The Tragedy and Beauty of Love

What an amazing story Spielberg tells: a sophisticated, new generation of artificial intelligence (AI) emerges from the labs in the form of a little boy. He seems mostly human, with self-learning and primitive but very real emotions. He is adopted by parents whose only child lay in a coma from a tragic accident, and the AI boy was designed to fill the void and ease their painful loss. The mother becomes emotionally attached to the AI, and the boy’s emotional life develops an innocent, sweet love for his new mother.

 

But then the AI boy is abandoned when the real human child suddenly awakens from the coma. The AI wanders aimlessly through the ages, never growing older, and always searching for love like he once knew with his adopted mother. He lost all sense of purpose, but not his emotions. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of years pass while an ice age envelopes New York and recedes slowly. An advanced civilization of humanoids discovers the abandoned boy, and they re-create his beloved mother from the DNA in a strand of hair the little boy carried. At last, he can be loved! His mother will live again! But the AI is told he will not survive 24 hours with her because the emotional overload will destroy his circuits. The movie ends with the boy wrapped in his former mother’s arms, knowing he would die in a few hours, but utterly blissful because he is loved. This love will destroy him soon, but it is worthwhile.

Thirst for Tragedy

The movie “AI” was a pet project for director Stephen Spielberg. He captured the beauty and tragedy of love. People wander aimlessly like the AI boy looking for someone—anyone—to give them the love they need in order to survive. But once found how it destroys! How is it possible for something so beautiful to destroy a life? Spielberg is one of so many through the millennia to notice the poisonous yet irresistible nature of love. It was told in Romeo and Juliet, but millennia earlier in Sampson and Delilah. Nothing matters without love, yet nothing wounds so painfully deep. “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved,” Shakespeare wrote. Those who get shattered by divorce believe this is true as they seek yet again to get married. The Bible provides clear insight into the tragedy and beauty of love, but it’s not easy to swallow: love is a poison in human hands. It poisons the one who craves it.

Love-On-Demand

When love becomes a demand it becomes perverted and no longer the love God knows. It becomes Love-On-Demand. The problem with Love-On-Demand is obvious: it never satisfies because it no longer feels like love. The brat says, “I hate you mommy!” and when she placates him he remembers one thing: how easy it is to dominate her! His heart grows disdainful towards her. But most important, his mother is groveling, not loving, and it does not feel like love. Although the brat may have immediate positive feelings, he will feel unsatisfied soon enough. Counterfeit love always feels good in the present, but it has no substance and evaporates quickly. It leaves only a thirst for more feelings. The near-infinite permutations of creative demands explain the near-infinite definitions of love people pursue. But all our various definitions of love share a common foundational definition: love is something that makes me feel good here-and-now. It is Love-On-Demand. It is counterfeit. Counterfeit love is called lust in the Bible. It is a core defect in our relationships. Lust is actually a perverted sense of love which is rooted in cravings for satisfaction right-here-right-now. Lust promises to deliver all the feelings associated with love, but like salt water it only increases thirst. It increases demand. Compare this against authentic love:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NLT)

But people are not patient and kind. They get jealous and especially rude. People do demand their own way, and they are irritable and they keep lengthy records titled, “I was wronged!” This is because every person we meet has a distinct set of Love-Demands.

Hide-And-Seek Demands

But how many people itemize their expectations in clear terms? It would hardly qualify as a recipe for a successful dating life if we elucidated our terms up-front. We also dare not reveal to others what those demands look like, because it gives them an opportunity to defend themselves against those demands, or perhaps use that knowledge inappropriately. It is also possible to be completely unaware of our personal Love-Demands…until we feel hurt and angry, and then we know it! (And everyone else knows too!) But even then it may be extremely difficult to vocalize precisely why we feel so hurt and angry. Rarely do we stop to carefully consider what good reason we have to feel this way? Why? It’s simple: the reason doesn’t matter, only the hurt matters. Frankly, the reason for our great indignation may sound absurd or trite or immature, so it is often far more strategic to avoid thinking about the Love-Demand behind the hurt. Another way to explain it: we tend to lie, even to ourselves. But God always sees what poisons lurk in our hearts. He knows the thoughts and intentions of the heart, and He is repulsed by it:

“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips.” Romans 3:13 (NIV)

Our hidden demands smell like “open graves” to outsiders, and our “tongues practice deceit” because we hide those demands so well. When we finally show others, these selfish demands come out like “the poison of vipers.” Our view of ourselves distorts the potency and effect of our Love-Demands simply because we are not the recipients. The real gauge of our Love-Demands is the effect on others.

 

Hurt is how we identify Love-Demands. When we feel hurt by someone, it means we expected otherwise. Perhaps we expected appreciation or affirmation, and instead we received criticism—which feels like condemnation because of our high expectations. This often occurs with women, who are well-known whiners, men say. But the woman only wanted a little heart-felt, genuine appreciation and attention. After all, she thinks, “We are people, not sex objects, so why can’t I be wanted as a person?” Anger is a clear indication of violated Love-Demands. Why get angry if someone does what you expect? But with failure, oh what anger! The Work Substitute male is especially emotionally-disturbed in this fashion: his Love-Demands are grotesque expectations of subservience and gratitude, which if others fail to deliver makes him feel—very unhappy.

I was invited into a highly-restricted submarine base where the sailors led me into the belly of a Trident nuclear submarine. It was an Ohio-class, a massive vessel. Sailors seemed like specs standing on its deck when the behemoth heads out to sea. But I never realized until I went inside why a Trident was so gargantuan: it holds 12 nuclear missile silos! I always imagined a spacious, comfortable interior, but not so. The silos made it crowded. Everywhere inside the sub, across three levels and even on-deck those 24 silos loomed ever-present. They were massive and hideous steel tubes coiled in wires, electronics, switches, lights and refrigeration systems. They towered through the decks like cold monsters in Frankenstein’s lab waiting to be released. Sailors who live with these monsters every day, submerged for months and walking carefully around them, have all their instincts trained to service, protect and “deploy” the hydrogen bombs—12 missiles with multiple (classified) warheads. The wealth of destruction inside that boat numbs the mind. I knew Tridents carried nuclear missiles, but only up-close and inside the submarine is the overwhelming destructive power evident. Love-Demands likewise lurk hidden beneath a vast, calm surface, waiting. When suddenly the surface erupts, what horror it is to see a nuclear monster flaming towards its target! Those poor souls on the receiving end! They never saw …

God’s Answer to Demands

Love-Demands erupt with words, not missiles, but when they do erupt the violence can destroy lives. We cannot appreciate how painful our Love-Demands can be for someone else to endure. We do not understand how hard these demands are for others to bear. While hidden deep in our hearts they seem so natural, so obvious and righteous! But those on the receiving end our demands see something else, as James tells that young church:

 

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. James 3:6 (NIV)

Love is something that makes me feel good here-and-now!” What a lethal force this unleashes in our emotional lives and those around us! It explodes like napalm. Few appreciate the lethal power of their hidden Love-Demands, but aren’t these demands hidden for good reason? James nails it:

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. James 3:16 (NIV)

God wants us to understand our Love Demands. It is the only way to expose these hidden poisons. This means lifting our heads above the swirling fog of personal concern, looking at the world full of people around, and placing our demands in perspective: “I am not alone,” is the clear conclusion. This planet is swarming with individuals laden with their own personal Love-Demands. If we do not understand our own, personal Love-Demands, we will remain perpetually a victim of other people’s immaturities. Jesus Christ provided an ingenious remedy for Love-Demands:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12 (NIV)

We have already demonstrated that authentic love is ethical, by nature. As Christ says, “this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” And the ethic is ingeniously simple: use your Love-Demands as a guide to “do to others what you would have them do to you.” This is a healthy lifestyle, for two reasons:

  1. It objectifies Love-Demands. To consider “what you would have them do to you” puts Love-Demands in an objective light. Those dark, hidden demands seem so viable while hidden in the recesses of the heart. But they hit the real world when you try to “do to others,” and suddenly the expectations seem so vague or impossible! It separates the realistic from fantasy among our expectations.
  2. It is something you control. This Do-To-Others lifestyle is infinitely practical compared to the Love-On-Demand lifestyle. You have control over what you “do to others,” but you have no control over what “you would have them do to you.” This holds promise. It is the first big, realistic step towards true Victorious Love Output.

This is, in fact, the direction God leads everyone in sanctification and growth:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3 (NASB95)

Try It

Here are a few simple ways to start healing the scars inflicted by a lifetime of Love-On-Demand. Try these exercises in the context of a discipleship or counseling relationship where someone who knows you can also help objectify your reasoning through this process.

1) Identify Love Demands

Some people are genuinely unable to get a healthy grip on their Love Demands. Start by answering this simple question: “Where have I felt hurt or angry by the treatment I received from someone important in my life?”

2) Translating Demands into Forgiveness

The biggest barrier to living the Do-Unto-Others lifestyle is a feeling that “I have been wronged!” Before the Do-Unto-Others is possible, we must get a perspective on our anger or sense of hurt. This exercise helps towards that end.

 

a) Write a list of the ways you have been hurt by others. There should be no reluctance to tell the truth here whatsoever—let us not repress the pain we feel.

b) Write down the rule for each offense which clearly stipulates why the hurt is valid. Can you articulate your Love-Demands clearly in the real world, or do they only make sense hidden deep inside your heart? This can become quite a difficult task to make the rule we write clearly explain the reason for feeling hurt.

c) Lastly, write down where you have violated this rule at least once in your own dealings with others. Humans are not perfect, and believe it or not we have failed to love others by our own standards. This is the ingenious nature of Christ’s “Do-To-Others” principle: discovering how impossible our demands are to meet in perfect detail. Point “c” is most enlightening, and triggers the beginning of real healing in our lives—it triggers forgiveness. We will soon discover that the Do-To-Others lifestyle is the quickest, most promising way to fulfill our deep longings for authentic love. Next we will discover how that works.

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