The greatest love

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Nice and fuzzy...but not the greatest love

What Valentine’s Day means for a young, single and Christian man.

Today is Valentine’s Day, when traditionally romantic love is celebrated. And how beautiful that love! It draws two lonely hearts together and is the foundation of familial love, the subject of many lives made or broken, many poems and letters, much laughter and many tears. But the Bible passage (John 15:9-17) in today’s Our Daily Bread, a popular daily devotional website for Christians, has Christ focusing on a different type of love—the love between friends.

Contemporary celebration of Valentine’s Day has come under some criticism: that it is too commercialised and marginalises single people. Secular expressions of romantic love now dominate the western popular discourse on relationships, evident in pop songs, pulp fiction, films and TV dramas. Occasionally other kinds of relationships may emerge into our consciousness, such as friendship in the highly-acclaimed film “The King’s Speech” or different expressions of parental love in the controversial book “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” But the dominance of romantic relationships in our social consciousness is so tyrannical that some single people have declared war against it—in some cases rising in arms*, with ire focused on this single day. Other singletons barricade themselves against the onslaught, perhaps using tactics suggested by my friend’s up-and-coming blog on relationships**.

Now, as Christians we are supposed to live a life of rebellion against worldliness, but not quite in the ways suggested above. In the passage Jesus defines the one type of love on Earth that has no parallel: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (v. 13). What a wake-up call! In a world that determines social success with how attractive one is to the opposite (or same) sex, or how much of a conqueror one is sexually, Jesus reminds us that the greatest love is love among friends, so deep that they are willing to lay their lives down for each other. The worldly world refuses to believe that there is a love greater than that, leading to quite interesting theories, even among Christians, that such love must be romantic love. An oft-debated example is the friendship between David and Jonathan in the books of Kings.

But Jesus says that love between friends is the greatest love because that is the love he loved us with when he went to the cross. Yes, the collective Church is the bride of Christ, but he lay down his own life for each and every one of us not as a husband, but as a friend. And his final command to us is: “Love each other as I have loved you.” (v. 12).

I am certainly not downplaying the role of romantic love; after all, the family is a beautiful expression of God’s love too. But for those of us who are single, let’s not be bitter against those who have partners, or seek to isolate ourselves from the world as if this day was made against us. Let Valentine’s Day be a day when we express our deep love for our friends, and above all, our Friend who loved us so much that he lay his life down for us.

 

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* The headline reads: “Single netizens up in arms against Valentine’s Day with five tactics, such as buying up every other seat in a cinema, or slapping the faces of men with partners on the street.”

** The title of the blog is: “A list of what to do on Valentine’s Day if you’re single.”

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Greater than life: a reflection on Remembrance

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"We will remember."

At 11 am yesterday, Britain stood still for two minutes to commemorate the lives lost during the First World War and subsequent conflicts. The annual ceremony demonstrates the respect that the nation still has for the members of the armed forces, despite their now decade-long engagement in an increasingly unpopular war.

It is perhaps easy to account for the reasons why people join the military—the chance of adventure, the provision of a structured lifestyle, or simply the prospect of a stable job. But that does not explain why someone who has joined may later, under enemy fire, run into the open to drag a wounded civilian to safety, or jump on to a nearby live grenade to shield his comrades from the blast.

This type of selfless commitment helps explain why there is still so much respect for our armed forces, even though many of us have moral qualms about what they are trained to do. Some may say that that those selfless acts are brave; others may say that they are foolish. Yet I believe that it is neither bravery nor foolishness that drives people to commit these selfless acts, but passion—specifically, passion for something that is greater than one’s own life. Whether that passion is for God, country, duty, a mate, or even a random stranger, soldiers have often done things on the battlefield that contradict the natural instinct of self-preservation. In the heat of battle, the soldier displaying selflessness often put their own lives under great risk.

The ideal of living—and dying—for passion in something greater than oneself is cherished in the Bible. David claims in Psalm 63:3 that God’s love is greater than life. Jesus says in John 15:13 that greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jesus’ own life was about denying the self in the service of others). Other religions, in their own ways, also preach the virtues of self-denial. There are, of course, limits to the benefits of a self-denying act, especially if the same act denies others of certain rights, as a suicide bomber would be doing. But the mentality of self-denial is still a laudable and attractive one. This simultaneously explains why the nation is happy to take two minutes out of its busy life each year to commemorate its fallen, and why there seems to be a limitless supply of suicide bombers to create more fallen for the nation to commemorate.

Talking about dying for others may be a bit morbid, but the other side of the same coin is talking about the living for others. While we are alive, are we passionate in living for something greater than ourselves? It doesn’t have to be grand; it just means that whatever we are doing, we are doing it for more than just ourselves—for our partners, friends, family, employers, employees… Selfless commitment has always been a difficult lesson for humans, a self-preserving race, to learn. But on the occasion of Remembrance week, let us not only remember those who have paid the ultimate price for us, but reflect upon what we can do for something that is greater than ourselves, even our lives.

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