The therapist was quiet for a moment. “I don’t think it’s my place to convince you,” he said. “Why don’t you take some time tonight to explore what the Bible says?”
I nodded, but I suspected that my sexual needs were purely physical. God couldn’t meet them. That night, though, after a couple hours of sleeplessness on the couch, I opened my laptop and Googled, “How can God meet my deepest needs for intimacy?” Evidently, a lot of people have wrestled with this already. Lists of Bible verses popped up. I spent much of the night looking them up.
When you’re drowning, a well-placed life preserver is a thing of beauty. That’s what the Bible was for me. As if for the first time, I realized that God cares for me (see 1 Pet. 5:7). He rejoices over me with singing (see Zeph. 3:17). He will never leave me (see Heb. 13:5). Nothing can separate me from his love (see Rom. 8:39).
I could never have imagined God’s meeting my deepest needs for intimacy. When my life spun out of control, though, I began understanding that he is the only one who ever could. It is intimacy with God, not my sex drive, that forms my core identity.
Sill, receiving God’s selfless love is not easy. It requires something of me that I find very difficult. It asks me to change from being a “getter” to being a “giver.”
Selfless Love Grows Throw Giving Rather Than Getting
In The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith, Bruce Marshall’s Father Smith character meets a famous author of erotica who claims that religion is a substitute for sex. Father Smith says, “I still prefer to believe that sex is a substitute for religion and that the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”
Father Smith nails it. We long for God but have been infected by idea viruses that tell us that getting rather than giving is the source of true love. Lots of smart people believe this. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett told a college audience that the only thing that matters in life is being loved by the people you want to have love you. It sounds good on the surface, but think who the object of this love is. It’s the self. It says, “I want to be loved by the people I want to have love me.”
Acts 20:35 says we are more blessed when we give rather than receive. Buffett, viewing love as a means to an end, misses this blessing. To Jesus, love isn’t a means to an end. It is the end. It’s also the starting point and the journey itself.
This isn’t just religious talk. Selfless love changes how we live on a very practical level. A study of older adults who attend church found a significant difference between those who go to church to give—for example, through serving, providing meals, or teaching—and those who go to church to get—for example, friendship, inspiration, or to fulfill a religious duty. The givers had a greater sense of purpose. They even lived longer—five years longer, on average, if this study is to be believed—than the getters.
Giving selflessly changes others. One business I started several years ago trained people as mentors. Wanting to be sure we had a strong research basis, I examined more than a hundred studies that explored the influence of selfless giving. One study found that when mentors spent time with at-risk students, those students significantly decreased their bullying behavior and reported lower feelings of depression. A forty-year study in Hawaii showed that protective factors like the support of an adult role model helped 50 to 80 percent of those in an at-risk population reach positive outcomes for their lives.
The Christian worldview calls us to invest in others, not because they’ve been found to be fit to survive or because they can help spark a revolution or because it makes us feel at one with the universe or because God will punish us if we don’t help them. We need to invest in them because selfless love is the only way to change hearts—theirs and our own.
Selfless Love Is Strong Enough to Tame Self-Love
Counterfeit worldviews have a hard time explaining why Linda White reached out to her daughter’s killer. The Christian worldview doesn’t. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27–28 NASB). Through Jesus, love transforms us, just as it did Linda when she loved Gary Brown instead of demanding vengeance.
Today, though, scholars say the epidemic of self-love is growing as fast as the obesity epidemic. Marketers exploit this epidemic, telling us we “deserve” what they’re selling: a new car, a Caribbean vacation, or even just a hamburger. Therapists draw on a Greek myth about a boy who fell in love with his own reflection: they use the term narcissism to describe self-love. Narcissists demand that we advance their interests at our own expense. They become angry when they don’t get their way. They carry out hidden agendas that harm the reputation and relationships of those around them.
In a viral attack, a cytokine storm unleashes all of the immune system’s weapons, often injuring the body by the way it attacks the infection. Similarly, narcissism releases all of the mind’s weapons to fight off everything that it fears will not advance its own interests, leaving destruction in its wake. Even while proclaiming a love for humanity, the esteemed Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau abandoned all five of his children to orphanages, where their chances of survival were remote. Karl Marx decried bourgeoisie exploitation of women but destroyed his relationship with his loving wife by impregnating their housekeeper. The promoters of the sexual revolution likewise jumped from affair to affair, breaking hearts and destroying trust along the way.
At the height of his power, Israel’s warrior-poet King David was probably a narcissist. He praised friendship through flowing verse but seduced a loyal friend’s wife and had his cuckolded friend killed. But David then departed from the pattern of a narcissist. When confronted with his sin, David repented and asked God to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit in him (see Ps. 51). From that point forward, he was a man after God’s own heart, living to please God.
Like David, we were made to be lovers. But, as political philosopher and pastor Dale Kuehne states, “To become the lovers we are meant to be, we need to dwell in the love of God.” When we dwell in God’s love, self-love is transformed into selfless love.
Invest in Yourself and Others: Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Experience Love
A Christian worldview says our need for personal intimacy is met at its deepest level through a cosmic love story penned by the Creator of the universe. It calls us to do many things differently.
1. Experience forgiveness and offer it. If Jesus can forgive the thief on the cross, he can forgive you. And you can forgive others. Selfless love relaxes our drive to figure out what we get in return. God meets our needs, so we just go ahead and love. Linda White sacrificed her “right” to see her daughter’s murder avenged in the punishment of the killer. She instead chose love and grace over vengeance. She eventually came to see the murderer as human. Her selfless love gave him hope that he could change.
2. Let God take care of the timing. In my work with young adults, I’ve found that many make frantic decisions about things such as dating relationships. They are in a hurry to put an end to their feelings of loneliness. Selfless love shows us that no person can ultimately meet our deepest needs for intimacy. Only God can. First we accept God’s unconditional love, and then we focus on giving love to others rather than using people to get the love we want.
3. Don’t just give to others what they want from you. Loving selflessly doesn’t mean being a doormat. If someone is hurting themselves and others, it’s not loving to enable them. Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith has said love is “self-expenditure for the genuine good of others.” Selfless love does what is right for others. It interrupts their obsession with getting, just as Christ interrupts ours.
4. Be chaste. Chastity is an old-fashioned term that most people think means saying no to sex. It actually means saying yes to sex, but within the boundaries of God’s design. When Harvard professor Armand Nicholi asked students who were Christian converts to describe their sexual relationships before conversion, they said they were unsatisfactory both sexually and emotionally. Although biblical standards of chastity seemed strict, Nicholi wrote, Christian converts “found these clear-cut boundaries less confusing than no boundaries at all and helpful in relating to members of the opposite sex ‘as persons rather than sexual objects.’”
5. Stay focused on God’s perspective. In God’s economy, we receive when we give. A study of prospective teachers who chose to work with at-risk children found that when they were given the opportunity to mentor the children personally, their sensitivity to at-risk children, and to children as individuals, grew. Further, the teachers improved their ability to cope with difficult situations. When giving is hard, ask God to make clear to you how he sees the situation. God thinks long term and doesn’t meet every desire, sometimes on purpose. Unmet desires remind us, as C. S. Lewis wrote, that we were made for another world.
One More Thing
Because of God’s selfless love for us, each of us can make this declaration of freedom: I am loved. Deep, unconditional love exists, and I can have it. Selfless love rescues us from idea viruses that make us feel lonely and inadequate. It shows us we are loved and it awakens our love for others. Linda White loved her daughter’s killer Gary Brown in this way. But as we move to the next big life question—“Why do I hurt?”—we must acknowledge that forgiveness didn’t end Linda’s pain. She still hurt. We all do, in one way or another. Do any of the worldviews we’ve studied offer relief from suffering? That’s the question I’ve been asking in a whole new way as I live through some of the most painful experiences of my life.
© 2017 Jeff Myers. The Secret Battle of Ideas About God: Overcoming the Outbreak of Five Fatal Worldviews is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved.
Dr. Jeff Myers is the president of Summit Ministries and a respected authority on Christian worldview, apologetics and youth leadership development.