Friday, January 15, 2010

What is Love? Part 3

With Valentine's Day quickly approaching, I'm sharing a series of posts on love taken from my book on marriage. In order for today's post to make the most sense, I'd recommend reading parts one and two first. I believe a concept as complex as love is best described as a progression of phases. I think love develops along a chain from one phase to the next. It's sequential. I think love (both virtuous and sinful) follows a certain reproducible pattern every time. From the beginning of the progression to the end, as long as the sequence is followed, any point along the chain could be called love. Here's the progression: All love begins with an affection... from there it may or may not develop into a desire... if a desire is strong enough, it may or may not proceed to an inclination of focus... and from there, it might or might not overflow in an action toward or on behalf of the beloved object. Part one explained affection, part two explained desire, and in this part, we'll see what happens when a desire just has to be fulfilled.

Love May Progress to Inclination of Focus

Love may progress to what I've labeled an "inclination of focus." I am inclined, or propelled toward the object of my desire. I have such an affection for the object that I press my whole being toward that object or I choose on behalf of that object. Inclination of focus may sound similar to desire, and it is. But there's a critical, qualitative difference that moves it beyond desire on the progression of love. With desire, nothing (or very little) has happened yet toward or on behalf of the beloved object. Love may stop with desire. With inclination of focus, I'm starting to sort out options and weed out what seems less valuable so that I can hone in on what seems more valuable. This is about priority. This is the bridge between desire and action. This is perhaps the most dangerous phase. Here's why:

An Inclination of Focus Prioritizes and Imagines

A man may have an attractive neighbor. He develops an affection for her based on his sense of her value. He begins to value her so intensely and she is so potentially available (she lives next door), a desire for his neighbor is sparked in his heart. He begins to fantasize about her, and build up her value in his mind. Now, this man's love for his neighbor may stop at a desire. He never acts upon it, never brings it up and buries it until she and her husband move away. But what if he doesn't bury it? What if in his mind, the potentiality of pleasure is so great that it's worth whatever consequence comes to satisfy that pleasure? What if he starts fantasizing about how great an encounter with her may be? What if the thoughts are very vivid in nature and he begins to confuse fantasy and reality? What if he actually gets to the point where he talks himself into it? You may think that sounds like a stupid, reckless thing to do. But how often does just such a thing happen? Probably everyday somewhere. Now, in addition to the fantasies, the man starts scheming in his mind how to overlay fantasy on top of reality. He starts weighing priorities and consequences. "How can I get her to agree to an affair? Maybe I could probe and see if she's happy with her husband. I need to find a crack in her armor, or a hole in the wall that I could wrench through. What kind of leverage can I use? What will the guys at work think if they find out? Would her husband come after me with a gun? I'd be thrown out of church. My wife would be devastated. She'd probably divorce me and take the kids. They'd hate me forever and I'd be a social outcast. Not to mention God would be mad. That's a lot of bad consequences. But she's so beautiful and an encounter with her would be so rewarding! I've been distracted with her for weeks already. I'll talk to her tomorrow over the fence and drop a few hints that I can easily weasel out of if she doesn't respond favorably." That's the inner working of a mind that has moved from desire to inclination of focus. Notice that consequences are inconsequential. He thinks he must fulfill his desire. He will put things in motion, through manipulating, lying, bribing, leveraging, threatening, sacrificing or whatever else it takes to have his desired object. We can see how the man's inclination of focus zones in on his neighbor and zones out any other option.

Consider another, more frivolous example. Imagine me sitting back in that new restaurant with no idea what they serve. I order the special -- tuna noodle casserole -- because it was on the sign at the front door. The waitress goes by with a steak. I love steak. I have an affection for steak flowing from a sense of its value. Now seeing that steak go by has awakened in me a desire for steak because steak is valuable to me and it's available. I start thinking to myself, "How can I get a steak instead of that nasty old tuna casserole?" As I incline my focus toward steak, I devalue all other options in my mind. What may have been perfectly satisfying is no longer good enough. I must have steak. "I could stop the waitress on the way back. But then that'll just cause problems. The chef will probably spit in my food for changing the order. But steak is so good. It's worth the risk! But wait, I only have seven dollars on me and the steak will be more. Wait again, I can float a check until tomorrow. But I don't even know if they take checks. I could find out, but it's not worth all that. No. It is worth all that. I will not be satisfied with tuna -- I must have steak." Then my love is expressed through action, "Waitress, could you please bring me a medium sirloin instead?" Can you see my inclination of focus zone in on steak and zone out any other option?

Love Becomes More Unreasonable and Sacrificial

When love progresses to inclination of focus, it becomes more and more unreasonable and sacrificial. The mind is fantasizing and imagining all the pleasure that will come through the beloved object. Love for an object is difficult to cut off at this phase. By the time love reaches this phase, thoughts and desires are likely so vivid that we start sensing our own well-being hinging on the beloved object. We start believing that the beloved object must be had or life won't work as well. This can be a great virtue when the motive is noble and the end just. It can motivate the highest acts of sacrifice. "For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). We also see this inclination of focus in missionary biographies where saints sacrificed earthly comfort and security despite the pressure from loved ones to "just be normal."

Love can also make the biggest fool of anyone (like Amnon). The saddest part in sinful inclination is that reality does not match up with fantasy. We have the ability to imagine in our heads at a far greater pace and intensity than life can deliver. Sin never truly pays off. It just feels like it does. It always costs; maybe not immediately, but inevitably. That's why "love hurts" and "reality bites." Rarely can a beloved object deliver what love imagines. We see this once again with our running illustration, Amnon and Tamar. Amnon had a clear inclination of focus toward Tamar. It was unreasonable and sacrificial. Amnon was King David's son. He could have been king. Instead, he traded that for one encounter with Tamar. In fact, Tamar's brother, Absalom, avenged Tamar by killing Amnon. Amnon's love for Tamar cost him his life. What would drive a person to give up everything for one encounter with a beautiful virgin? Love -- virtuous or otherwise.

"But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David's brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. And he said to him, "O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?" Amnon said to him, "I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister." Jonadab said to him, "Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, 'Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.'" So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. And when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, "Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand" (2 Sam. 13:3-6).

With a little help from a scheming cousin, Amnon moved from desire: "Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister. . . ." (13:2), to inclination of focus. He started to develop a plan to have the object of his desire. At this point, Amnon cannot figure out a way to get alone with Tamar. She's beautiful and valuable to Amnon, but not exactly available. She's available enough to stir affection, but not enough to satisfy desire. But "Jonadab was a very crafty man" (13:3). He provided the skill to zone in on Tamar. Notice how Amnon's desire was affecting his whole life. "Why are you so haggard morning after morning? . . ." (13:4). That's a clue that Amnon's love was perverted and non-virtuous. Amnon put into motion his plan. He weighed all the options. His desire for Tamar would be fulfilled. Action would spring forth. He would have his beloved Tamar, no matter what the cost. "Dad, I'm sick. Could you have Tamar make me some cakes and feed me?" And David, the accommodating father, says, "Sure, son. No problem."

"But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, "Come, lie with me, my sister." She answered him, "No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you." But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her" (2 Sam. 13:7-14).

Notice Amnon's absolute unreasonableness. He cannot be dissuaded. Every defense is refused, every plea ignored. He has an inclination of focus that will not be denied. He knows he'll be considered "one of the outrageous fools in Israel." He doesn't care. "But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her" (13:14). Amnon bridged the gap between desire and action. Don't forget, the writer of 2 Samuel called Amnon's desire love (13:1, 4, 15). He didn't call it virtuous love. It was sinful, perverted love. But it was love nonetheless. Not for long, though. Love turned to hatred with a vengeance. "Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, "Get up! Go!" But she said to him, "No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me." But he would not listen to her" (2 Sam. 13:15-16). I'm guessing that the encounter that Amnon had been dreaming about in his perpetually haggard state was not even close to what reality delivered. I'm sure in the state in which it happened, Tamar was far less pleasurable than Amnon had imagined. It's a shame, too. Amnon's unchecked imagination cost him his life and Tamar her purity.


Anonymous said...

Wow!! I am following this blog..and the story line. I am doing this because I want to know what "love" really is. In part 3, learning how much the young man desired his sister, and after having his way with her by force, and then ending up "hating" her, for the first time in my life I understand more about why my own dad "hated" me. Even tho I was only a child, and had no way to protect myself, I grew up thinking in some sick way that it was MY fault he hated me.
Not only am I learning more about "love" through this..I had a light bulb turned on in my brain that I never knew existed.
Thank you Darby.

Cathy said...

Whoa! I never imagined that steak could be the object of so many lessons;o)
Seriously though, I appreciate the insights you are offering through these vital teachings about love. Thank you. Just as one could not truly appreciate the splendor of a good steak if they were to stuff the entire thing into one unmanagable bite, but would savor it more fully if consumed piece by piece...I am now beginning to have a clearer comprehension of love since you have broken it down into this progression of phases. you have me doing it;o)