Posted by David
Fraternal Love, William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1851.
Of all of man’s passions, human love is most certainly a bitter-sweet fruit.
I remember hiking with a friend in Death Valley a bit over ten years ago. We were exploring the stark, bright landscape examining the canyons, rocks and various living things that hid in the limited shade of this bleak world. Across a rocky field we walked wandering the arroyos that meandered out of the nearby mountain canyons. My friend asked me, “What do you think love is?” At that time in my life, I really didn’t know much about love, which was clear by some dreadful mistakes that I had already made in my life. But I responded to him by pointing down at two small dry streambeds that coursed their way together into one larger streambed.
“Love is like the ‘Y’ in that stream,” is how I responded. Was I correct in my response? Is love the moment of action where two become one, when the two parts have identity, yet there exists one larger, grander identity? Maybe there was some truth to it.
Maybe this is what love is, however, in human love most often it does not work this way. Love is often thwarted by selfishness—our ego. The existence of the ego depends on separateness. The ego cannot tolerate love and will fight endlessly to retain sovereignty over the will. The ego will defend, defraud, and devour any attempt at a true union, for if it does not, it will cease to exist. This is the great paradox of human love.
Therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden.
The ego set foot on the planet when man chose its own path apart from God. Without God, in our separation from him, human love became no more than power lust, what Saint Augustine called libido dominandi in The City of God. This type of love is seen in the covetousness of some child’s play. “Give me your balloon,” says the two-year old. The two-year old takes other child’s balloon, bangs it around for a moment or two, and tosses it away in order to have the toy of which the other child has now become fond.
As adults we engage in these childish battles, but our methods are only slightly more sophisticated. This pernicious self-love takes on many disguises. We develop contracts with each other that bond us in unions of clandestine lust and power play. “What happened to our love?” some will say. It no longer feels like love for time has ripened the true fruit of their union.
The ego cannot allow its power to be shared in union. Operations will be developed to trump any bargain that was developed. In a union, the egos will battle for headship. This is why strife invariably occurs in marriage and any other union. The battle may take form of outward or passive aggression. To win the battle and remedy the paradox of human love, people take a variety of approaches, from disassociation to isolation and from detachment to distraction. Ultimately, all human-inspired solutions dig us deeper into the quagmire of the ego and its ever-isolating inward focus.
I’m tempted to think that the solution is selflessness and serventhood, employed to break the bonds of the ego. I’m tempted to think that this would do the trick. But it won’t. Through these actions in and of themselves, I will be consumed by the other power lust that seeks to control my will. Jesus says, “Never give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs. Otherwise, they will trample them with their feet and then turn around and attack you.”
I found the only solution to the quagmire of the ego and the paradox of human love to be in bondage with the one love that God sent us in the person of Jesus. In this union, I reconnect to God and am reconciled from the ancient detachment that causes my ego to power lust. Finally, by knowing true love, I can love others in meaningful ways. And not only have I been transformed, but so are my relationships.
Of course, my ego still tries to thwart the all-consuming power of God’s love. But my ego is losing the battle. Less and less, I see myself engaging in the false-love of power lust. When this does happen, I sometimes see myself as if from a distance. It is as if my ego is detached from me. In some sense, my selfish ego is dying. But in reality, it cannot die. It will not let itself die. That’s the nature of the ego. But it is detaching from me. It is being consumed.
Jesus said, “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” This is where we let our selfish ego be consumed. When Jesus, my love and my friend, tells me to act counterintuitively to my ego, I do it. As these actions are performed as outlined in Sermon on the Mount my ego is eaten. My ego returns to the one whom it belongs.
Recently my wife and I were sitting at the dinner table across from each other. My hand was resting on hers. Our two-year old son remarked, “you all are friends.” Then he added, “Reid is my friend.”
When I think of true love, I no longer think of sex. I no longer think of male or female. I no longer think of human marriage. I think of friendship. “What a friend we have in Jesus,” the old hymn sings. Friendship is the highest love and we have been truly befriended by Jesus.
For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.