Which love story will you live by?
Russian literature, Adlerian Psychology and the Gospel
1. Forgiveness, sacrifice and acceptance
2. Enduring contentment and identity
3. Meaning to suffering and a way forward
The honeymoon always ends. The bloom of romance always fades.. at this point they begin.. to initiate the work of real loving. — Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, Road Less Travelled
Regardless of race, gender, or genre, the idea of love pervades stories of humanity through the ages.
Life is brutal, uncertain, and tumultuous. The pain of betrayal cuts deep.
Pain makes us reassess which love story we will cling to in life.
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Layers of truth
On this site, again and again, we have aimed to make a case for the truth of Jesus as someone who claimed to be divine, died and rose again in history. Historical truths linked to a spiritual reality.
Yet, beyond this, the truth of the Gospel strikes right at the heart of what it means to be a human being. Love in the face of the dark, painful reality of the human experience.
Despite our obsessions with love, isolation, broken marriages, and betrayals from friends are all too common.
Peck outlines the many ways in which his psychotherapy patients had destructive, but common, views on love which led to turmoil in their relationships in The Road Less Travelled.
Between 1990 and 2019, the number of unpartnered Americans aged between 25 and 54, rose from 29% to 38% of the population, a whopping 31% increase.
Between 2004 and 2018, the number of Amercians aged 18 to 34 without a “steady partner” rose 55%, from 33% to 51%.
Toulouse-Lautrec — The Hangover (Suzanne Valadon), 1887–1889
Approximately 40% of marriages include a partner who is remarrying. From those who remarry, the chances of divorce are much higher with approximately 67% of second marriages ending and 73% of third marriages ending.
Secure attachment styles are also on the decline, according to a meta-analysis, dropping 18% between 1988 to 2011 amongst college students, while insecure attachment styles (eg. anxious, fearful avoidant, dismissive avoidant etc) increased by an astonishing 56% during this time frame.
Belmeida de Almeiro, Arrufos
Betrayal from friends.. and more
All of this without going into the countless stories of betrayal from close friends or family members, the sudden death or illness of a spouse in an otherwise happy marriage, or the ongoing relational challenges life throws at us.
The Psalms are filled with tears over betrayal and hurt. In Psalm 55, David is overwhelmed by horror, his heart in anguish, his body trembling, wanting to flee like a dove from the situation.
Over being mistreated by a familiar friend, an equal, who used to walk with him in God’s house.
The sort of friend you’d sit next to every week at church or spend your holidays with.
There’s no question both a desire for love and experience of brokenness are part and parcel of being human.
Russian literature is renowned for being dark, complex and deep. Much like the human experience.
In contrast to the many “happily ever after” stories many in the West became accustomed to growing up with, Russian literature provides a pertinent reminder not all love stories end well.
Ilya Repin Twvashova
Dostoyevsky in Notes from the Underground, tells the horrifying story of the Underground Man and Liza. Liza was sold into prostitution and comes across as a quiet, meek and downtrodden woman.
The Underground Man expresses his dark thoughts, “I should not love her, or at any rate, appreciate her love.. I did not imagine love except a struggle… I wanted her to disappear. I wanted “peace,” to be left alone in my underground world.”
He is callous towards Liza. While Liza is crying endlessly on her bed, he is furious that she will not disappear. He frantically runs up and down the room.
After being unresponsive to the Underground Man’s callous behaviour, Liza eventually brings herself to run out onto the street. The Underground Man feels horribly oppressed afterwards and is unable to find her again.
In Anna Karenina, Vronsky falls for Anna Karenina, despite her being married to Alexei Karenin.
Anna cheats on Alexei with Vronsky, yet Vronsky is able to experience heights of spiritual joy as he forgives Anna and Vronsky. Alexei exclaims, “The happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. I forgive completely.”
By contrast, Anna becomes increasingly irritable that Vronsky, who is also increasingly internally distressed, isn’t as consumed by her as she would like and eventually throws herself onto the train tracks to end her life.
Adlerian Psychology and what makes life meaningful
Despite being less well known than Freud or Jung, Adler is one of the most influential psychologists of all time. The Courage to be Disliked, by Kishimi, provides a thought provoking, Japanese take on Adlerian psychology in a dialogue form.
Key ideas include:
- Teleology– all of our current actions have a purpose we are trying to achieve and cannot be blamed exclusively on past events or trauma (eg. we look for issues in others to avoid taking responsibility for our own issues in relationships- a hidden purpose)
- Self-acceptance– Don’t live to satisfy the expectations of others- have an unshakeable level of self-acceptance
- Contribution- Seek to contribute to other’s live in interpersonal relationships and don’t concern yourself with the outcomes of how they respond (process over outcomes)
- Ultimate meaninglessness– life has no real meaning, you have to create it
Note the irony, however, if you try to create a life that is not self-accepting or doesn’t contribute to others or says trauma and past events shape everything. This view will be a less meaningful path to take than Adlerian psychology… except all real meaning is illusory.
Through the Gospel our teleology or purpose is shaped by Christ’s work for us, we only have acceptance before God because Christ took our place and is our identity.
We seek to contribute to other’s lives in thanks to God because we have received gifts from the Giver.
We can more easily let go of outcomes when we try to build others up or show love to them and they turn on us, because it is all in God’s hands.
Life and suffering is ultimately meaningful because God meets us where we are at in our pain through the cross and God’s purpose is the ultimate source of all meaning in the world.
This meaning is rooted in historical events, not mere psychological constructs which think all real meaning is illusory.
Cole Thomas Hudson River
Through the Gospel love story, you have access to the following if you put your trust in Jesus as the risen Saviour and Lord:
1. Forgiveness, sacrifice and acceptance
Ever been close to someone who incessantly looks for and evaluates your faults or even calls out some of your faults before they exist? How did you feel?
In fact, I’m sure each and every one of us can be like that to others!
Yet, Christ, unlike imperfect humans who bring us down while being at the same level, has every valid reason to make us feel outcast and inferior. Instead, he offers an arm of love.
Plus more. He’s like a friend whose possessions you completely trashed, yet still wants to reconcile and be on good terms.
Jesus and Pilate
Takes the consequences for a punishment we deserved (Matt. 20:28). Burdens which are ours (Matt. 11:28–30). Shows acceptance of us by putting himself in our place.
Experiencing rejection by religious leaders. Subject to conspiracies of greed (Judas). Forgotten by his closest friends who preferred to sleep, maintain their reputation or be warm by the fire than stand beside him during the heavy troughs of life.
We killed him with our sin.
We aren’t at his level, yet he comes to us, in the blood, sweat, tears, betrayal, rejection. All of it.
2. Enduring contentment and identity
Anna placed her identity in what Vronsky thought of her. Yet, as we saw, this was a shaky foundation, a moving goalpost, a source of distress.
Placing your identity in someone who (like each and every one of us!) has their own issues to process, flaws to bring before the Lord, superiority or inferiority complex they drag you down with, is sure to lead to disaster.
This was something Adler had right- you can’t place your identity in what others think. Instead, you should seek to selflessly contribute to their lives, yet not expect favourable outcomes all the time.
Separation of duty, separating what you can control from what you can’t.
The Psalms repeatedly refer to God being our “portion” and even our “cup” (eg. Psalm 16:5). Our true identity, our true wealth, our real pleasure, our Sustainer.
Christianity doesn’t shy away from the fact we are dark, fallen, broken human beings (Matt. 15:19, John 2:24–25, 8:44 etc).
Self-acceptance is, therefore, a scary place for us to put our identities.
Even things we like about ourselves and others are all ultimately gifted by God (1 Cor. 4:7, James 1:17).
In Christianity, our identity is not in our broken selves or the emotional whims of a human being who may betray us, but rather in Christ who subjected himself to the worst of what our broken selves and emotional whims have to offer. For our sake (Luke 19:10).
3. Meaning in suffering and a way forward
Being a Christian is paradoxically very easy and very hard.
Love saves. Pain shapes.
Christ did the work. The Spirit empowers you to work.
Saved by grace through faith. Yet, saved for good works (Eph. 2:8–10).
Called to work hard. Yet, God is working in you (Phil. 2:12–13).
We couldn’t bridge the gap to God. Christ meets us at the depths of our despair at the cross.
The hard path
Yet, the call to be a Christian isn’t a call to disloyalty with the exception of a few magic words at the end of a church service or on a hospital bed.
It is a call to self-sacrifice in honour of Christ. A call of believing loyalty, sharing in Christ’s sufferings (Luke 9:23; Phil 3:10).
A call to forgive those who mistreat us as Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32) and forgiveness is an intensely painful process!
Giving up our own selfish wills to be transformed to be more and more like Christ.
The same Paul who preached rejoicing always (1 Thess. 5:16) also spoke of sleepless nights and tense anxiety (2 Cor 11:27–28) over behaviour in churches.
There’s a deep fundamental, foundational, satisfying joy along with many layers of pain.
Painful. Gruelling. Strenuous. Gradual transformation (2 Cor. 3:16–18).
Suffering and pain shape us, like chiselling a fine sculpture with each knock or removing impurities from a precious metal through the burn or a fiery, hot piece of metal shaping a fine metal masterpiece (2 Cor 1:10; Rom 5:3–5 etc).
We aren’t called to suffer alone. Suffering builds Christian virtue. Christ is not distant.
Yet, all we need to do is put our trust in Jesus and trust him to shape our hearts.
Which love story will you place your identity in?
With all this in mind will you pour your hopes and identity into a spouse, family member, dear friend or even a boss? Or on the unstable ground of your own self-acceptance as you get closer to death?
Or do you think today we’ve covered a better alternative? The love story which has endured the ages, across the divide of race, gender, socioeconomic status and age.
Love strikes right at the heart of what it means to be human. You have to pick a love story to live by. The question is. Which one?
Jesus, a man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act. — Gandhi
God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. — Apostle Paul, Phil. 4:19
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