Selfish Love and God-Love

I love my degree!  I settle down at the kitchen table and brag to my housemate, “I’m going to read an essay about love.”

This semester, I’m taking a class about literature and emotion.  Earlier that day, I digested an essay about emotion and now it’s time to get particular, it’s time to bring out the adorable four-letter L-word.

My housemate smirks.  “You know they’re going to deconstruct love.”

And she was right.

Essentially, what I learned from this essay* is that there are 2 types of love:

There is self-love, also known as identification or love-as-being, which can involve loving someone by wanting to be them and thus, wanting to have what they have

Which leads to:

Object love, aka idealization or love-as-having, which is when you love someone by idealizing them as someone worth having and thus, idealizing them as someone worth having by YOU

Which leads back to

Self-love because ‘what one “has” elevates what one is,’ meaning to love and to be loved is fulfilling who you would like to be (the ideal self) through who you have (the ideal other)

I retreat out of this essay, depressed by the conviction that one loves out of the interest of ultimately pleasing oneself.  After all, we break up with our beloveds when they fail to make us feel good about ourselves – they never spend time with us or they’re too clingy, they say hurtful things or they get easily hurt, etc. etc.

I know I have distanced myself from friends when they have treated me poorly and left me feeling rubbish about myself.  And that makes me wonder: was I only after their friendship to make me not feel rubbish about myself?  Isn’t love supposed to be not self-seeking (according to the wisdom of 1 Corinthians 13)?

I picture Christians like me and wonder about our love for God.  I hope that we don’t seek to serve Him to make ourselves feel good. We shouldn’t love God because what we learn about Him and put into practice in our daily lives might nurture our self.  We should love God simply because He first loves us, in the same way that I love my parents because they first loved me unconditionally.

When I thought about this more, I also recognized that you can’t be a Christian for too long before realizing that what we take away from church or the Bible will not always serve our self.  Because of our human brokenness and our broken world, being a Christian has its obstacles.  Following Christ won’t always make you feel good.  God definitely won’t always make you feel good – most likely He will expose in you your brokenness and your need for Him, your Savior.

So I suppose the way to love God and still escape the ‘self-love concept,’ is to serve Him even when it doesn’t make you feel good, even when you face obstacles that invite misery to your life.  Loving God involves trusting that He is worth the suffering that you experience as an effect.  C.S. Lewis says, “To love involves trusting the beloved beyond the evidence,” and I pray that I won’t rely on ‘evidence’ of God’s love for me (i.e. making me feel good about myself) in order to trust Him.

Of course, easier said than done.


*Sara Ahmed, ‘In the Name of Love’, in the Cultural Politics of Emotion (Routledge: New York, 2004), pp. 122-143

Photo Credit: Eunhae Lim

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