Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Failure of Romantic Love

We look to sex and romance to give us the transcendence and sense of meaning we used to get from faith in God.  Talking about the modern secular person, he [Ernest Becker, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning book The Denial of Death] wrote:
He still needed to feel heroic, to know that his life mattered in the scheme of things.... He still had to merge himself with some higher, self-absorbing meaning, in trust and gratitude.... If he no longer had God, how was he to do this?  One of the first ways that occurred to him, as [Otto] Rank saw, was the "romantic solution.".... The self-glorification that he needed in his innermost nature he now looked for in the love partner.  The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one's life.  All spiritual and moral needs now become focused in one individual.... In one word, the love object is God.... Man reached for a "thou" when the worldview of the great religious community overseen by God died.... After all, what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to the position of God?  We want redemption-- nothing less.
~Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p. 28.  Emphasis mine.

   I am currently reading Dr. Timothy Keller's Counterfeit Gods.  John Calvin, the sixteenth century French theologian, wrote “The human heart is a factory of idols... Everyone of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”  What he means is that instead of worshipping the one true God, we each invent something else to worship-- it's the one thing you think you need that if you lost it, you'd feel like your life would be over.  For a long time, when I was younger, I think I idolized beauty, and specifically my own.  Thankfully, I don't think that's as much a big deal to me anymore.  Rather, my current idol, and boy does it have a grip on my life, is love.  I didn't realize how much I was internalizing it, but I bought every lie that Hollywood (and the occasional fiction novel) had to offer.  If you dig deep down into my mythos, you'll find that I believe (and I wish I could write that word in the past tense) that if I can just find a man to love me, my life will be complete.  Moreover, it'll mean that I'm okay.  That I'm loveable.  Romantic love is my idol.  Of late, I've pinned that romantic love to a particular man, and wow, what a royal mess of things that has made.  It's led to me compromising on values that were important to me, and, as Keller writes (pg. 38), if you put "the weight of all your deepest hopes and longings on the person you are [in love with], you are going to crush him or her with your expectations.  It will distort your life and [his or her] life in a hundred ways."  And that is exactly what happened.  Keller quotes Becker again:
The failure of romantic love as a solution to human problems is so much a part of modern man's frustration.... No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood.... However much we may idealize and idolize him [the love partner], he inevitably reflects earthly decay and imperfection.... After all, what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this position?  We want to be rid of our faults, of our feeling of nothingness.  We want to be justified, to know our existence has not been in vain.  We want redemption-- nothing less.  Needless to say, human partners cannot give this.
    In Counterfeit Gods, Keller recounts the story of Jacob from Genesis 29 in the Bible.  Jacob falls in love with the beautiful Rachel, but is tricked into marrying her homely sister Leah instead.  Jacob makes an idol of Rachel and "apocalyptic sex" and Leah makes an idol of Jacob and his love.  Keller writes: 
   We may wonder how Jacob could have been so gullible [his father-in-law switches Leah for Rachel on his wedding day], but Jacob's behavior was that of an addict.  There are many ways that romantic love can function as a kind of drug to help us escape the reality of our lived... Our fears and inner barrenness make love a narcotic, a way to medicate ourselves, and addicts always make foolish, destructive choices.
   That is what had happened to Jacob.  Rachel was not just his wife, but his "savior."  He wanted and needed Rachel so profoundly that he heard and saw only the things he wanted to hear and see.
He continues:
...(T)hen what do we learn from this story?
   We learn that through all of our life there runs a ground note of cosmic disappointment.  You are never going to lead a wise life until you understand that.  Jacob said, "If I can just get Rachel, everything will be okay.  And he goes to bed with the one who he thinks is Rachel, and literally, the Hebrew says, "in the morning, behold, it was Leah" (Genesis 29:25).  One commentator noted about this verse, "This is a miniature of our disillusionment, experienced from Eden onwards."  What does that mean?  With all due respect to this woman (from whom we have much to learn), it means that no matter what we put our hopes in, in the morning, it is always Leah, never Rachel.  Nobody has ever said this better than C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.  There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.  The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy.  I am not now speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers.  I am speaking of the best possible ones.  There was something we have grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality.  I think everyone knows what I mean.  The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.
   The solution to all of this is to fall in love with Him who can fulfill all of our desires and needs.  It's to fall for the one true bridegroom who has already proven His love to us by dying for us on the cross.  This is the prayer of my heart these days-- that God will remove the idols of my heart and that I will worship the one true God.  I love this quote from Paige Benton Brown: "Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than he was on that monumental Friday afternoon when he hung on a cross in my place?"  I'm still working on sacrificing those idols-- and trusting Him to provide for me that which I seek for myself-- and I would do well to remember that monumental Friday afternoon.  On Sunday at church, my pastor (mis)attributed G.K. Chesterton and said, "Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God."  I don't know who actually said that, but I think it's true.  As the song goes, I've been looking for love in all the wrong places.  Or, in the words of Augustine, "Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te."   You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.  If you're the praying sort, pray that my heart will find it's ultimate satisfaction in God.  I pray the same for you, dear friend.  Place your hope in Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

humane literally means "having what are considered the best qualities of human beings." The humane person is not materialistic, cynical or snide, and the latest fad does not threaten to eclipse his or her deepest values. She/he sparkles with warmth and curiosity. She/he is gentle, yet also courageous and disciplined. Their spirit is vital, and their heart is full of love.

If I embark on the journey to be humane, I will know who I am and what is truly important in life. I will meet the world with integrity. Humane people are nourished by deeply held values that help them resist peer pressure and cultural messages that are shallow and/or dangerous. I believe in myself and my ability to make a positive contribution with my life. I am successful in the deepest meaning of the word because I am empowered to follow my dreams without harming others in the process.

from center for joyful in wilmington, de