We live in a sensual place. A time and culture which elevates comfort, sexuality, and affluence. I wonder if we are in a ruse though. For what we really want is love and affection. Love of substance.
Once our basic needs for shelter and food are met, we go on a quest for convenience. Then, when our need for survival is enjoyed in comfort, we turn to love. Or perhaps we pursue comfort and affluence in lieu of love.
As humans, we are lovers. We always have been. Perhaps, not so good at it. But none the less, it is one of our major pursuits. The irony is that comfort, affluence and convenience lie to us. They tell us that alongside food, and shelter, this techno savvy world can, in comfort, bring us love. It can deliver us a fast food version of it that is not only healthy, it is good.
This thinking can lead to each of us strategizing our own personal brand of subterfuge. In sneaky ways we want to short-cut the acceptance of real love with counterfeits.
Over the past couple of years, I have encountered several, who upon reading the New Testament, dismiss much of the writing, save Jesus’ word. The red letters. There is a new morality being written on our hearts. It is a morality of diversity. In and of itself, this morality is good. Treat everyone the same, it cries. And much progress has come as we walk out these values.
I wonder if the morality we are leaving behind was much more comprehensive. What if the one we based on the teachings of Jesus, his disciples, and his followers evidenced in the New Testament was much more solid ground to stand upon? There is something within me which believes a moral code is a mechanism which leads us to love and teaches us how to love.
In a recent article in The Atlantic titled “The Death of Moral Relativism” Jonathan Merritt writes of this new morality. “Instead of being centered on gender roles, family values, respect for institutions and religious piety, it orbits around values like tolerance and inclusion.” Tolerance and inclusion teach us some about how to behave around one another yet it falls way short on how to interact with each other on a day to day basis. How exactly should we live? How should we love?
A big part of the spell we are under is this idea the assertion that comfort and sensuality are love. If we could somehow attain these new found virtues, we would be content and fulfilled. Yet, these are expressions of love and affections at best and are not substance of true affections. Every beautiful story written includes deep personal self sacrifice for the beloved. Sacrificial love is love of substance. Comfort and sensuality are the icing on the cake so to speak. They never have and never will possess the substance of love in and of themselves.
This subtle dismissal of New Testament writers whispers to this affair we are having with sensuality. We want to throw out certain parts of the New Testament as it does not fit well with our new found morality of inclusion. Paul calls us, in a tough love sort of way, to express sensuality in ways which are safe. These methods require elements of sacrificial expression. For example, to gain true love and affection, we are encouraged to love within the fidelity of marriage between a man and a woman for life. Yet, in the morality of inclusion, this leaves others out.
In this new found morality of inclusion we have stopped asking ourselves if a particular way of loving someone or something is actually effective in gaining the substance of love. Paul specifically challenges us, as he presents us the Gospel life of freedom from sin and religion. So often, we mistake Paul for an angry, religious taskmaster, only telling us what not to do. Yet, if we believe this about Paul it is maybe because we are only reading the parts of the bible that sting up against this morality of inclusion. Our new morality offers no indictment against destructive ways to seek love.
Perhaps, we shouldn’t be so naive in our approach to Paul’s writings and read all of what he has to say, looking specifically to how very affectionate he was. This morning I was reading 1 Philippians. I was reading a letter. Not a book. Not a regulation. Not a law. I was reading a correspondence between dear friends. In addition, I realized how much affection was passed in his writing. So beautifully written. I personally have only received such honest and eloquent expressions of love in writing from friends a few times in my life.
“Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.
It’s not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality. You have, after all, stuck with me all the way from the time I was thrown in jail, put on trial, and came out of it in one piece. All along you have experienced with me the most generous help from God. He knows how much I love and miss you these days. Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does!
So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.”
-Philippians 1:3–11, MSG
“Learn to love appropriately”….
Is this a lost art in our culture? Is there a higher way to love one another? Is there a higher way to enjoy sensuality and affection? Is there better a way to enjoy love, receive love, and live love?
I believe so.