love." (24)

It's not just persons we can be jealous of; we can also be jealous of things. I have met wives whose husbands spend more time fishing than they do with them. These wives are jealous of the sport of fishing. This is the core reason pornography hurts and ruins a marriage. The wife wants her husband's eyes looking at her, not at other women. Of course the shoe can be on the other foot. A husband can be jealous of his wife's friends, or her family, or her job, or even their children if she spends more time with them than with him.

Smedes writes: "Jealousy and envy are different feelings... We envy without pain. Jealousy is the pain we feel when our role, our position, is threatened by someone close to us. Envy can stimulate us to try harder. jealousy stimulates us only to resentment of the person who does better." (25)

Linda and I have been married for 41 years (in less than one month!). I remember a time, 42 years ago, when I was at her house. I was falling in love with her. We were with her family when someone knocked on the door. It was one of Linda's old boyfriends! She stepped outside and talked with him. Feelings of jealousy flooded over me. As I was sitting there I looked on the table next to me and there was a little booklet entitled "How to Win Over Jealousy." God has a sense of humor, right? I began to read it.

When her old boyfriend left I asked Linda, "What did he want?" "I told him you and I were dating. He said 'OK,' but would you still like to go to a play with me?" As I heard that I lit up! I couldn't believe he would ask her out knowing she and I were in a relationship. Didn't I trust Linda? There was a lot of stuff inside me that needed healing.

Smedes says that "agape love transcends jealousy without destroying it." What does that mean? It means that the more possessive and controlling a person is, the more a normal, protective jealousy will turn cancerous. Jealous peple are controlling people.

Smedes writes: "If we have nothing else in the world to live for but our lover, we are vulnerable to the worst fits of jealousy. The person who tells someone else, "I can't live without you," is threatened at his deepest selfhood when the one with whom he cannot live has to be shared in thesmallest way. Such a person always suspects the worst, and this very suspicion prods him to cruel reactions... Agape does not let us give our souls to idols, even to the idol of the ideal husband or wife or friend... So agape will not let us be so deeply threatened that our very existence seems at stake." (28-29)

Linda and I have always told others that, if and when you marry, marry someone that can live without you, and you without them. The only One we cannot live without is Christ. Agape love is, says Smedes, "the power to admit cheerfully that you cannot meet all the needs of your loved one or friend and are pleased that someone else can add what you lack." (29)

Jealousy is painful, but with God it can be transcended.  "But where there is Christian love, the power of agapic giving and sharing will prevent jealousy from building barbed-wire fences of self-protection against any sharing of love and loved ones." (29) Agape love is, among other things, the power of sharing.

Pray for a heart filled to overflowing with Jesus-like agape love.

Love Requires a Predicate

With Dee, Stella, Holly, Debbie, and Trevor in Detroit
Love requires a predicate. 

"S loves p." As in: "S is in love with ____" (with p = "in love with ____"). "John loves Linda." A 'subject' loves a 'predicate'; in this example, a subject loves a person.

"The lover desires the beloved." Love, therefore, is other-centered. At its best and purest a lover loves the beloved in such a way that the beloved experiences being-loved. Real love is for the sake of the other, and not essentially for one's own self. Love serves the beloved. Where there is love the beloved's well-being is paramount.

"Love" is a relationship in which the predicate benefits at the expense of the subject. The subject spends itself on the predicate. When it's the other way around, when the subject benefits at the expense of the predicate, the predicate loses their personhood and becomes a mere object. "loves p" gets reduced to, simply, "S." The beloved loses their identity. This is the loopy logic of self-love, of "love" for the sake of one's self. The predicate is the subject. A strange self-reflexive loop is formed. This is the kind of "love" that is never satisfied. This is the "love" that leads to adulterous affairs, serial monogamy, and non-investment.

Thomas Merton writes: "The one love that always grows weary of its object and is never satisfied with anything and is always looking for something different and new is the love of ourselves. It is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unqiet and all misery and all unhappiness - ultimately, it is hell." (The Waters of Siloe) When no "predicates" satisfy the "subject" the reason is because the subject is an all-absorbing thing eats up love-objects like a dog devours a chunk of meat.

"S loves p" could be construed not as a subject-predicate statement but as a subject-object statement. What, precisely, in "S loves p," is predicated of S? Isn't p to be understood as the "object" of S's love and not a predicate that ascribes something to the subject? No and yes. 

No: p is not best understood as an "object" of S's love. Subject-object language implies relational distance, which "love" has nothing to do with. "Love," being essentially a connected-relational thing, speaks of oneness and unity rather than two-ness and distance. Two lovers "become one flesh." "One flesh" language resists the Cartesian ontological dichotomy between a knowing subject and an object which is to be known. 

Yes: because if love were an ontological union between the lover and the beloved both would disappear. Or, perhaps, the beloved would be absorbed into the lover. In this case "S loves _____" would become, simply, S. There is always a distance between lover and beloved, but the distance is not a Cartesian metaphysical distance. 

I think subject-predicate language better explains the love-relationship than does subject-object language. In the statement "The chalk is white," "whiteness" is predicated as an attribute of "chalk," and thus tells us something about a certain piece of "chalk." Analogously, to say "S lovesp" (or "S loves ____") tells us something about the being of S, instead of simply objectifying p.

The noetic framework that best accounts for the nature of real love as predicate-centered is Christian Trinitarian theism. The Christian idea of God as  "trinity" of Persons conceptually explains the idea that God is love. God, in his being, is love. Because we have a God who is a three-personed being sharing one essence, the love of God is not self-love. In the idea of God-as-Trinity Father, Son, and Spirit love one another throughout eternity. God's love is "predicative" and relational, rather than objectifying in the sense of Descartes and the influential Cartesian tradition

In John 14-17 Jesus extends to us the invitation to enter in to Trinitarian love. The love that ultimately satisfies, the love that provides the foundation of all earthly loves, the very source of love itself as other-centered, becomes ours. Real love requires a predicate because the God who is love is, in his essence, a lover of others. God is the author of the subject-predicate love that defines his very being.

Some Meditations on LOVE

I will meditate today on "love."

  1. God is love. Love forms the very being of God. "Love" is an essential attribute of God. This means that God cannot not-love. Christian Trinitarian Theism best expresses this. God is a 3-personed being. God is, essentially, a being-in-relationship. God as Father-Son-Spirit makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. Because "love" is relational. "Love," to be love, requires an "other," an object to-be-loved.
  2. God cannot not-love you. This does not form some restriction on God. God does not love you because there is some command external to his being that he must follow. [Sorry "Euthyphro dilemma."] God is love, therefore all God's thoughts and actions are loving. God's love for you is genuine. When God thinks of you he has a good feeling. God likes you. You are God's child, his son or daughter. God made you, and what he has made God calls "very good." You are deeply loved by God. Nothing can ever change this.
  3. God expressed his love by coming to us, rather than making us seek to find him. God himself came, in the Son, to "sozo" us; i.e., to "save" us. Love came down to rescue us. "For God so loved the world..." Michael Brown et. al. write that the New Testament usage of sozo means "to rescue, save, deliver, preserve from danger, etc." (212) "James 5:15 in particular provides an excellent example of the holistic usage of sozo." (213) The sick person will be "raised up," forgiven, and "made well" (sozo). Sozo includes being healed, made whole, and delivered, and is applied not simply to individuals but to people groups and cultures. "Love" is  verb. Love is an intentional action.
  4. From God's POV love is "the greatest." The highest, in terms of value. Love is greater than power. In the being of God love is the raison d'etre of power. Jesus, in his humanity, accessed the power of the Father. Jesus' displays of power came out of his compassion, which is to say, out of his love. Paul follows up and expands on this theologically in 1 Corinthians 13. Without love, you are nothing.
  5. Love is not impatient. Love waits. Love waits for others. Love doesn't get ahead of others.
  6. Love is not unkind. Love never speaks un-loving words, for that would be the antithesis of love. Love speaks kindly.
  7. Love does not envy or boast. Love is free from human hierarchies of comparison. Love does not measure one's self against others.
  8. Love does not dishonor others. Which means: love looks to honor others before one's own self. Love does not go after self-honor. Love loves to see others get the honor. Love is free from the need to be in the spotlight. Love does not "upstage" others.
  9. Love is not self-seeking. Love does not seek after one's own self, but seeks after God and the well-being of others. Loves puts God first, and others second. Love is satisfied with taking third place, or not place at all.
  10. Love is not easily angered. Love doesn't get irritated or ticked off. Love isn't irritable or inconvenienced. Love is easily interruptible.  
  11. Love lets go of past offenses. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Because of this, love sleeps peacefully at night. There's no bitterness or resentment in love. To forgive others: this is one of love's greatest accomplishments.
  12. Love does not delight in evil. There's nothing evil does that makes love happy.
  13. Love does not rejoice with falsehood. Love rejoices with the truth. Love doesn't throw a party when "1+1=3."
  14. Love always protects. Love is responsible for the other. Love shelters. Love takes a bullet meant for the beloved.
  15. Love always trusts. This is because love trusts in God. Love is not naive or gullible because of this. Love doesn't trust an ax-murderer with an ax, but trusts that God is greater than he who is in the world.
  16. Love always hopes. Love expects, therefore love prepares.
  17. Love always perseveres. Love never gives up.
  18. Love never fails.
  19. Love is the thing that will last. Love ever-lasts. Therefore build your life on the everlasting foundation of love.
  20. Faith and hope are great things, but love is greater.
  21. We are to love one another. This is the mark of the real Jesus-follower. "See how they love one another." If we all were doing just this one thing the entire world would be revolutionized.
  22. We are even to love those who are against us. We are to love our enemies. Love doesn't get any more radical than this. This is the "Mt. Everest" of love; love's summum bonum. When love displays itself this way the earth trembles, the heavens open, jaws drop, eyes open, and skeptics reconsider.
  23. If you love Jesus, then you will keep his commands. And one of his commands is: Love your enemies. Here logic kicks in. Modus ponens1. If A, then B. 2. A. 3. Therefore, B. Such as: 1. If it rains, then the ground gets wet. 2. It is raining. 3. Therefore, the ground gets wet. Such as: 1. If you love Jesus, then you will keep his commands. 2. You love Jesus. 3. Therefore, you keep his commands. Including the commands to love God, love one another, and love one's enemies. Just as surely as the rain causes the ground to get wet.