There is an ideal that we all desire to experience in our lives. This ideal is not something that we can measure by mere words. We cannot subdue it in order to manipulate it however we wish. It cannot be manufactured. It is sought after, and seldom found. It is one of the few things that we all somehow understand, yet it cannot be contained inside a mere definition. This ideal is perfect love. By “perfect” I mean a love that is as good as it is possible for love to be. I have yet to find someone, regardless of their worldview, who does not at least acknowledge the value of this common principle in life. Why is this so important to us and why does this seem to be such an unattainable ideal?
First, let us clarify the meaning of love. Today, culture has watered it down to mean one of many things. For instance, we may use the word “love” as follows: “I love that drink”, “I love this house”, “I love you” to friends or family, and “I love you” to a significant other. When we say we love objects, I believe that we really mean to say that we informally adore or enjoy them. Like, appreciate, or enjoy are probably far better words to use for this “love” of things. But to intermingle the love that we experience between one another with the love that we have for an object, which does nothing more than perform a specific function, does no justice in our understanding of the ideal meaning of the word. It is apparent that a higher and more desirable form of love that we strive for is found in the bounds of human relationships.
Objects cannot love us back. But when one person, who is significantly and uniquely independent from ourselves, interacts with us, there is an “otherness” present. One cannot make the other individual love them, and vice versa. By interacting with a real, living, and freely thinking human being, we often come to realize that we want to know more about them, and conversely, we want them to know more about us. Better yet, we desire to have someone who will fully value, treasure, and know us.
While even relationships with our friends, husbands, wives, children, mothers, and fathers can cultivate love, it is typically never perfect. There are likely glimpses of this perfection which appear to seep into reality, but only to hastily fade with a simple crude remark, the passing of time, or betrayal of trust. These glimpses never manifest the fullness of perfection, yet they keep us longing for it and aware of its presence. It is interesting that we notice this imperfection at all. For us to notice that we are not being fully valued, treasured, and known by those dearest to us as they “ought” to points us to two problems: 1) We are imperfect beings who cannot meet the perfection we strive to attain (For more details on this see the previous article here). 2) The fact that a perfect love is desired by all people and not attainable, or at least sustainable, in even our dearest relationships implies that there must be a source of this perfection that would satisfy and sustain this desire.
Discovering Perfect Love
Some people may look to satisfy this desire for love by having possessions. But this will fail. Some may seek to gain experiences, see the world, and live life “to the fullest”, but will be left wanting in the end. Some people will attempt to satisfy this desire in a relationship with a person by means of a close friendship, romantic relationship, or marriage. There may indeed be a meaningful degree of love present in these relationships, but do they fulfill the perfection that we all seek? I would say that by the frequency in which people hurt those closest to them (even unintentionally), and the vast number of divorces, miserable couples, and broken friendships that exist, this is not the case. Therefore, this perfect love cannot be found in people alone.
Could this kind of love simply be, as the humanist or atheist might think, an ideal brought about by natural selection and the self-preservation of the species that has prevailed throughout history? Could it be that it is just some culturally romanticized ideal about togetherness in this human endeavor? Well, would either of these presumptions explain why a father would lay down his life for his family, knowing full well that the men who had crept into his home have him outgunned, even though he see’s a brief route of escape which would save his own life? If the father decided to flee, would this not cause the logic behind the survival of the fittest and self-preservation, which is vital to evolutionary and humanistic presuppositions, to quickly devolve into meaninglessness? Would we not be outraged if he could have tried to save them but did not?
If we are truly honest, I believe that all people would likely agree that the father should stay and fight off the attackers, or die trying. This is a far nobler, loving, and better action than fleeing. But why? Is it because there is an ideal seen in love that seems inseparably linked to this innate goodness which we all recognize? Yes, this would seem to be an honest evaluation. And more pointedly, would not his willingness to sacrifice himself for those he holds dear be a perfect display of love? Why then, is this sacrifice a display of perfect love?
As already established, love requires a relationship. And as noted above, the highest form of love that we can conceive of is displayed in a person giving his or her life for those they love. Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, ESV). In this action, one displays that they value, treasure, and know this person to such a full extent that they are willing to trade their own life to spare another. Is not our life the most precious “possession” that we are granted in this world? This ideal of sacrifice closely represents the portrayal of the ideal that we all desire. We all want for someone to care so much for us that they would be willing to die for us. Not that we would want someone to die, but how else could this ideal be so clearly shown?
In the Christian worldview, not unlike this scenario of a father dying for the ones he loves, we see a very direct parallel. For metaphorical purposes, let us use the biblical symbolism of the Christian Church as the “bride” (Ephesians 5:25-32), and the people in this world representing the “children” of the father. This is not to be confused with a “child of God” which is a person who believes in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And the father, being God, coming in the form of a man (Jesus), would serve the roles of both husband and father in the scenario.
Now, let us think in terms of the biblical narrative. God created man who turned away from Him with the help of the enemy (Satan). Humanity will now die and suffer for the evil that they have indulged in and exacted. The enemy is responsible for enticing them toward this doom. But God, being merciful, gracious, and the perfect manifestation and originator of love itself, literally stepped into history in the person of Jesus Christ. He did so to offer salvation to everyone who is willing to turn from their wicked ways and receive His love and forgiveness. Consider the following passage:
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:8-10, ESV)
If this is true, then God loved us so much that He allowed Himself to be sacrificed in a horrific way, by His own creation, so that we can be forgiven. He lived the perfect life that we could not, died an innocent death, and therefore proved to humanity His worthiness to save us from our sins and to be the one who reigns over all of Creation. He offers redemption from our depravity and sinful past and the ability to be counted as righteous before God. He is is our ever-present and perfectly loving Lord. The key here is that we see this very picture of ideal love, which is demonstrated by God, wired into us. Wouldn’t it make sense that this God, if He revealed His perfect love in such a way, designed us to crave experiencing it? By craving this love, we can’t help but seek after the only thing in this world that offers it fully and unconditionally to us; God Himself.
By personally experiencing God, we learn how to impart His perfect love unto others more fully. We realize that love is the most selfless and caring principle imaginable. By its nature, love cannot be based on conditions, such as how good someone has been to us. Rather, God unconditionally gave Jesus up on the cross, regardless of the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of sins you and I have committed against Him. This forgiveness is extended to all, and all can receive it if they believe and repent. For this is the only response that would display our genuine love and surrender to God as the Lord of All. Therefore, when we know God’s love, the two great commandments Jesus gave for His followers can be properly lived out:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39, ESV)
In Christ’s sacrifice, the gap between God and man is closed. The perfect relationship that we cannot sustain with people is sustained perfectly by the very being that created us. In Christ, we find the joy and satisfaction of God’s character, grace, and love that are always constant, never failing, and ever present. In this life, Christ is the light in the darkness. Once belief and repentance conceive to form faithful obedience to Him, He then allows us to experience Him more fully. And in the life to come, of which we have no assured hope for other than in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, darkness no longer exists. We are able to fully see His light forevermore.
Until then, there are many things in life that would seek to destroy us and present themselves as a refreshing well in an arid desert. They entice us to take the short and broad road leading down to their waters. But these wells will run dry and leave us thirsty. Once we realize they will not sustain us, it may be too late and death will be upon us. Jesus tells us through his conversation with the woman at the well that:
“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14, ESV)
The truth of the matter is that we all need and desire to be loved. And the source of perfect love is not found in the things of this world. We can observe love’s effects, know that we all desire it, but cannot pinpoint its cause. But, when the message of the Christian God is considered, we begin to see the fullness of life unfold. We begin to realize that the deep satisfaction we have yearned for, which always seems to evade us, is found in a relationship with God. So what!? Faith is not observable. Faith is a requirement to be in this “relationship” with God, right? This does nothing to prove God’s existence. Well, then how essential is faith in our reality? Can faith and reason co-exist? If so, then what does that look like in regards to Christianity? This is discussed in the next article, Bridging the Gap (Pt. 4): The Faith Delusion
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