Some years ago a theologian named William Vanstone wrote a book, now out of print, that included an interesting chapter called “The Phenomenology of Love.” all human beings, he says – even people who from childhood were deprived of love – know the difference between false and true love, fake and authentic love.
Here’s the difference, Vanstone says. In false love your aim is to use the other person to fulfill your happiness. Your love is conditional: You give it only as long as the person is affirming you and meeting your needs. And it’s nonvulnerable: You hold back so that you can cut your losses if necessary. But in true love, your aim is to spend yourself and use yourself for the happiness of the other, because your greatest joy is that person’s joy. Therefore your affection is unconditional: You give it regardless of whether your loved one is meeting your needs. And it’s radically vulnerable: You spend everything, hold nothing back, give it all away. Then Vanstone says, surprisingly, that our real problem is that nobody is fully capable of giving true love. We want it desperately, but we can’t give it. He doesn’t say we can’t give any kind of real love at all, but he’s saying that nobody is fully capable of giving true love. All of our love is somewhat fake. How so? Because we need to be loved like we need air and water. We can’t live without love. That means there’s a certain mercenary quality to our relationships. We look for people whose love would really affirm us. We invest our love only where we know we’ll get a good return. Of course when we do that, our love is conditional and nonvulnerable, because we’re not loving the person simply for himself or herself; we’re loving the person partly for the love we’re getting.
Obviously there are healthy people and unhealthy people; some are able to love more than others. But at the core Vanstone is right: Nobody can give anyone else tje kind or amount of love they’re starved for. In the end we’re all alike, groping for true love and incapable of fully giving it. What we need is someone to love us who doesn’t need us at all. Someone who loves us radically, unconditionally, vulnerably. Someone who loves us just for our sake. If we receive this king of love, that would so assure us of our value, it would so fill us up, that maybe we could start to give that love too. Who can give love with no need? Jesus. Remember the dance of the Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Spirit have been knowing and loving one another perfectly for all eternity. Within himself, God has forever had all the love, all the fulfillment, and all the joy that he could possibly want. He has all the love within himself that the whole human race lacks. And the only way we are going to to get any more is from him….The security of Jesus’ love enables [us] to need less, and to love more. True love, love without neediness, is generative; it is the only kind that makes more of itself as it goes along.
Why did God create us and later redeem us at a great cost even though he doesn’t need us? He did it because he loves us. His love is perfect love, radically vulnerable love. And when you begin to get it, when you begin to experience it, the fakery and manipulativeness of your own love starts to wash away, and you’ve got the patience and security to reach out and start giving a truer love to other people.
– ‘Kings Cross’, by Timothy Keller.