Our ability to love virtuously is utterly trashed. Radical statement, I know. But this statement is more than my usual disregard for nuance. I carefully measured every word before writing it. As we've been looking at love as a progression of phases, I'm pretty sure you've come to a disturbing conclusion if you've read carefully. We don't love the right things with the right intensity, and most of the time, we don't love the right things at all. A view of love would be incomplete without considering it from the perspective of original sin, or Adam's horrifying fall in the Garden of Eden. Here's the thing about sin: it is passed down from generation to generation like eye color or temperament. I have affections and desires for disgusting things. I got that from my parents who got it from theirs and on up the line back to Adam and Eve.
Consider this paragraph from the Belgic Confession of 1561: "We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race. It is a corruption of all nature - an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother's womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God's sight that it is enough to condemn the human race" (Article 15). Notice the cancer-like language: it "has been spread" and "it is a corruption" that "infects" even infants. It is really beautiful language to describe a devastating reality. Original sin corrupts our ability to evaluate rightly.
I recently saw a dead and decaying pig on my dad's farm. I will spare you the details, though it's the details of that vision that brings this post into focus. As I walked past the rotting pig with fluid leaking from its body, I imagined sitting down beside it with a tray. On the tray was a plate with a big juicy pork chop, a bottle of A1 sauce and of course, a Mountain Dew. I would not have been able to eat a pork chop sitting next to that dead pig. How much less would I be able to eat the meat of that dead pig itself? Just take a bite out of it as it lay on the ground? Seriously, weak stomachs might gag at the sight and smell of it. Or the thought of it. Eat it? No way. Or is there a way I might be convinced to eat it after all? What if I like rancid, maggot-infested meat? Dogs do. Pigs do.
Before you write me off as an idiot, consider this verse: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). This verse is all about extent. It's describing the condition of mankind's heart. Man's heart is what? Loving? Pure? Neutral? Agnostic? Skeptical? Passionate? Slightly bent? Aching? Breaking? Try deceitful and sick. You know what that means don't you? Sick, like my pig illustration above. Sick, like when you say to someone, "You're sick," and you don't mean ill. So when God looks at the human heart, he sees sickness. To what extent? Desperately. You know what's really bad about that? In addition to being sick, our hearts are also deceitful - above all things. The chief characteristic of your heart and mine is that it lies. What do our hearts lie to us about? Being sick of course. Our own heart is desperately sick and refuses to acknowledge it. In other words, our heart does like rancid, maggot-infested meat. But that's not the worst part. It also convinces us that the rancid meat is really a tasty pork chop. The whole human race is delusional.
Now, I began this post stating that our ability to love virtuously is utterly trashed. Virtuous love is love that pleases God. Virtuous love is that love which proceeds from Christ, flows through Christ, and gives glory back to Christ. This kind of love is supernatural. It cannot be drummed up from a sick heart, no matter how hard that is to believe. Only God can give this kind of love to man. So if you're relying on the quality of your love to feel right with God, you're in for a long, miserable life. Fortunately, God has shown us a better way.
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). The Spirit of God shines into our sick hearts the light of Christ's glory. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). In other words, we are given by God the ability to find Christ valuable. But here's the catch. It's not automatic. Let me repeat. It's not automatic. Our sick hearts still find rancid meat tasty. We just also find Christ appealing now as well.
If I sit and ponder the world through the eyes of an apocalyptic movie, the world is very dark. There is a shroud of darkness in our hearts that keeps us from seeing the world as it really is. Think with me for a moment without the aid that revelation has given us. I find sex outside of wedlock quite appealing. The more debased the better. God sees it as a rotting pig. I think nice things are the secret to happiness. Show me the money. God sees maggot-infested flesh. I see every reason to nurture and protect my own comfort and convenience. Look out for number one. God sees dead nasty pig. Do you get the picture? When I see dead, rotting pig, it turns my stomach. That's not as bad as what God sees when he looks at the things our hearts find attractive - the desires of the flesh and desires of the eyes and pride in possessions. He sees a heart that finds those things valuable and says, "Deceitful above all things and desperately sick!"
Don't put your faith in your love. It will lead to despair. Put you faith in Christ, the One who is love incarnate, the One whose heart always loved virtuously, not just as an example for us, but as our substitute. If it were enough for Christ to come to earth as an example, he wouldn't have had to die as our substitute. Do you want to love the right things rightly and the wrong things not at all? Don't count on your ability to diminish things that you know shouldn't be valuable to you. The sickness is too deep to cast out by will-power. You can't fall out of love by trying to. Your evaluator is utterly ruined and finds repulsive things attractive. Instead, look to Christ, in the Bible, in the Bible-based insights of other Christian speakers and writers, in the solitude of private prayer and the community of corporate worship. As you behold the glory of the Lord, the Spirit of God transforms you into the same image.