Recently I finished reading King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus by Timothy Keller, which book is of the same caliber of reading as his The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism– challenging, forceful, inspirational, insightful, knowledgeable, needed, pleasurable reading. Relative to the former book I want to call to your attention some thoughts he conveyed with reference to two sources he cited.
False And True Love
Keller cites a book now out of print by William Vanstone, The Risk of Love, in which there is a chapter entitled “The Phenomenology of Love”. He says this relative to what Vanstone wrote about false and true love.
In false love your aim is to use the other person to fulfill your happiness. Your love is conditional: You give it only as long as the person is affirming you and meeting your needs. And it’s non-vulnerable: You hold back so that you can cut your losses if necessary. But in true love, your aim is to spend yourself and use yourself for the happiness of the other, because your greatest joy is that person’s joy. Therefore your affection is unconditional: You give it regardless of whether your loved one is meeting your needs. And it’s radically vulnerable: You spend everything, hold nothing back, give it all away. Then Vanstone says, surprisingly, that our real problem is that nobody is fully capable of giving true love. We want it desperately, but we can’t give it. He doesn’t say we can’t give any kind of real love at all, but he’s saying that nobody is fully capable of true love. All of our love is somewhat false.
I confess, based upon my own personal experiences, that I agree with what Vanstone wrote. Despite my desire to love others, including God, infinitely, I am aware of a mercenary aspect that lingers within me seeking affirmation for myself. I see mercenary qualities in our relationships as brethren in Christ, especially in the area of fellowship and unity. Too frequently our alleged love is not forbearing enough to tolerate those who entertain “matters of faith” with which we disagree. Then we have the believers who “quit” because they say their needs are not being met.
Thank goodness we have a God who manifests perfect love and can supply all our needs. As long as we are in this natural state we will never love perfectly, but hopefully we’ll grow steadily in this regard and emulate our Savior more and more until we can realize in that eternal realm the phenomenon of fully giving authentic, true love.
In another chapter Keller makes reference to an article on “Positive Psychology” entitled “Happiness 101” which appeared in the New York Times Magazine on January 7, 2007. Positive Psychology has as its aim or goal to find out what makes people happy. Keller wrote:
… Researchers in this field have found that if you focus on doing and getting things that give you pleasure, it does not lead to happiness but produces what one researcher has dubbed “the hedonic treadmill”. You become addicted to pleasure, and your need for the pleasure fix keeps growing. You have to do more and more. You’re never satisfied, never really happy. According to the article, scientific studies have shown that the best way to increase your happiness is actually to do acts of selfless kindness, to pour yourself out for needy people….
Again, I confess, based upon my own personal experiences, I agree with the researchers. Is this not what Jesus taught by his coming, his life, and his death, both by example and verbal teaching? As I used to tell my psychology classes, Jesus Christ is the greatest psychologist of all time, and he was such long before psychology became a recognized formal discipline. If we really want to realize a purpose for our lives, we need to live for God and others unselfishly, rather than living selfishly or self-righteously. Again, as long as we are in this natural state we won’t do this perfectly, but the more we realize we are saved by grace and let God’s Spirit direct our lives, the closer we will come to manifesting the “image of God”.
Now that I have either positively provoked your thinking or piqued it, I’ll stop writing. I hope the former.