By Devin C. Foley, April 3, 2015 commentary at: http://www.IntellectualTakeout.org
Foley’s website has over a million Facebook fans. In this essay, posted on Good Friday this year, he comments on some on the comments he has received from millennials (those with birth years approximately early 1980s to early 2000s).
When it comes to the millennials, we have noticed a worrisome outlook on love showing up frequently in the comments. For many of our audience members, it would seem love and suffering are incompatible. Those holding this position will often argue that loving another should not result in your suffering. Rather, love is something that should serve you, providing you with perpetual happiness. And, according to this commonly held view, happiness is not possible if we are suffering.
Such a sentiment stands in stark contrast to Good Friday, which is being celebrated around the world today by most Christians. In the Christian tradition, out of his love for the world and in order to offer it eternal life, Christ willingly suffered through abandonment, humiliation, scourging, a crown of thorns, the piercing of his hands and feet with nails, and finally death on the cross. This series of events is often referred to as the Passion of Christ.
Passion is a word nearly all Americans would probably equate with love. The irony though is that the Latin root of the word passion is pati, which means “to suffer.”
Now, it’s certainly not safe to say that those who may not see love and suffering going hand-in-hand are against suffering itself. We are, after all, a society that celebrates controlled suffering. Consider the widespread popularity of 5ks, 10ks, fun runs, zombie runs, color runs, Tough Mudders, etc. They are examples of a willingness to suffer so long as the suffering can be controlled by the sufferer. The benefits of chosen suffering in the form of physical exertion as well as the pride in the accomplishment are obvious to most Americans. Suffering of this kind can even be pleasurable for some.
But uncontrolled suffering is an entirely different matter. While Christ chose to love and opened himself to suffering, he could not control that suffering. And that’s what makes love a tricky and even scary thing.
If we are to love someone truly, we must be willing to give our self to that person. In giving our self to another, for instance in marriage, we can no longer control how we might suffer. Marriage and love make us vulnerable. This is true even when loving our children. The love of a parent for a child isn’t the same love as that between spouses, but it still involves giving and sacrifice for the well-being of the child and even a certain vulnerability. When a child truly suffers, whether in serious illness or just due to a broken heart, the parents often feel that pain as well. Of course, parents also suffer as the result of a child’s actions or behavior.
Perhaps the problem is that a portion of our society has confused love as a virtue with love as pleasure. The former requires discipline and giving, the latter merely takes. Such a misunderstanding would be unfortunate, and leaves many incapable of experiencing true love. But it also may not be merely a matter of confusion, but rather intentional, reflecting our society’s growing desire to avoid suffering and to pursue pleasure, to live selfishly.
The implications of giving ourselves over to selfishness and an inability to accept uncontrolled suffering as a society are immense. What is to restrain our personal pursuits of pleasure? Furthermore, if we as individuals are unwilling to endure uncontrolled suffering and therefore unwilling to love, what bond can we have with our fellow man other than a mutual pursuit of pleasure? And how far can that take us? As the philosopher Edmund Burke wrote:
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites… Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within (our hearts), the more there must be outside ourselves (laws, rules, police, etc.). It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
While such a loss of freedom is disconcerting, worse is the loss of love in a society and what that means for individuals and families. Pleasure, whether in work, money, sex, drugs, entertainment, power, etc., can only carry us for so long and it must be ever increased in order to make one feel “happy”. But there are limits to how much we can increase our pleasure, and often when those limits are reached we are in grave peril. How many of us are on such a course now?
Alas, that may be our future as a society unless we change course. To do so, though, requires a desire to change, a reason to love others despite sacrifice and suffering, and a reason to pursue virtue. Virtuous living has been pursued in many societies and cultures, as has living in pursuit of pleasure. History teaches us the results of each. Which one is pursued comes down to the dominant eschatology of a society – to what end do we live?
(Eschatolgy: any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death,the Judgment, the future state, etc.)
We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love. –Sigmund Freud
To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer… To be happy is to love. To be happy then is to suffer. But suffering makes one unhappy… I hope you’re getting this down.
—Love and Death, 1975 Woody Allen movie
I Corinthians 13:4-7 — Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Galatians 6:2 — Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
I John 4:10-11 — This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
O God, fountain of love, pour your love into our souls, that we may love those whom you love with the love you give us, and think and speak about them tenderly, meekly, lovingly; and so loving our brothers and sisters for your sake, may grow in your love and live for you; for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
–E. B. Pusey