The Death and Resurrection of Love

God is love.  We might say this is a universal affirmative statement.  “A” on the square of opposition.  And as any basic student of logic knows, A statements cannot be conversed.  God is love, but love is not God.

C. S. Lewis wrote that whenever we make love into a god it becomes a demon.  This is true.  Our entire culture of love is demonic in this respect, sacrificing at the altar of “true love.”  Reacting against a mythical Puritanism, as well as the ghost of Victorian England and her ideological grandchild, the 1950’s, we now live in the most worldly, fleshly, society ever imagined.

I am not speaking of the deviants we so often read about and see on the news (and if it is FOX News, we see quite a bit of it, often in excessive detail), the easy prey of moral reproach.  Rather, I mean that which is supposed normal.  I mean passionate love.

Our world has been divinized once more, but this time the Christians are as much to blame as any.  Contrary to popular belief, Galileo did not lower mankind when he decentralized our planet.  Instead he elevated us into the heavens.  He says as much himself:

As for the earth, we seek rather to ennoble and perfect it when we strive to make it like the celestial bodies, and, as it were, place it in heaven, from which your philosophers have banished it.[1]

Everything is divine now.  All worldly pleasures are endorsed.  Anyone can grow up to do- or perhaps be- whatever they want.  Age can be defied.  Treasures can be won.  Women can become men, and men can become women.  Children can be had or not, all on a scheduled basis.

And it is at just this time that preachers show up to warn us against the evils of Gnosticism, asceticism, and escapism.  Health and wealth, your best life now, is on the more juvenile slide of the continuum, while “incarnational” and “liberation” theology appears on the more intellectual end.  Even pietism shows back up to join in the fun whenever contrarian personalities decide that overly-optimistic sermons “no longer meet their needs.”  They get a kick out of being beaten down.  It makes them “feel” better.  Perhaps it simply makes them feel.

And so here we are.  Love.  It dominates us.  It tyrannizes us.  We must have it.  Denis De Rougemont has written of this tyranny. His Love in the Western World explores the history of the erotic, particularly the way in which good Christian men and women have been convinced that love is a mystical encounter which comes upon them.

All young people breathe in from books and periodicals, from stage and screen, and from a thousand daily allusions, a romantic atmosphere in the haze of which passion seems to be the supreme test that one day or other awaits every true man or woman, and it is accepted that nobody has really lived till he or she ‘has been through it.’

277

He adds:

The moderns, men and women of passion, expect irresistible love to produce some revelation either regarding themselves or about life at large.  This is a last vestige of the primitive mysticism.

282

And:

There she is, the woman of his heart’s desire and of his most intimate nostalgia, the Iseult of his dreams!  And of course she is already married.  But let her get a divorce, and she shall be his!  Together they will experience ‘real life’, and the Tristan he nurses like his hidden daemon in his bosom will wax and bloom.

283-284

Even apart from the adultery, which is by no means uncommon among Christians, is this not our modern view of love?  It is a power, a force, which comes upon us.  When it happens, you just know.

Marriage invitations advertise two souls joining “for eternity.”  The boy says to the girl, “We were meant for each other.”  “We will be together forever.”  Perpetual bliss.

Our songs all tell the story.  “All you need is love.”  It is, after all, what the world needs now.  Cynically, yet nonetheless honestly, the indie band Of Montreal sings, “The girl of my dreams is probably god, still I want you.”  Coming to the true conclusion of it all is Joy Division.  Love will tear us apart.

So what is to be done?  Do we reject love for a pragmatism or bitter resignation?  Do we return to celibacy? Disdain for marriage, sex, and love?

No.  That would be to merely flip the coin.  God is fearful, after all.  Hatred of love shares the same commitment as the worship of love.  Instead we must de-divinize the whole business.  As De Rougement also writes, Eros must be rescued by Agape: “Agape is aware that our terrestrial and temporal life is unworthy of adoration and even of being killed, but that it can be accepted in obedience to the Eternal” (311).  Once the One God is seen to sit on His throne, all earthly goods can be just that, earthly.  Creation is invited into the divine life with the one request “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”  And let us also not forget the words of our Lord, “In heaven they are neither married nor given in marriage, but are like the angels.”  Marriage is of this world.  It must remain there.  Only then can it withstand the burden of glorifying God.

This is hard work.  A de-divinized love is active.  We are not to merely “be in love,” but we are “to love.”  De Rougemont again makes the point, “Fidelity is not in the least a sort of conservatism, but rather a construction” (307).  We must do.  We commit to loving others, and once our word is given, we have to stick to it.  We train our passions.  We constantly work on our wants.  Following after God, we create.

The Christ-worshippers must love.  It is no choice.  All of our life we work at it, and indeed, we are even taught that we love at our own expense, to our own detriment.  “Greater love hath no man than this,” says our Lord, “than for a man to give his life for another.”

Living for one’s self kills others.  Dying to one’s self gives life to others.  The Christian paradox, by no means easy, makes life less difficult.  When love is dethroned, it ceases to enslave.  When love dies, it is resurrected.  When we move from earth to heaven, we see heaven coming down to earth.

This is the message that you have heard from the beginning.  We should love one another.  And little children, keep yourselves from idols.  Amen.


[1] quoted in Remi Brague’s The Legend of the Middle Ages, 219

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This entry was posted in c s lewis, De Rougemont by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the pastor of Christ Church in Lakeland, FL. He is also a founder and general editor of The Calvinist International. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), a full-time minister, and occasional classical school teacher, Steven lives in Lakeland, FL with his wife, son, and daughter.

2 thoughts on “The Death and Resurrection of Love

  1. Well, I am not giving up my statue of St. Jude anytime soon, but the analysis in this short essay brings up some important points. My wife and I always have bizarre conversations about people’s irrational expectations when they enter into marriage. While I know St. Paul exhorted men to love their wives, I do not think that this is the same as the modern obsession with “finding your soul mate”. Loving your wife does not necessarily mean that she is your “best friend”. It’s weird for us to hear that now, but look at the flip side of the question. In the Catholic Church, we have numerous people having their marriages “annulled” because they claim that they didn’t know what they were getting into, he was too young, she didn’t tell me about X, etc. But marriage is a social contract as well as a personal one; it has obligations as well as joys. You can be in a legitimate, “godly” marriage and still not achieve the “Hollywood” sense of bliss that many think is the sine qua non of a real relationship.

    The other major premise is that we have been taught in modernity that love and necessity are mutually exclusive. You can’t really love someone if you are forced into the union or can’t leave it. My grandparents have been married for sixty years, and I am convinced that the love that they have for each other isn’t tainted because they had nine children or were poor field workers for most of their lives. People back in the day often stayed together because they had to, most marriages were arranged, and even the ones that weren’t had the blessings of the community. And if people had problems, they worked them out. If he cheated, she put up with it. If she was a nag, he took it in stride. Maybe that is what love is. It’s something you work at, something that you can only achieve over time. It looks more like the Cross than American Dreams of a hot wife, two kids, a picket fence, and a dog.

  2. It all comes down to the typical chump/pagan move of not taking responsibility.

    I say to my students almost weekly that “falling in love” is one of the most dangerous, insipid, and unromantic ideas ever.

    I tell them love is not a hole. I tell them not to love people on accident but to love people on purpose.

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