We sometimes think that because we live in a modern society we are no longer prone to believe in myths. This is childish naivety. Our culture is stocked with as many myths as a lost tribe in the middle of the Amazon. The problem with our myths – as with all myths – is that we don’t see them because we put blind trust in them. Like joists in a wall, they are hidden from view in the fabric of our thinking.
A good example of this is how young adults think about love. Their beliefs about love are rooted in two dominant myths, reinforced in the subconscious through endless waves of films, TV shows, and pop music.
1 – The Myth of ‘the One’
The first myth is that fulfilment through love requires discovering ‘the one’. A lot of people have a kind of Messianic hope in a magical other person who will somehow complete the jigsaw of the self. This myth is old. As far back as Plato, a story was told that humans originally had four arms, four legs, and two heads. Before birth we were severed in half before being left on earth to be lonely and incomplete until the happy day of re-discovering our soul-mate and being restored to wholeness. Hollywood loves this story, which provides the basic plotline of most romantic comedies.
The problem with the story is that it’s myth. Looking for a magical relationship to perfect the self places an impossible burden on another human being. There is an ‘Other’ who can complete the self, but that is God, not a flesh and blood human being. To expect from a human relationship what only divine grace can supply is to search for a holy grail that doesn’t exist. Doubters are encouraged to pay closer attention to the serial marriages of Hollywood elite who cycle through ‘true love’ relationships as often as most of us change our tires.
2 – The Myth of ‘the Many’
The other dominant myth is that, since no one person can satisfy our need for love, the answer is found – not in the one – but in the many: in pursuing as many sexual conquests as looks, charm, and opportunity allow. This myth is even more tragic than the first because it often attempts to sooth inward pain through addictive behaviour. Although the sexual chase looks exhilarating on film, in practice it proves to be a short-lived pleasure that in the long-term causes harm, self-loathing, and a trail of negative consequences, physical, psychological, and spiritual.
The Secret Recipe of True Love – Covenant
So what is missing in our culture’s recipe for self-fulfilling love? The missing concept is that of covenant. Covenant provides a model of a loving relationship that cuts against the grain of our culture. How does it do this? First, covenant reminds us that relational fulfilment requires commitment. Without commitment there can be no security, without security there can be no trust, without trust there can be vulnerability, without vulnerability there can be no genuine communion of souls. This is the marvel of God’s love to us. In Christ, He demonstrated that once and for all He is absolutely committed to a relationship with His people. Only this gives us the freedom to entrust ourselves without reserve to Him in spite of the feebleness of our faith, the ugliness of our sin, and the unsteadiness of our character.
Second, covenant reminds us of the call to faithfulness. A relationship is not so much about me being completed by you, but you having the confidence that I will be with you in better and worse, in sickness and in health. A moment of sexual gratification is nothing compared to the comfort that comes from a friend who will stand by you in anxiety, in depression, in moments of personal success and personal failure. Jesus is the supreme model of such faithfulness.
Third, covenant reminds us that true love is self-giving love. This contradicts the love-logic of our age. Whereas our culture tell us that I need to guard my self-interest – that I need to prioritise myself – the gospel teaches that my fulfillment is only possible if and when I give myself to you. The logic of grace is unique: only by emptying myself on your behalf do I discover that I am mysteriously filled.
Therefore, what should Christians do to learn the truth about love? First, we need to be more careful about ingesting the lies of the world and, second, more intentional to study and follow the pattern of love as revealed most completely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Only the love of Jesus, which is the love of God, can lead to true self-fulfillment.