Anthrocide

Anthrocide.net is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

Love and Risk

Below is an essay written by my son Scott. Although it might sound like I’m just being a proud dad, I really think this is incredibly insightful and written from a unique perspective. Enjoy.

Real love is stupid. It’s illogical. It’s a bad investment. To love someone – really love them, like where you are putting their needs ahead of your own; self-sacrificial, unconditional love – seems like a terrible idea on the surface. Why? There’s just too much risk. If you love someone, you are intentionally exposing your heart to them, in full view of the fact that they now have the power to break it. Risk is an inherent part of love. So why would anyone do it?

The answer is simply that the reward – being loved back – is greater than the risk.

If you have a relationship where neither of you risk anything, how close can it really be? Conversely, the greatest intimacy comes from the abundance of vulnerability, because we are forced to be honest in our vulnerability. We let down our guards, take down our walls, open our arms, and bare our hearts, screaming through gritted teeth, “THIS IS WHO I AM!”

The possibility to be known is never more real!

But at the same time the possibility of being rejected is never more real. Now, all of our carefully crafted defenses are laying around our feet; our weakest spot is exposed, and the other person is allowed time to prepare whatever attack they might want to deploy. We risk so much when we love, when we become vulnerable.

And the worst part is that the person on the other side, the one we are offering to love, will sometimes choose to hurt us. Sometimes they won’t; sometimes they will respond in kind and let down their own guard, and it’s in those sacred moments that something from earth connects with heaven. Or perhaps more accurately, it is when the bit of heaven in us all is most clearly seen. It is the reward we are all seeking, the greatest joy to be found in this life. But that moment of exposure is the antechamber with two doors – one leading to heaven and the other to hell. To be accepted and for love to be returned is the truest happiness, but to offer love and be shown contempt instead is the truest sorrow and heartbreak, that which we all have learned to fear above all other feelings.

These truths are well-known by the poets, the musicians; the feeling of a broken heart has inspired countless songs and works of art. It is a feeling that is frustratingly common, shared amongst the human species.

Yet the one who knows heartbreak the best is One who isn’t human.

Think about this: God created humanity, and had the power and the authority to make them however He wanted. He could have made us with two heads, or made us centaurs, or mer-people, or slime monsters. It was all up to Him. But more to the point, He could have made us unable to choose. He didn’t have to give us free will, to choose to love Him or reject Him.

But He did.

Why would he have done that? That seems like an awfully dumb idea in retrospect. If it were me, it would have been awfully tempting to just prevent the pain.

But remember that real love carries risk inherently. And the most defining characteristic of the God of the Bible is love – you could also say that the most defining example of love is the God of the Bible. And He knew, from the very moment that the idea of humanity was formed in His infinite mind (just roll with me, don’t worry about the metaphysics of that statement), that He was going to love them – and that they were going to break His heart.

We have already discussed that one of the riskiest things a person can do is to choose to love another person, because there is every reason to believe that they will break your heart and few things are more painful than that. But imagine having a choice in the matter – not just the choice of whether to be vulnerable to someone, but actually being able to control their response and avoid having them reject you. This was an available option to God! But incredibly, unfathomably, He chose to take the risk of allowing us to choose; He gave us freedom, all the while, in His infinite knowledge, knowing without doubt that we would to a person fail to reciprocate this love, and every single one of us would break His heart.

Why? What could have motivated Him to choose this way?

Isn’t it obvious? It’s because He loved us that He let us choose to reject Him.

If I don’t love someone, I won’t make myself vulnerable. I won’t give them the power to break my heart. I’ll keep my guard up, fortify my defenses, and make sure that I protect myself from being rejected by just not letting them in. Love, it has been said, is a two-way street; the idea of unrequited love is actually just a representation of the rejection we’ve already discussed (I love someone, make myself vulnerable, and by indifference or ignorance they reject me and my heart is broken).

Look around you. There are so many people whose hearts have been broken and have never found a way to heal that wound. They keep searching for the healing; this is another concept that the poets and musicians have known for ages, although many don’t know what the answer is. They (it should probably be “we” since this is basically common to humanity) look for the healing in money, or power, or sex, or popularity, or approval. What we really need is to find someone that will never reject us, that will always choose to love us – that is what will heal our broken hearts.

God’s offer of love to mankind was baffling; He offered to give unlimited, perfect satisfaction of our soul’s longing for acceptance, fully knowing that His love would not always (or even often) be returned, and that His heart would be the one being broken. But how could He not offer this? It is His very nature to love. It is only through His greatness, the infinite nature of His being, that He could withstand so much heartbreak.

But there is still a greater heartbreak; God had a plan to bring us home, and it would cost Him everything.

By breaking His heart, by turning away, the relationship was cracked. We were offered what our souls longed for, and for one reason or another we decided to pass on it, content to search around for a pale imitation. We, temporal beings as we are, accepted the short-term high, the fleeting pleasure, over the steady, faithful satisfaction of God’s perfect love, and His heart was broken. It was not without consequence, either.

It isn’t because God is unfair or unfeeling that the relationship was damaged, or that He is petty and holds a grudge against us for hurting Him. The problem is that He simply can’t coexist with sin – everything that comes near to Him has to be cleansed, free from stains, or else it is consumed by the glory of His perfect holiness. Holiness simply means that it has a wholly different nature, one without taint or stain. This requirement is evident in the Law, which showed above all that God is holy and must be treated as such.

So, since we have all at one point or another been guilty of breaking the heart of God, we found ourselves separated from that closeness, that communion that we were designed for. God’s heart was broken, our lives were damaged. But as I said, God had a plan.

In order for us to be cleansed of our sin, a price had to be paid – and it was no small price. God is so different, so holy, that anything that didn’t reach the standard had to die. Or at least something had to die, either us or something in our place. The thing that died in our place had to be spotless, without blemish, because it wouldn’t do for us to give something we didn’t want in the first place. But an animal that we owned was not sufficient to truly deal with the problem of our sin, and for ourselves to give our own lives didn’t work either because, well, then we’d be dead and that ruins the whole thing. So what was God’s amazingly brilliant plan to deal with this conundrum?

He decided to send His Son, a part of Himself, to die on our behalf.

And not just to die on our behalf but to live first – even to be born into our world and grow up in poverty, to be potty-trained and go through puberty and deal with parents and siblings and friends and all the other things we all deal with on a daily basis. Jesus spent 33 years or so among us, living a life that was free from wrongdoing and as perfect of an example of God’s love as could ever be. He even demonstrated the risk inherent in love by making Himself vulnerable to heartbreak and pain – nowhere more evident than on the cross.

As if it wasn’t enough for Jesus to be killed as a sacrifice, it ended up being a horrible death, being tortured and beaten and rejected. And it was all on completely bogus charges that the government sentenced him to this awful fate and carried it out the same night. Jesus, who was entirely innocent, hung on a Roman cross, suspended by nails piercing His hands and feet, in our place.

And this, of all things, was how God saved the world.

He opened His heart to us and we rejected Him. He went a step further and brought His heart down to us so that we could get a closer look, understand it better, and we not only turned it away but beat and scourged and nailed it to a cross, calling for the blood to rest on us and our children.

And this was the plan.

How could this have been the plan? How is this a plan at all? He is God, He knows everything! He had to have seen this coming! How could this have possibly been the best that He could come up with?

This is the genius of the story of Jesus – it’s pure foolishness to a human mind. There is no way that people would have come up with such a tale. God didn’t just have it in mind to solve the problem of sin, to address the price that needed to be paid for our wrongdoing and allow us access to His glorious presence – He had a plan to finally defeat the great enemy Death.

This is why the plan didn’t end on the cross – there was also a tomb; one that would wind up gloriously, impossibly, marvelously empty on the third day!

There is a correlation of sorts between risk and hope – they are almost like opposites. Risk is what makes you hold back, not try, because something bad might happen, and hope is what makes you press on and believe because something impossibly good might happen. It has become clear through this discussion that there is a great deal of risk involved with any act of love, but keep in mind when deciding whether to love or not that there is such a beautiful hope wrapped up inside as well. Best of all, the risk does not cancel out the hope!

With that in mind, I posit that we are at our best when we push past the risk and embrace the hope that love holds. All of the best examples of humanity occurred when a person chose hope over risk, vulnerability over defensiveness, love over fear.

Choose hope. Choose vulnerability. Choose love. This is how the world changes.

Scott Hamilton
Psalm 37:3

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