How many people can we truly and intimately know in life? The question becomes even more extreme when we consider the technological trends of the past 100 years or so. Before the implementation of central heating, northern families were more or less forced to spend time together. Better to gather around an old wood stove with the rest of the family than to freeze in isolation. During hot weather kids played outside while adults sat in the shade of a front porch. Neighbors actually knew each other back then.
Not only are we now challenged by the design of our homes, but we face the daunting challenges of more advanced technology. I can’t imagine that television has boded well for marital intimacy on the spiritual, emotional, or physical fronts.
Technological advances have made our world smaller in one sense, but more distant in another. Media provides us with an onslaught of images of events happening all over the world. Even befriending someone on another continent is easy through social media, but the overwhelming volume of information also means that we have less intimate knowledge of who and what we think we know.
Our current presidential race is an excellent case in point. The truth is that we know very little about the real character of either candidate. Our votes are based mostly on likeability and carefully crafted public images. Each side launches short, but strategic negative ads intended to link the opposition to negative images. The hope is that we won’t vote for Candidate X because he voted for a bill that had a rider that called for the euthanization of feral cats left in public animal shelters for more than 30 days. The underlying message is “Don’t vote for Candidate X because he hates kittens.”
We all cherish the idea of unconditional love but it works much better with romantic images than with real life people. The idea of helping the homeless may sound attractive until we actually meet a vagrant with foul language and an unpleasant smell.
By far, the easiest form of love is movie love because screen characters can be made to do and be whatever the imagination desires. Yes, of course, we see the necessary crisis somewhere through the course of the flick, but all of that is sufficiently resolved by the final credits.
We may not consciously think much of these things, but we know them instinctively. When an intelligent young man first begins dating an attractive female, he is careful to craft a favorable image according to what he thinks she will like. I’m not saying that females don’t do the same, but I know from experience how skillfully guys can be at presenting an appealing façade. Whether married or not, it isn’t long after their first sexual experience that his true colors begin to finally shine through. The longevity of the relationship will in many cases depend upon how effectively the couple can make the adjustment from image to reality.
Real relationships with real people require real love in order to prosper. Let’s face it, love comes with a price. We aren’t always lovable. Self-centeredness is all too common. Love is not some neat little gift basket perfectly tied up with ribbons and bows. Sometimes love can feel more like cleaning up your child’s dog’s vomit when no one else is home.
I don’t think that such unconditional love comes naturally for any of us. I mean, it’s pretty easy for me to love images, but real people are a different story. For that I genuinely need God’s help; I need His unconditional love to flow through me.
God, for His part, doesn’t care much for images. Not only do they fail to fool Him, but they aren’t necessary. Like a mother passionate for her ugly newborn, He loves us perfectly— unpleasant smells and all.
Such love has a supernatural quality to it and the order should never be confused. We can love others unconditionally only because He first loved us. To know our Father’s unconditional love is to become a willing vessel through which that love can flow. It is the only sure way that we can make a true transition from image to reality.