Forgiveness is held as a virtue by many in our world, in a way which is quite foreign to some other world views. (I recall the shock on being told by a friend in the Middle East that forgiveness had never been seen as a good thing there.) We know we don’t do it, by and large, but we think we should. The result of this, unfortunately, is that we have developed a corollary that is neither love nor forgiveness—namely tolerance. The problem with this is clear: I can “tolerate” you without it costing me anything very much. I can shrug my shoulders, walk away, and leave you to do your own thing. That, admittedly, is preferable to me taking you by the throat and shaking you until you agree with me. But it is certainly not love.
Love affirms the reality of the other person, the other culture, the other way of life; love takes the trouble to get to know the other person or culture, finding out how he, she, or it ticks, what makes it special; and finally, love wants the best for that person or culture. It was love, not just an arrogant imposition of alien standards, that drove much of the world to oppose the apartheid regime in South Africa. It was love, not a dewy-eyed anti-business prejudice (though that’s what they said to him at the time), that drove abolitionist William Wilberforce to protest against the slave trade. It is love, not cultural imperialism, that says it is dehumanizing and society-destroying to burn a surviving widow on her husband’s funeral pyre, or to kill the daughter who has eloped with a man of a different religion or race. Love must confront “tolerance” and insist, as it always has done, on a better way.
I wonder if this very hunger we have to be loved is a sign of another kind: not of God’s transcendence, but of His immanence, His being with us. I wonder if our lovesickness is, in fact, God’s image, broken, gaunt but still potent, within us. It is the footfall or thumbprint of Another, evidence of Things Unseen, rumors of a Visitor in the camp.
We still need to feel that our life matters in the scheme of things. We still want to merge ourselves with some higher self-absorbing meaning in trust and in gratitude. But if we no longer have God how are we to do this?
One of the first ways that occurred to the modern person was the romantic solution. The self-glorification that we need in our innermost being, we now look for in the love partner. What is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this position? We want to be rid of our faults. We want to be rid of our feeling of nothingness. We want to be justified. We want to know that our existence hasn’t been in vain. We want redemption; nothing less . . . Needless to say, human beings can’t give you that . . . No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood.
We all long to belong. We all need to be connected to something bigger than ourselves . . .
Sex, unfortunately, is used as a shortcut to love.
Sex can be the most intimate and beautiful expression of love, but we are only lying to ourselves when we act as if sex is proof of love . . . We live in a world of users where we abuse each other to dull the pain of our aloneness. We all long for intimacy, and physical contact can appear as intimacy for a moment . . .
Is there any moment that feels more filled with loneliness than the second after having sex with someone who cares nothing about you?
There is no such thing as free sex. It always comes at a cost. With it, either you give your heart, or you give your soul. It seems you can have sex without giving love, but you can’t have sex without giving a part of yourself.
When sex is an act of love, it is a gift. When sex is a substitute for love, it is a trap . . .
Love isn’t about conquest . . . Deep down inside we know we cannot fill the vacuum within our souls by consuming people. We are not only robbing others; we are pillaging our own souls.
Eventually, it hits you: you cannot take love; you have to give it. Love is a gift that cannot be stolen . . .
Love is not about how many people we have used, but about how much we have cherished one person.
When I truly love, whether the object of my love is a planet or a person, a symphony or a sunset, I am celebrating the otherness of the beloved, wanting the beloved to be what it really is, greater than my imagining or perception, stranger, more mysterious. Love celebrates that mystery: in that sense, it is truly ‘objective’; but it is also of course delightedly ‘subjective’. Without the subjective pole, it becomes mere cool appraisal or ‘tolerance’. Without the objective pole, the celebration of the other as other, it is simply lust, cutting the beloved down to the size of my desires and projects, whether it be sexual lust exploiting another human being or industrial lust exploiting raw materials for profit despite the consequences. A colleague of mine put his finger on the first of these, speaking of ‘the decline of sex’, and explaining, ‘We all know how to do it but we’ve all forgotten why.’ That is exactly the same as the second, the Frankensteinian scientism of our day: we can do it, so why not and who’s to stop us? And this is where Jonathan Sacks’s aphorism comes in again: science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean. And sometimes the meaning tells you to stop pulling them apart. It’s a crisis of meaning that we face in our day, and a crisis of knowledge that brings that into focus; and the answer to the false antithesis of objective and subjective, which has been throttling our culture for too long, is a full-on reawakening of an epistemology of love. We have had enough of the Faustian pact in which we merely ‘tolerate’ one another; ‘toleration’ is an Enlightenment parody of love. It is time for the dangerous gospel notion of love to make a comeback in our culture.