Need-Love and Gift-Love
Normally, putting the boys to bed at night is my responsibility, and normally I enjoy it. The boys and I will typically remember the day, both the good parts and the hard parts. Then we think about something together- like a Bible story or a poem or something that happened that day. Then, we begin what I would call a loose nightly ritual. It goes something like this….
“I love you guys.”
“Well, because you (and then I proceed to extol whatever virtue I’ve seen in them lately).”
Occasionally, however, I feel the profound compulsion to change the liturgy a bit. The adaptation goes something like this…
“I love you guys.”
“Well, because you’re you. Because you are a gift. Because you exist. I love you for no reason at all except that you ARE.”
This second liturgy is more difficult for them to grasp, I think, because it’s more difficult for ALL of us to grasp, especially in our North American culture of competition and achievement. From our earliest days, we have been catechized by our culture to believe that love is the result of worth. We love you because you ____________. You achieve it somehow.
Most of us love people because. We love people when they give us a reason to love them. We love them because they meet some need we have or because they fulfill some longing or because they enrich our lives in some way. They help with the work or they make us laugh or they make us think or they calm us down or they motivate us. C.S. Lewis calls this kind of love “need-love,” because it is love that springs from our needs. It is love that is created by our own lack. “Need-love” is a benevolent sort of emotional transaction. We give love because we get something in return. This love is love, because ____________.
But there is another form of love. This love springs not from some lack in the lover that demands some response from the lovee. No, this love is a sheer gift. This love springs from an overflow in the lover. It is propelled by plenty, not motivated by lack. C.S.Lewis calls this kind of love “gift-love.” This love remains, even when nothing is needed or offered or provided. This love has much to do with the lover, and very little to do with the lovee, save the fact that they exist. It is love for love’s sake. Love for life’s sake. Love for God’s sake. Otherwise, it is love for no reason at all. It does not reduce love to a transaction or emotional acquisition. It cannot be earned or merited. It is sheer grace. And surely, this is something of what Jesus meant when he told his listeners at the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
I’ve been thinking about this a great deal lately, in terms of God’s love. Why would God create the world, except out of an overflow of God’s own love? God didn’t need anything. The act of creation would cause God a great deal of pain and suffering in the long run and surely God had some notion of that agony. But love compelled God to do so.
Why would Jesus allow Judas to break bread and drink from the cup, knowing he was two steps towards betrayal? Why would Jesus forgive his crucifiers while still hanging from the cross? Why would the same God who raised Jesus from the dead send him right back into the world that killed him?
Of course, the only answer- the ONLY answer- is that God is love. God loves fiercely and wildly and deeply and widely and creatively and boldly and fearlessly and relentlessly and stubbornly. God’s love is not linked to our worthiness and merit, thanks be to God. God’s love isn’t “need-love” but “gift-love.” It creates new realities. It heals old wounds. It creates worth in the lovee, rather than seeks worth in the lovee. It brings dead things to life and puts death itself in the grave.
Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “Only love can believe the resurrection.” Everything else would have given up by then. Everything else would have let go by then. Everything else would have shriveled to nothingness by then. But love keeps going. Love rises again. Love never fails.
Christ is still risen brothers and sisters. So is love. And this love is a sheer gift. If we believe this, really believe this, let’s be about some “gift-love” today. Let’s do it as if it’s the most important thing in all the world….because…..well, you know.