Does Love Really Win?

Here is a life lesson I've learned: psychological comfort can be fatal if it deafens you to the ticking time bombs in your life.

My body conceals a hidden vascular time bomb. The surgeons tried to defuse it in 1981 but weren’t successful. Unbeknownst to everyone, the bomb kept ticking. They finally discovered in 2011 that it was still ticking. In 2013 they tried to defuse it again. That time all they succeeded in doing was speeding up the ticking clock and in 2016 the bomb actually started to go off. Through desperate measures the surgical bomb squad turned back the clock and, though the fuse had already lit up and started burning, the surgeons managed at the very last second to prevent the bomb from going off. I live every day with the discomfort that accompanies the uncertainty of hosting a hidden time bomb.  It is not psychologically satisfying to know about such things. But in my situation, ignorance might actually be fatal. The psychological discomfort of knowing is the thing that fuels the kind of medical vigilance that may be the only thing which will keep me alive.

Here is a life lesson I’ve learned: psychological comfort can be fatal if it deafens you to the ticking time bombs in your life.

My wife forwarded me an e-mail a few days ago that she received from Kohl’s, the popular retailer. Kohl’s, like a lot of companies, is celebrating Pride Month. The image at the top of this post was included in Kohl’s promotional e-mail. “Love Wins” is a popular message right now. It has layers of intended meaning.

The e-mail from Kohl’s contains pictures of happy gay and lesbian couples, some with children. The inclusion of the “Love Wins” message suggests a couple of things. First, I think Kohl’s intends to say that homosexual love can overcome any obstacles or objections to such relationships. Second, I think Kohl’s intends to suggest that anything short of affirming homosexual relationships represents a lack of love on the part of everyone else.

In the Kohl’s ad, the slogan “Love Wins” implies a particular understanding of what constitutes love. In essence, it implies that love always leads to psychological comfort.  Comfort is found either by loving a gay or lesbian partner, or by offering comfort to gays and lesbians through affirmation. In either case, we are to understand love as the offering of psychological comfort. Conversely, within our culture, lack of affirmation is increasingly viewed as hate, precisely because psychological comfort is withheld.

Love has not always been understood in this way. There has been a kind of hollowing out of what constitutes love. Once upon a time, “love” represented a determination to act in another person’s best interest, not merely as an agent of their psychological satisfaction.

A person’s best interest and their psychological satisfaction can be two very different things. I know this from hard personal experience.

Carl Trueman has written an amazing book entitled The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.  The subtitle of his book is suggestive of the implications of the modern self he describes: Expressive Individualism and the Road to Sexual Revolution. In his book, Trueman chronicles the intellectual history behind our modern determination to understand our inner lives and appetites as defining of our identity. He documents the flow of ideas that has lead to the widespread belief that questioning the merits of a person’s sexual proclivities is essentially the same thing has calling into question their personhood, or even their humanity.

Whether or not “love wins” depends entirely, I suspect, on how we understand love.  If all we mean by “love” is a value-free affirmation of one another’s appetites, then “love” winning is a simple matter of offering unquestioning applause to each other – everyone earns a trophy just by showing up.

But if love means acting in another person’s best interest, it requires more of us than easy breezy affirmation. We must acquire an understanding of what constitutes the good, and encourage one another to pursue it. (The christian apostle Paul’s words, “love rejoices in the truth”, seem prescient in this regard.) In such a situation, love may only win if we actually withhold affirmation, provoking the psychological discomfort that is often a precursor to change.

I get no psychological comfort from the knowledge that I have a ticking time bomb inside my own body. But my doctor would in no way be loving if he were to gloss over this pesky bit of knowledge, offering only affirmations regarding my well-being in its place.

I strongly suspect that love only wins if someone is willing to, without flinching, face up to the hard things

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