All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him. Song of Solomon 3:1
In his book, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, William Vanstone explores the virtues of God’s love by first outlining the characteristics of false love. He lists three marks which identify love as false and then contrasts these with the perfect love of Christ.
The first sign that love is false is the mark of limitation. Authentic love implies a totality of giving. Anything less than a complete offering falls short of the love demonstrated by Christ. As Vanstone writes,
The falsity of love is exposed wherever any limit is set by the will of the person who professes to love. However much is given it is known that something is being withheld.
The second mark denoting love as inauthentic is any form of detachment by which the one who loves remains unaffected by the person they love. True love touches the person who loves. It creates a vulnerability in them that wasn’t there before. As Vanstone writes,
Love is vulnerable in and through the beloved in the sense that, in the beloved, its completion or frustration, its triumph or tragedy are at stake. The one who loves surrenders into other hands the outcome of what his or her love aspires to.
Signs of such vulnerability are most important to the person who is being loved. The common question, ‘Do I really matter?’ is the question of whether I have power to affect the person who professes to love me.
The third mark that identifies love as false is that of control or manipulation of the other person. In love that is freely given there can be no guarantees with regards to how, or if, the other will respond. Authentic love risks the possibility that the love offered may fail to bridge the gap. Vanstone anticipates this failure when he writes,
Love may be frustrated. Its most earnest aspiration may come to nothing. Or the greatness of what is offered in love may be wholly disproportionate to the smallness of what, if anything, is received. Herein lies the poignancy of love, and its potential tragedy.
When it comes to love, our best intentions offer no guarantee of success. Much may be expended and little achieved. But love must remain precarious if it is to be genuine. And the precariousness of love s most experienced in the passivity of ‘waiting.’ This necessity of waiting also highlights the precariousness of God’s love—the lack of final control over the object of His love. It is left to us to determine whether God’s initiative of love results in triumph or tragedy.
From these three marks by which the falsity of love is exposed we can better appreciate the authenticity of God’s love. In the kenosis, or self-emptying of Christ, nothing is held back, nothing unexpended (Phil. 2:7). In this we recognize God’s love as unlimited. God’s love is also vulnerable. The Lord risks rejection at the hands of His own creatures and is pained by our refusal to accept love. And lastly, God’s love is precarious. By the humble condescension of the Lord, we have power to determine whether His love succeeds or fails in its communication, or its intended effect.
I thought you would call me ‘Father’