Friday, February 14, 2014

Selfless Love

It’s V-Day once again, and as usual, I’m looking forward to its passing. No, this isn’t a bitter rant about still being single. In fact, I’ve been surprisingly at peace with that fact for the past year. (That doesn’t mean I always will be, but I’ll take it while it lasts.) The reason why I’m looking forward to the end of this mega-hyped-up day is that I’m sick of the commercials! You may know what I’m talking about. The ones that start out something like this: “Guys, looking for something to get your honey for Valentine’s Day that will rock her world and make her take off her clothes for you?” It’s nothing against giving gifts to your loved one that bothers me. What’s really troubling is the insinuation that the objective of giving is to get something in return. In this case, the objective for men is to give a woman something in exchange for a night of steamy hot sex. What does that remind you of? If you didn’t say “prostitution,” I’ll give you another guess. OK, that may be exaggerating things a bit, but I do think that this method of advertising is indicative of the way our society looks at love. We see it as an exchange. I give you something with the expectation that I get something in return. When someone no longer returns the favor, love dies, and it’s time to move on. You could say this is a “merit-based” system of love. In order to be loved, you must do what is necessary to be loved. You gotta earn it! Besides, didn’t the Beatles tell us, “the love you take is equal to the love you make?”

While this is the natural default position of Americans today, I can’t help but take notice of how we all can recognize a different kind of love when we see it. It’s not uncommon to see videos going viral on social media that tell love stories of a couple where one is disabled or suffering a debilitating disease like Alzheimer’s, and the other is faithfully taking care of them in their time of need. We look at that and are moved to tears because we recognize it for what it is: selfless love. That’s not to say that those who demonstrate such faithfulness and caring for their loved ones are perfect, and they would likely be the first to point out that fact. They would probably share about the struggle they have gone through, and how some days they just don’t feel like they can go on doing this. Nonetheless, the key difference between such people and most of the rest of us is that they understand that love is not a transaction, but rather, a choice. This is why I sometimes wonder if maybe arranged marriages aren’t such a bad idea. Western culture promotes the idea of love as a kind of a drug that makes you feel really good, but what do you do when the rush is gone? No, I’m not suggesting that we should institute arranged marriages as the norm, but perhaps we could learn a lot from them about the commitment to love unconditionally. Certainly, you must admit just by looking at divorce statistics that our modern way of doing things hasn’t been a smashing success. Perhaps we need to look at love differently. Maybe we need to ground our expectations in reality. Most of us look to find that certain someone that will complete us and love us perfectly and make our lives extraordinary. I must give kudos to popular singer/songwriter, Lorde, who at the young age of 16 was wise enough to observe amongst her peers that “everyone’s competing for a love they won’t receive.” That line from the hit single, “Team,” is a sad truth. However great your relationship is with your wife or husband or significant other, they will never perfectly satisfy you. Even relationships like those we look up to do not truly complete either person. However, there is hope for a world looking for a perfect, selfless love.

The Bible tells us in John 3:16 that “…God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Many of us are very familiar with this verse, as well as the gospel accounts recorded in the first four books of the New Testament. But have we truly pondered that? Why did God love us? Did we do anything to merit His love? Certainly not! God doesn’t owe me or you or anybody anything! If we’re in the mindset of a give-and-take relationship, He is on the losing end of that deal. And how could we ever be worthy of His love? He is perfect and holy and good. What can we possibly give to earn the kind of love that would willingly subject itself to the worst kind of death known to mankind for our sake? Maybe if God was looking for the kind of relationship we understand, He could’ve created perfect creatures that would give back. But He didn’t. Why not? Jesus said in John 15:3, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Flip the pages to chapter 19, and you see love perfected. Through his agonizing death on the cross, Jesus took the punishment for our failure to live up to His perfect end of our fractured relationship with Him. Every sin that we’ve committed makes us less than God. If the Church is the bride of Christ, you could say that’s He’s “marrying down” big time! But like the husband who cares for his wife long after she’s able to reciprocate, we recognize that God’s love for us is real. He loves us, not because we deserve it, but because He chose to love us. Romans 10:9 says, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” This means that since Jesus is the perfection of love who laid down His life for His friends, that any of us can be friends of Jesus. The gift of salvation has come to us, and God asks nothing in return but to accept it in faith. We can never repay Him, but He chose to give us the embodiment of perfect, selfless love: His Son, Jesus Christ. So as Valentine’s Day comes to a close, let's take some time to think about what it means to love. And for those of us who believe, how can we reflect God’s love to the world around us?

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