Love in the iWorld (Part 2)(John 4)

When John Milton penned his poetic retelling of the creation story, he imagined that the temptation happened to Eve while Adam was off picking a wreath of flowers to give her.  When she returned to him—forbidden fruit in hand—he was devastated.  The flowers fell to the earth, and in anguish he questioned how it could have happened, that beauty would turn to tragedy, and “now to death devote?”[1]

TRADING ROOTEDNESS FOR HOMELESSNESS

Milton missed an important detail of the story—that Adam stood idly by while his bride entered into temptation, and then follow close behind.  But Milton understood something important: that this act of rebellion would bring a devotion to death.  And not just physical death, but the death of innocence and the purity of relationship.  In the words of singer Derek Webb, the couple “traded naked and unashamed for a better place to hide, for a righteous mask, a suit of fig leaves and lies.”[2]  The frantic coverings stitched together by our forebears may have clothed their bodies, but did little to clothe their souls.  With sickening swiftness, Eden sank to grief.  Shame entered like an unruly child.  When God appears in a rush of wind, the couple can only hide from his presence (Genesis 3:8).  And now we hear Adam speak for the second time in Scripture’s history.  The first time had been a song of love—“flesh of my flesh…bone of my bones.”  Now we hear words of blame.  “I heard the sound of you in the garden,” Adam tells his Maker, “and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself…The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:10, 12).  The ultimate effect of the iWorld is estrangement.  Distance.  It is in the iWorld that man most fully devotes himself to the death of true intimacy, all because of a fading promise to “become like God.”

Few things in our own life offer this promise like the smart phone—or, by extension, all technology.  But like our ancestors in Eden, this promise of near-limitless power has only deepened the distance between us.  All too quickly we have sacrificed our intimacy on the altar of connectivity.

“Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment. …Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information….According to a major study…roughly 20 percent of Americans—about 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness. Across the Western world, physicians and nurses have begun to speak openly of an epidemic of loneliness.” [3]

Earlier, we borrowed from Simon May who said that “love” had to do with a sense of being “rooted.”  But in the iWorld, there can be no such rootedness, no such grounding.  In the 1970’s, a group of social scientists said that the modern world’s emphasis on the individual has produced “a permanent identity crisis.”  “Modern man,” they say, “has suffered from a deepening condition of ‘homelessness.’”  For all our social progress, man’s experience “might be called a metaphysical loss of ‘home.’” [4]  In the iWorld, a world where the individual reigns supreme, we’ve traded “rootedness” for “homelessness,” an exchange that has dire consequences for modern living (and loving).

MIGHT AS WELL FACE IT (YOU’RE ADDICTED TO LOVE)

It’s cruelly ironic, in a way—that our haggard declarations of independence only deepen our obsession with love and romance.  It was the German writer Arthur Schopenhauer who once compared the human race to a group of porcupines in the cold.  We huddle together for warmth, only to be driven away again by each other’s quills.[5]  Similarly, we pursue things like love and romance with reckless abandon—only to pull back again once we realize the pain it causes and the sacrifices that love demands.

This is why sex becomes such a pale substitute for genuine love.  In John’s biography of Jesus, we meet a ragged woman who drags herself to a well in the middle of the noonday sun—no doubt to avoid the whispers of the other women of the village.  In a conversation with Jesus, we discover that she has “had five husbands,” not including the man she currently shares a bed with (John 4:18).  Jesus doesn’t say this to shame her, he says this as part of a larger conversation where he offers her “living water.”  He tells her:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…. Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” (John 4:10, 13-14)

It’s as if Jesus is telling her: I want more for you.  More than another lover’s bed, more than another relationship, more than another fling.  In fact, it’s as if Jesus is saying that no lover can satisfy a heart unless God resides there first.

It’s an addiction, really—this whole notion of “being in love with being in love.”  It’s an idea that’s persisted since the so-called “romantic period” of the nineteenth century.  If we return to Simon May’s helpful analysis, he points out that in the recent past, we have lost a collective belief in God, and tried to replace him with human relationships:

“Human love, now even more than then, is widely tasked with achieving what once only divine love was thought capable of: to be our ultimate source of meaning and happiness, and of power over suffering and disappointment….To its immense cost, human love has usurped a role that only God’s love used to play.”[6]

Unfortunately, he says, man can never hope to “reach beyond the limits of human love.”  Interestingly, May’s insight aligns with that of C.S. Lewis, who treats romantic love with identical caution:

“Of all loves [Eros—or “romantic love”] is, at his height, most god-like; therefore most prone to demand our worship. Of himself he always tends to turn “being in love” into a sort of religion. Theologians have often feared in this love, a danger of idolatry. I think they meant by this that the lovers might idolize one another… The real danger seems to me not that the lovers will idolize each other but that they will idolize Eros himself.”[7]

When a writer from Yale and a classical Christian writer agree, we might do well to sit up and take notice.  Human love cannot solve our soul-level craving for connection and acceptance.  Only God’s love can do that, and we’ll find such love not in the iWorld, but in the rWorld, the world of relationship.

 

 

 

 

[1] John Milton, Paradise Lost, IX.901.

[2] Derek Webb, “I Want a Broken Heart,” from I See Things Upside Down.

[3] Stephen Marche, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” The Atlantic, May 2012.

[4] P. 82

[5] Arthur Schopenhauer, Appendicies and Omissions, 2.XXXI.396.

[6] May, Love, p. 1-2.

[7] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 110-111.

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