Lenten Love (Jeff Cook)

Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado; he blogs and he’s the author of a book called Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes
. Jeff’s post today reflects the kind of love that Lent leads us into.

Question for the day: How does Lenten love manifest itself in our relationships? Or,  what does Lent teach us about love and relationships? Now to Jeff Cook’s post.

AshWed.jpgI have long believed that without pain, love is impossible, because real love requires sacrifice. My parents have a real and gracious affection for my two boys. They “love” their grandkids. But it’s really just a happy feeling. They see them on holidays playing, they have their pictures on their computer, they talk to them on the phone–but they do not love them, in the richest, most meaningful sense of the word.

      They have never cleaned up their puke. They have never woke up at 1 A.M. and then 3 A.M. and then 3:30 and then 4 in the morning to comfort a hacking cough. They have not put down addictions to bookstores, and movies, and video games, and long runs, so they can be an attentive father. They have not been there in the really difficult, painful times. It’s no knock on them. It’s just how it is. 

But love is not a matter of distant affections, no matter how real. Love is seen principally in sacrifice. My love for my boys is shown in my chronic back pain, from lifting them up over and over again. It is shown in my recent hearing loss because I choose to hold them after they’ve been hurt, as they scream on and on. It is shown in my lack of rest. It is shown in the pleasures I put aside. Love for my boys is shown in the fact that they can hit me, and yell at me, and even say desperately mean things to me, and still in the next hour I will pick them up after they have hurt themselves, or rub their small arms and wrap them in my shirt when their skin is cold, or scrub out another pair of pants they have defiled because they choose not to go to the toilet. It is in sacrifice that real love is seen and experienced.  And without real trials such love simply does not exist.            

What we surrender in a world without pain is love–love of our friends, love of our spouses, love of our children, but even more so a real display of the love of God. For, of course, in a world without suffering there are no crosses. We live in a world in which we know that hanging to death from a pair of boards is horrific. And thus, when God says, “I love you,” it actually means something.

It is because of suffering, not in spite of it, that I am drawn to the Jesus-story. Better still, it is why I am drawn to Jesus.

Jesus is not a God like Zeus watching from some far off mountain as the world destroys itself. Jesus is not a God setting the whole cosmos in motion and letting it spin as it may. Jesus is a God who enters the pain, the misery, and the horror of it all–and he makes them beautiful. The cross was the only throne Jesus ever wanted to sit on, and he took that seat for those like me. This is love. On the cross we encounter love in its most naked, full-throated and terrifyingly impertinent.

And it seems to me that such love is of supreme worth.

The love of God for us, the love that entered into our story, is the love that leads us to the confession that follows:

AshWed.jpgMost holy and merciful Father:

We confess to you and to one another,

and to the whole communion of saints

in heaven and on earth,

that we have sinned by our own fault

in thought, word, and deed;

by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

The Celebrant continues

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our
neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the
mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of
our lives,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and

We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,

We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need
and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice
and contempt toward those who differ from us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come
after us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;

Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,

That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,

Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

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  • I appreciate your thoughts, Jeff, but totally disagree. Just because your parents haven’t cleaned up the grandkids’ puke does not mean that they WOULD not, given the opportunity. Love may be SEEN through sacrifice, but sacrifice is secondary to the decision to love.
    If you left your kids for a weekend at your parents’ house, and your kids got sick, would your parents let them lie in bed in a mess, or would they get up at 1 AM and 3 AM, etc., and help them? I’m thinking they love them enough ALREADY to clean them up.
    Loving people is doing what is best for them, whether that hurts us OR is pleasant to us. It’s not about us; it’s about them.

  • Joseph

    If I wanted to feel and cause pain, I’d tell my mom she doesn’t love her granddaughter. Or tell my daughter she doesn’t love me.
    And where is the line drawn? How much suffering is needed to prove love?
    Sacrifice is a symptom of love, not a root cause. How else can we love total strangers? If love is limited to those we suffer for, it is indeed limited.
    I’m not even sure that sacrifice proves love. Sacrifice can be nothing but an emotional ploy. “I did this for you, so now you owe me.”
    Didn’t Jesus love us *before* he was crucified?

  • jon

    Joseph #2 in your second example, where sacrifice is an emotional ploy, is it truly sacrifice?

  • Joe,
    Your parents did all that for you.(I imagine) Because they love you I bet they would do it for your children, even without knowing them well. But in a sense you are right. Being required to do these things by reason of parenthood, can contribute to a bond of love that is strong. Willingness to do the kind of tasks you describe is good proof of that parental kind of love.
    I have a special bond of love with two of my grandchildren. Both lived with us for a significant period of time and I think the closeness we have is attributable to the care I was required to provide for them during that time. Sacrifice for another does build a bond. Grandparents are sometimes needed to provide this kind of sacrifice as well.
    I think you were drawing our attention to the fact that love demands that willingness to sacrifice, not that parents are the only ones able to do this for children.

  • Yes! I love that I got push back on this. It means this blog actually has an audience that thinks for a change. Glorious.
    First-forgive me for the length of the response. I’m a philosopher, and argument is our joy.
    To Lisa’s comments (very good ones btw), isn’t there more value in actual action over and above intention? Isn’t there a difference between acting with love and simply feeling loving? Jesus tells such a story (Matt. 21:28-32), and though the parallel is not direct with your criticism, I think Jesus is making the point that there is a distinction between intention/willingness to do something and actually doing something. And he values heavily the latter over the former.
    Secondly, and I think more importantly, love is more than a screen saver and the willingness to sacrifice. Using James reasoning, “What good is it, my friends, if a person has [love] but no deeds? … [Love] by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead.” (Js. 2:14,17). If that reasoning holds for faith, it ought to hold for love as well. WHICH is why the cross is outstanding in its clarity, intensity and power. God does not sit back simply feeling lovable thoughts for you and I. He kneels low to stoop up a cross.
    Now, you may convince me that love can be “about what is doing best for someone.” So perhaps I should clarify my argument and suggest that the highest and most valuable form of love is one that is self-sacrificial. Would you agree with such a clarification? (Thank you for your stimulating thoughts.)
    To Joseph’s points. I took the initial point as humorous (if not then the answer is of course – feelings are irrelevant to questions of truth and falsehood on this front). To the second point, the argument I advance is that pain is a precondition for love, not a root cause. Thirdly (and I think most interesting) perhaps we should ask that very question—how can I love total strangers? I think you meant this as a defeater. I think it should be taken as a criticism of our narrow and fairly self-focused view of love. Certainly Jesus was able to love strangers centuries after his death, and so the question for us might be, what would it look like to go and do likewise? Fourth, Sacrifice certainly can be an emotional ploy. My argument is: If Love than sacrifice. NOT if sacrifice than love. (It is not—in philosopher speak—a bi-conditional).
    Finally, “Did Jesus love us before he was sacrificed?” I think that is your best argument. Perhaps I could say that the act of creation itself is sacrificial—surrendering his exclusive love relationship with the father is sacrificial. Working for 6 straight days to make the world is sacrificial. Or perhaps I could argue, if God is timeless than the crucifixion is a reality for him at the same moment of our creation (and before our creation there would be none of us to love). Many thanks, Joseph.
    As a last note to all – I am a big fan of grandparents, so please don’t read the essay as anti-grandparent.
    Much love – Jeff

  • Lisa notes…

    Sorry to disappoint with no push-back this time. 🙂 We’re in agreement now. Yes, there is more value in active love versus intentional love (although I’ll still argue that sometimes we don’t have opportunity to show certain actions, but that doesn’t mean we love less).
    And yes, the cross is the ultimate example of sacrificial love, with self-sacrificial love being the highest form of love.
    You’re a good host. Thanks for giving feedback on our feedback.

  • While I am one of the few, I disagree with the idea that Jesus wanted to die on the cross.
    I am more a fan of the belief that Jesus died due to humanities unwillingness, especially the unwillingness of the oppressors(Pharisees, Romans, etc.), to accept the way of God, the way of love, peace, hope, and faith.
    While yes I agree that love is a sacrifice, I would not say that Christ’s death was a sacrifice. That concept grew out of Judaism’s and the Western Worlds fixation on sacrifices and atonement at the time.
    The forgiveness of God was always there, that is the unconditional love. When your child does something wrong, even hits you, you do not need retribution for his or her actions, so why would God?
    Now, I have no problem with sacrificial atonement, but there seems to be block here for me, I believe Jesus is more the in-breaking of God into the world to change the world, but not as a sacrifice.