you live what you love (or: isn’t this post a bit late for valentine’s?)…

Anton Szandor LaVey was the founder of the Church of Satan.  He said a lot of things.  And sometimes he stumbled onto some truth.  He once said, “You cannot love everyone; it is ridiculous to think you can. If you love everyone and everything you lose your natural powers of selection and wind up being a pretty poor judge of character and quality. If anything is used too freely it loses its true meaning.”  In a sense he was correct, and in a sense he was way off base.

When asked which of the laws were the most important, Jesus replied that the command to love God and love our neighbor are the two laws upon which all other laws are hung.  This is good news.  We are not bound by the crushing weight of the Law.  But it is also very bad news because Dr. LaVey was actually kind of right.  When we really get right down to it, we are utterly incapable of loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind as we are commanded.  And we are utterly incapable of loving our neighbor as ourselves.  That is where many of us skim over the words.  We see “Love God, love others” and then we sort-of mumble through that whole “with all your heart, soul, and mind” and “as yourself” part.  I can love my neighbor…but in the same way I love myself?

I don’t go so far as to claim that without God we cannot love.  I do say that without God we cannot love fully.  We can love deeply.  We can love passionately.  But we cannot love completely.  LaVey is following the logic of his worldview to its logical conclusion.  If there is no God, then we cannot hope to love everyone and everything.  Our only hope is to be remade.  We have to be emptied of the wrong types of love in order to be filled with the right kind.  This is what LaVey did not understand.  There is a key ingredient that LaVey missed.  He assumes that love is a limited resource.  He assumes that if I love someone who doesn’t deserve it, then I won’t have any left for those who do.  That is actually one of the key pieces of his philosophy.  He believes in “kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates.”

But he’s wrong.

Love is not a limited resource.

If I love God…

and my wife…

and my son…

and my dogs…

and my cat…

and my guitar…

and my family…

and my career…

Guess what.  I have plenty of love left to give.

I can still love homemade pizza…

and “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed…

and snow…

and spring…

and long walks in the woods in the rain…

The problem is not that I have so many units of love to give, and if I give a certain amount of it to one thing then there is none left for the rest.  The problem is confusing the types of love.  If I love my career in the way that I should love my wife it is a problem.  If I love long walks in the woods in the rain disproportionately to the way I love my son, there is a problem.  If I love anything in the way that I should love God, then there is a problem.  The problem is not supply of love, the problem is priority, proportion, and source.

As we said above, if I try to love things out of order, things get screwy.  If I try to love myself more than my neighbor, things go a bit haywire.  If I confuse “love” with “like” and try to force myself to feel amicably for everything and everyone around me (and worse, if I try to do it on my own steam), then things fall apart quickly.  I don’t know if he ever realized it, but what LaVey was revolting against in these statements was actually a corruption of the Truth about Love.  The smartest guy I know always says, “If the devil can’t get you to do something wrong, he’ll get you to do something right in the wrong way.”  If we can’t be persuaded into a miserable hatred of the world around us, then we can pretty easily be manipulated into a washed-out and ineffectual love that leads to resentment.  Or we can be persuaded that we just don’t have enough love to spare for everyone.

This is the source of the problem for both the legalist and the relativist.  The legalist says, “I’ve earned love, and you should too.”  The legalist says, “I won’t help that group of people because they don’t appreciate it.”  The legalist says, “God helps those who help themselves.”  The relativist says, “Everything deserves the same love.”  He says we should love the tree, and the dog, and the child, and the mother not only equally, but in the same degree and priority.  Ultimately, according to the relativist, we should love everything.  We should love light and dark, love and hate, mercy and cruelty.  Many relativists won’t go this far, but if you follow the logic of the position, this is where you end.  Otherwise there is some sort of blind leap of faith that says that mercy is better than cruelty.  Of course I encourage making that leap of faith.  But it’s important to then trace your steps backwards logically and see that the source of that idea is not where you started from.

So our problem is that both views of love lead to resentment.  If you have to earn it, then no one will measure up.  And the few who do for a while will ultimately let you down.  If it’s the washed out sort of love that applies in the same way to everything, then you yourself won’t measure up.  You will ultimately find yourself valuing one thing over another, and you will always fail to love everything in the same way.

And there is the crux of the issue.  We are always, always, always going to value one thing more than another.  This is because we live in a world of thesis and antithesis.  We live in a world in which A is A, and A is not non-A.  We do not love everything. 

In fact often to love one thing means to hate its opposite. 

If I love mercy, then I hate injustice.  If I love good, then I hate evil.  If I love kindness then I hate cruelty.  But it goes beyond that.  Dave Desforge says that Love is expulsive.  Love pushes out other types of love.  If I love my wife, then that love will push out my love for things that interfere with our relationship.  If I love my work then it pushes out my love for being lazy.  This is why priority is so integral to the equation.  When our love gets out of whack we get into trouble.  Because the inverse of these things is true as well.  If I love things that get in the way of my relationship with my wife, then it pushes out some of my love for her.  If I love being lazy, then it pushes out some of my love for my work.  And even love for good things can do this.  I could love a career in which I help those around me, but if I love it more than I love my family, then I do damage.

So ultimately we have to have a gauge.  There has to be something to take ultimate priority, and be the measure by which other loves fall into place.  That love is for God.  When we begin to love God with all of our heart, strength, and mind–a feat only possible through the work of the Spirit–then other loves will begin to fall into place.  And when we can love our neighbor as ourselves–again, only possible through the Spirit–then these priorities begin to click into each other like gears on a clock.

It is simple to say that we love all the right things.  But the root will make the fruit.  If I say I love my neighbor as myself, but I refuse to help the one in need, then I don’t really love them like I say I do.  If I say I love my family, but I spend all my time in the woods alone, then maybe I love being in the woods alone more than my family.

You live what you love.

But it’s a process.  Look at what you resent, there’s a clue to what you love.  If you resent your family because they keep you from playing basketball, you love basketball more than your family.  If you resent your work because it keeps you away from your family, then you love your family.  It takes an honest look in the mirror, and an honest surrender to the process of being changed.

If you want to be loving, get in touch with the One who is Love.

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About Andrew

The Universe is Round. View all posts by Andrew

6 responses to “you live what you love (or: isn’t this post a bit late for valentine’s?)…

  • Mandy

    I’m glad I read this. I love people who make sense.

  • Sam Gaines

    Such a wonderful post, in that it captures the primary struggle of my soul. I long to love more fully, and yet my heart is so full of fear and hatred that I get in the way of the Spirit’s work in my heart. When I get out of the way, no matter what my mental condition (lifelong battle with depression), I am used and made joyful even when I’m sad. What I mean is that I’m impelled to go out in public, to quit hiding, and to engage people as beings needing love, to encourage (or try to), to show kindness, etc. It happens unawares; I don’t become aware of it, even, until later as I’m enjoying the lightness of God’s hands on my heart. The bottom line, absolutely, is that we live what we love, be it our neighbors or our pain, our colleagues or our isolation, our public servants or our anger at the government, etc. The struggle does not end in this life, at least, not for me. I thank God that He is longsuffering with me, that He forgives continually as I fall and leads me to stand back up, and forgives when I sin–that is, fail to love Him completely (and thus my fellow man, including my enemies, which necessarily follows for it is “like unto it,” as Jesus said). Just one more cracked vessel, all the more amazed that His light shines through the cracks.

  • Andrew

    Mandy. Thanks. 🙂

    Sam: I appreciate your words and your heart. I definitely understand that battle with depression. It’s a hard place to be.

    I am interested in your saying that the struggle doesn’t end in this life. That is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. I know the Bible says that when we see Jesus we will be like him. But I can also see a case for the thought that heaven and hell are realities that we enter into now, and that continue into eternity. So this process of metanioa…this progression of change that the Spirit is making in us…is ongoing through eternity.

    I’m not sure quite where I fall in that discussion. I am sure that what matters most right now *is* right now. But I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

    And lastly. I love your last sentence there. “Just one more cracked vessel, all the more amazed that His light shines through the cracks.” Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Romanós

    All very, very hard questions, the ones you ask in this post, especially the ones regarding love of family versus love of other things.

    None of these questions have exact or at least obvious answers, there are always going to be shades of meaning that won’t be allowed into the equation, and then there is the wall of subjectivity that none of us ever quite completely gets over.

    I always thought I loved my wife and to that end put her first, or tried to, when other relationships were present, even ceremonially. She did not accept this, but as soon as another human being of either sex came into the room, speaking metaphorically, she would stubbornly take the lowest place, so that it appeared that I was raising the other person above her. This didn’t happen occasionally. If it did, as for example, if my mother came around, she might be ceremonially treated to the best place (front seat in the car or next to me at the dinner table) as a way of honoring her. But no, it happened all the time, with everyone, unless it was the rare person that my wife liked, and then she would yield the highest place to him or her, relative to me. Otherwise, if a friend was accompanying us somewhere in the car, though we bid her take her place in the seat beside me, she would insist on sitting in the back seat and sulk. I could never understand what she was doing, but it aggravated and hurt my feelings a lot. I ended up cutting myself off from all friendships, personal relationships, and even visitors to our home, so that she couldn’t do this to me and then guilt-trip me for what she considered my unfaithfulness to her. I finally understood that she was emotionally disturbed. But that wasn’t the end of it.

    I always thought that I loved my family, my four sons. I worked hard trying to make a good home for all of us, though we never had as much as others did where both parents worked. Before I turned forty, I had toyed with the idea of going back to finish college and get a job that I felt I had a calling for, so as not to waste my talents. In the end, because it would have taken too much money and robbed me of spending time with my boys as they were growing up, I decided against it, so I never got even a BA. The Lord had given me a good job that I have kept for almost 30 years, working for the same man since I was 29, and that made our lifestyle regular and secure. There were holidays every summer with the family, sometimes for a whole month, at the lake. My decision was based on what I thought was love. I loved my boys and wanted to both provide for them adequately and to be there for them while they were growing up, taking as much interest in them and their activities as they would let me. Though I wasted my talents in one sense, I was putting those loves aside for the love of my boys, so that they would turn out well, and have good memories of their childhood and youth. Now that they are all adults, only one has anything to do with me, two will speak to me if I speak to them first, and one doesn’t speak to me at all. I’m not complaining or judging them, as I’m sure they have their reasons, but I am still baffled as to why this outcome, when even now, I love them as I always did, and have no grudges toward them for anything.

    What I learned from this experience, is that you can love people all you want, but they may not accept your love, and they may accuse you of not loving them and tell you you’re only acting out of a sense of duty. To me, love is proved by its deeds, many of which are not dramatic or obvious. Love is putting everything of oneself aside, so as to serve the other. Love is not owning your time, but being willing to use it to spend with others. Love is not trying to control those around you but, giving them the freedom appropriate to their age (if children) or state (if adult) to make their own choices, and even to support them in those choices when they contradict your wishes, without even a hint of dissatisfaction. For a husband, love is to lay down his life for his wife and kids. For a wife, to lay down her life for her husband and kids. For the kids, love is lay down their lives for their parents. I thought this could be passed on by example, but I have found out that it’s not always the case.

    So, if you say you love your wife and family, but sometimes you spend time doing a lonely activity (like reading a book, or taking a day off to go on a solitary hike), or go out with a friend to the movies, maybe to see a film your wife doesn’t want to see, or even to go with the guys and do manly things, not every night, but maybe even once a week, does this disprove your love of your wife and family? Does it prove you don’t love them if you are also working on a book you’re writing, and you spend some concentrated time to finish it? I was amazed at how much freedom the young married men that I worked with (my sons’ generation) had relative to their wives and family. They went out together even several times a week without their wives. As for me, I always went straight home after work, for almost thirty years, and I judged them at least a little for being selfish.

    Or what about my friend who cannot support his family in the US and so has gone back to his native country where his talents and knowledge bring him three times the income he could earn here by taking on menial tasks. He comes home three times a year, brings them all to his country once a year (in the summer, when school is out), and frequently communicates with his wife and kids by live cam. Which does he love more, his wife and family, or himself and his honor by going back to make the most of himself for all of them? These are very hard questions, with no easy answers. Why don’t his wife and kids just go back and live with him there? She is from an “old money” family, American elite, and her parents wouldn’t think of letting them go back there, even though they were married there and started their family there.

    I also find that sometimes people say they love God above all else, and therefore their husbands, wives or family take second place. When a man becomes an Orthodox priest, for example, his wife is asked whether she freely accepts his ordination and everything that follows from it. He cannot be ordained without his wife’s permission. If she gives it, she acknowledges that not only she, but any children they have or will have, are now bondservants of the Lord, and all of them live their lives as a unit, loving God first, even beyond themselves. How does this work out in practice? They love the people that God puts in their charge, and minister to them before their own family members. And the people they are put in charge of minister to them in return. Their kids become the congregation’s kids. This is the model, though it doesn’t always work out this way. Emotional illness can afflict not only wives and husbands to the detriment of love, but even whole families, whole congregations. And there are still those women who say they love God more than their husbands, and it lets them off the hook to love and respect them. “Trust has to be earned,” is what they tell their husbands, and holding them to a hidden standard, never even tell them what it is that makes them unworthy of love and respect.

    I am still mystified by this topic, and by what Jesus says, “for where your treasure is, there, there will your heart be also,” and how this applies to my own life, and to the lives of people around me, and how the Lord will regard my life when it is over. Did I really love my wife and family? Was I living in denial as I have been accused, and really wanted to be something else, somewhere else, and with someone else? I love and loved many things, if that’s what you call my interests, but what interest did I not willingly lay aside for the greater love of my own family? But after paying the price for everyone else to go into the city of their dreams while you stand holding open the door, you find the door can be briskly yanked shut, with you standing outside. And yet, you are not exhausted. You are still rich.

    If self-sacrifice makes you bitter, then it’s better to serve yourself than live in loathing. But if giving away yourself to others piece by piece with joy, because you know you are not your own but pure gift from God, whether or not anyone receives or acknowledges it, might this also be love, even if it does make you happy? And if you are happy, is it wrong to be happy?

  • Romanós

    The more I reread your post, the more gems I find.
    Thanks for posting it, brother.

    • Andrew

      Romanos,

      Thank you for sharing so much of yourself here. You make a lot of very good points. And I think you are right on that there are no hard and fast rules. There are indicators. Some of the examples we both gave could go either way. That’s the hard part. Some might go out and shoot basket ball or take a walk in the woods and it does not mean at all that they don’t love their family. Some might work all the time to provide for the family, but in reality they are just using work as an excuse to escape family life. Sometimes it’s just the opposite.

      The important thing is always to examine our heart and understand why we do what we do. At that point we can do as you say. We can give ourselves away piece by piece, and no matter the outcome from those we give to, we can be at peace.

      And to answer your last question…I don’t go in for the notion that altruistic deeds are negated by being happy in doing them. I think it goes similarly to a saying a friend says. He says, “There are two times to praise the Lord…when you feel like it, and when you don’t.” Same with, as you say, “giving away yourself to others piece by piece with joy, because you know you are not your own but pure gift from God, whether or not anyone receives or acknowledges it,” Do it, either way, but if you are blessed with happiness from it, then count it as a bonus. 🙂

      Great thoughts. Thanks.

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