Tag Archives: Love

Thoughts on Safe Spaces

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I get my feelings hurt a lot.  It seems to come with the territory of living life in the context of genuinely meaningful relationships.  In a world fraught with sin, people do things to each other that cause pain and sorrow. More to the point, Ido things to others that cause them pain and sorrow.

There is a lot of talk on US college campuses these days about “trigger events” and “safe spaces.” Apparently, some have come to believe they have a right to never be disagreed with or have their feelings hurt. As absurd as this sounds on its face, it does tap into a deep human longing we all have to be secure and out of danger.

We would do well, however, to remember that ensuring safety in this life is a difficult and dangerous prospect.  Live long enough in this world and you will be both hurt by others and the hurter of others.  No one, it seems, can really be safe from the dangers of existing in a world full of people—at least if you choose to have significant relationships with some of them.

The only surefire way to maintain safety, then, is to never truly love anyone or anything.  As C. S. Lewis puts it in The Four Loves: “To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

The kind of love he means is the concrete love of caring about and caring for an actual person with all of their assets and foibles.  This is not an ambiguous or abstract notion of “love in general.”  As Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazovrather amusingly writes: “The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.  In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary.  Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together.  I know from experience.  As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. . . .  I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me.”

At least the speaker was brutally honest.  Most of us want to pretend we love others until those others actually need us to really love them.  It simply isn’t safe to be in real relationships with actual human beings. Stay in relationship long enough and they will hurt you every time, sometimes horrifically.  No place, it would seem, can be truly safe if you take the risk to love.

Again, C. S. Lewis has a clear and clever way of pointing this out.  In his children’s classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the lion, Aslan, represents an allegory of Jesus.  Young Lucy Pevensie, reflecting upon the prospect of encountering Aslan asks Mr. Beaver, “Is he quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”. . . .  “Safe?”  Mr. Beaver responded.  “Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.”

Herein lies the secret to finding real safety, in the arms of a good and loving God.  But being in His arms is not actually intended to make us feelsafe.  Sometimes it does, but at other times it feels like the most dangerous place on earth.  That’s because His goal is to make us more like Jesus, and that’s often an uncomfortable and unpleasant process.  It doesn’t necessarily feel fun or safe.

Before passing away from cancer, former white house press secretary and radio talk show host Tony Snow reflected on his journey with God this way: “Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft.  Faith . . . draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution.  The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies.  There’s nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue, for it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do.  God relishes surprise.  We want lives of simple, predictable ease, smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see, but God likes to go off-road.  He provokes us with twists and turns.  He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance; and comprehension and yet don’t.  By His love and grace, we persevere.  The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.”

There’s a deep irony in the fact that the safest place to be is in the arms of the most dangerous being in the universe.  It is, after all, “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).  But this same God is a good and loving God, and that’s what makes Him ultimately safe, even if He is not proximally safe in the here and now as we might desire to define it.

It’s okay to want a safe space.  We all long for security and safety, but we tend to look for it in all the wrong persons and places.  And as hard as we might try, it definitely won’t be found on our college campuses.  There’s only one safe space and that lies in the center of God’s perfect (and often unpredictable) will.

If you’re willing to trust in God, buckle up and get ready for the ride of your life.  If it hasn’t already, it’s going to get really interesting.

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Were David and Jonathan gay?

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Some have recently argued that David and Jonathan must have been gay because (so they say) the biblical descriptions of their relationship could only be understood in sexually explicit ways. For example, 1 Samuel 18:1 says that the soul of Jonathan was “knit” to the soul of David. And in 2 Samuel 1:26 David says that Jonathan’s love for him was “more wonderful than that of women.”

The only way this argument gets any traction in today’s world is because we are the products of a very sexualized American pop culture. The concept of deep and meaningful love relationships has become so equated with sexual intercourse, it has become difficult for us to conceive of or understand what real friendship actually looks like.

We have confused sexual love with genuine love between friends, and so we cannot imagine how Jonathan and David could consider their love for one another to be better than the presumably sexual love they had experienced with women.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that in English we use the word, “love” both broadly and flippantly for all kinds of attitudes and actions toward people and things. We say we love chocolate, our children, God, our dog, and our local sports team all in the same breath without seeing any need to provide clarification concerning what we really mean by each use of the word.

The love between friends is a different kind of love than mere erotic interest. This is why the Greeks had several words that we translate into English as “love.” Erotic love was described in the Greek as “eros,” while affectionate love between friends was described by the word “phileo.” It was not sexual, but deeply meaningful and important nonetheless. It still is, but I fear Americans have lost their ability to discern the difference between having sex and loving another in a non-sexual way.

Men in India hold hands with one another and there is nothing sexual about it. It is simply a way to be together with another man and express appreciation for being a trusted friend. And it’s a beautiful thing to see. It’s nothing but a tragedy that men seen holding hands in western culture are immediately assumed to be homosexuals because that kind of benevolent physical touch is associated so strongly with purely sexual advances.

There are cultural nuances here, of course, but there is also something deeper. By buying into the sexual narrative of our time, we have severely diminished our capacity for deep and abiding friendship. We have become obsessed with sexual passions that have little or nothing to do with deep affection. We do not understand anymore how we can truly love someone without turning him or her into a sexual object for our personal gratification.

On the face of it, the bald act of sexual intercourse requires very little time or effort. This is why prostitution has always been a thriving worldwide industry. Total strangers who have never met and might never meet again can “make a transaction” in five to ten minutes if the conditions are right. What makes sex meaningful over the long haul is having it in the God-ordained context of a committed covenantal marriage relationship where deep friendship can grow and blossom alongside the simpler act of sex. Having sex is relatively easy. Becoming friends is not.  It takes time and effort—a lot of it.

And even in marriage, and contrary to the conventional wisdom of today, the most important aspect of a genuinely meaningful relationship is not the sex itself. What makes our lives truly momentous and significant are the lasting friendships we have. Deep and enduring friendships have elements of richness and meaning that sex simply cannot provide.

On page 91 of The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis puts it this way: “Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend.” This is perhaps one of the reasons that gay men have so many sexual partners during their lifetime. They are looking for the joy of real friendship, but have been deceived into thinking they will find it in nothing more than sex.

David and Jonathan were not gay. They were friends, and possessed a depth of emotional intimacy that is rare indeed. When Jesus called His disciples “friends” and spoke of a love so great that He would lay down His life for them, He meant it literally. He laid down His life to atone for sin—theirs and ours, yours and mine. Sex was never in the equation. Only genuine love was.

What is love?

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There’s a lot of confusion about the meaning of love these days. In some recent weddings, I’ve heard couples close their vows with the phrase, “as long as we both shall love.” That’s quite a shift from “as long as we both shall live.” Such a change moves marital commitments away from decisions of the will to decisions of the heart.

By defining love in almost exclusively emotional terms, popular culture has tended to ignore or even exclude any elements of truth, righteousness, and volition. This is dangerous for many reasons, first and foremost, because according to 1 John 4:8, God’s very essence is love. To misunderstand love, then, is to misunderstand God.

In 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes called the “love chapter,” we learn that biblical love—God’s love—goes far beyond the merely emotional. It even transcends grandiose eloquence, profound wisdom, visionary faith, and extreme self-sacrifice. Instead, love is volitional, arduous, and courageous. It is truthful, forgiving, nurturing, protective, hopeful, and persistent to the point of enduring forever—it never fails.

To look at contemporary marriage, the place where love is meant to find it’s most profound human expression, one might be tempted to think love is not much more than an ongoing attempt to produce a successive string of positive emotional experiences. Such things, far from never failing, always fade and fail. Reducing love to a one-sided set of transitory physical palpitations is nothing short of tragic.

In contrast, God’s love is a love that speaks truth, acts courageously, rebukes necessarily, cares genuinely, exudes tenderness, displays wisdom, desires righteousness, and exhibits humility—all at the same time. When God acts, He acts from His whole nature and with absolute integrity in a perfectly unified way.

Practically speaking this means that when He loves and forgives, He does so justly, and when He is just, He is lovingly and mercifully just. Understanding this places the cross in a clearer frame. How can God be merciful and just, all at the same time? On the cross the just wrath of God is satisfied. Jesus is punished for our sin. Simultaneously, the active love of God is nevertheless expressed and unleashed in an unprecedented way—we are fully forgiven and reconciled to God through the sacrificial love of Christ.

Suggesting that God’s love is merely emotional, simply an expression of fondness toward us, misses a central aspect of His being and makes the absolute necessity of the gospel a mockery. A God who does not judge with justice is willing to tolerate and overlook almost anything. But what kind of God is that? God’s righteous judgment, like all His other attributes, is exercised with and in love, but it is a love that cares for truth, that seeks after righteousness, that judges and restrains evil.

Without a biblical corrective to our concepts of love, we are tempted to define it as merely unqualified, indiscriminate acceptance. And this becomes an excuse for refusing to rebuke and correct and evaluate moral living—in ourselves and others. This is not a virtue born of courageous love and care, but a vice born of hedonism, indifference, and fear. Rather than showing and experiencing love, we trade away the richness and depth of true love, the unfailing foundation upon which we can live our lives well for the glory of God.

It is no wonder, then, that our marriages are failing, our relationships are shallow, and we expect God to grant us an easier life, more stuff, and increasingly entertaining experiences—all without too much interference in our personal lives. This kind of nominal cultural Christianity, where God’s purpose is only to make us better and more fulfilled people, is what sociologist Christian Smith calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” We have no real idea what it actually means to love or be loved—by God or anyone else. And it appears we have no desire for genuine love either since it is significantly costly to practice and receive. Nowhere is this more evident than when Jesus, in John 15:13, frames love in terms of radically caring sacrifice: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” These are not just words to Jesus. He demonstrates His amazing love by suffering a humiliating death on a cross to save us from our sin. This is a love with righteous substance and holy truth, a love infinitely beyond the merely emotional.

I can’t help but wonder how deeply I have been impacted by a deficient view of love. How has it impoverished my relationships with my wife, kids, extended family, friends, strangers, and even enemies, whom I’m also called to love? I have to return again and again to reading and applying God’s love letter, the Bible, to understand and practice His love with clearer vision, greater courage, and deeper dependence. Apart from this, I am captive to the impulses of emotion, the fickleness of faithlessness, and the harshness of hopelessness. Lord, save me with Your love!