Dying For Love
"But why couldn't Quirrel touch me?"
"Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its mark. Not a scar, no visible sign ... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give some protection forever."
J. K. Rawlings, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
Charles Dickens, A Tale Of Two Cities
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
The entire world wants love. Who wouldn't? To love and be loved is perhaps the deepest longing we have, or ever can have. Love is promoted in poetry, in song, in literature as the greatest of all virtues. Yet, to truly love is a difficult thing, in part because to love first means to understand love, and to understand love means understanding dying.
When we talk about how we love something we often mean it in a self-centered way. We love something, or someone, because we admire who they are or what they do, or because they do something that gives us joy, physical comfort, or satisfies out desires. So often, when people say, "I love you" the emphasis seems to be on the "I" part - I love you because of what you do for me.
A love that is based on what the other person is or does is prone to failure. After all, eventually we will discover that the other person is not perfect, maybe does some things or believes some things that we cannot accept. Do you stop loving the person at that point? If the love we have for another is based on admirable traits in that person, that love can fail the moment we discover the other person also has some not-so-admirable traits.
And, if you love a person because of what they believe in, or their appearance, or something similar, what happens to that love when the person changes? We all change as we go through life. Physical beauty fades, physical strength wanes, and desires and concerns shift over time. A love that is based on some concept of compatibility will fail as people change. Love cannot simply be an attitude that sys, "you and I are alike, can benefit each other, so I love you." That type of love will disintegrate over time.
These represent conditional love, a love that exists in response to something that is worth loving. When we find something beautiful, admirable, compatible with us, that gives us joy, it is natural and expected to love that thing. So, it's not all bad to love that way, and it's a good place to start. The problem is that it is a love that can fail, leaving us with a sense of "unrequited love," emotional pain, disappointment and even despair. Soon, the expectation and desire for love can give way to an apathetic expectation that true love does not exist, and we just do the best we can with what we have. In the end, although it is much touted and little experienced and all the world is "dying for love" that cannot be found, love dies.
But, there is a higher concept of love that runs throughout human history and is often expressed in our stories and literature -- even in the most unexpected places. The quotes from Rawlings and Dickens are just two examples. We wouldn't normally think of writings like these as "Christian" - yet they express the deepest meaning of Christianity. It is as if this idea of Love is embedded into human consciousness at some level. We may not logically understand it, or be able to express why we desire it, but at some level we know that a love that is expressed through sacrifice of itself for someone else is the highest virtue we can attain.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (Joh 3:16)
"As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (Joh 15:9-13)
When the Bible talks of love it is a very different kind of love than what we normally think of and experience. It is not a love based on "you do for me so I do for you." Because of that, we call this unconditional love. This type of love is different in that it is given because it is the nature of the person to love. It is not the kind of conditional love that we usually talk about where the love exists in us because of something that comes to us. This love exists in the person who loves and projects outward to others. When love is given because it is in the nature of the person to love it can survive beyond any failings of others. This is a love that never fails.
It is this type of love, the love that is simply inherent in a person, that leads to sacrifice for the benefit of others. It is a love that demands we do what is necessary for the well-being of another even if it causes loss for ourselves. That is not an easy thing to do, and thus it is rare in this world, and probably is why this type of sacrificial love is held up as such a high standard. To give all for the benefit of another goes beyond any selfish thought.
One thing, however, should be noted. Sometimes what appears to be sacrificial love is really a kind of self-serving attitude. There are heroes of history, myth and literature who give up life rather than back down from danger and conflict. We often admire that type of figure because of his courage and tenacity. But, that type of sacrifice is born of pride. The hero would rather die than be thought of as a coward or a weakling. That is not the true sacrificial love that the Bible talks about.
The sacrificial love of the Bible is something innate in the being of God and thus it is a trait that can only be expressed in us when it comes from God's spirit within us. God, as infinite, self-sustaining being, can pour Himself out without loss. In our limited, physical existence, our normal instinct for self-preservation prevents us from naturally having this type of sacrificial attitude. To have in us the type of love that God shows for us requires that we receive it from Him. When the spirit of God infuses our being, we naturally project that same love from Him towards others. Love from God through us can pour out continuously because we are not dependent on our finite capacity as a source of love for others. In other words, we cannot by our own desire and will power express this love towards others. We cannot by our power alone put aside the desires of our own flesh. We can quickly become drained when the love is poured from us into others. To have this love in us means we must first die to self and allow God to breath through us. We must die for love, quite literally, in order that we might love. Just as we must rely on God for our righteousness, we must also rely on God for our capacity to love. This is another aspect of faith - reliance on God, not on our self. True faith in God manifests His love in us. To seek to love others so that God will love us is doomed to failure. Living by faith that God's spirit will move through us will succeed.
This is one of the deepest meanings in the Christian Gospel. Jesus had that spirit of God in Him. He would rather sacrifice himself than have God's love for the world go unfulfilled. As John 15:19 says, "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you." As Jesus loved us, so we must love one another. But, we must always remember that it is not our strength that gives us this ability to love. To love others more requires that we first love God above all else, even our own lives. In that state of submission to God's will, God's nature shines through us into the world. In the end, to love more, we must be more loved. We must open the heart and the mind to God's power and spirit and from that we gain the ability to truly love that which God loves. We must follow in the footsteps of Jesus, dying to self so that we and others may experience the love of God.
"And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." (Mar 12:29-34)