The Seven Deadly Virtues-Love

The first of the seven deadly sins is lust. For most of us, this word is associated with sexual sin. But the Bible employs the term more broadly. In the New Testament, the Greek term that is translated lust is often one that simply means desire. In addition to illicit sexual desire, it can refer to both ordinate and inordinate desire. Lust is as liable to take the form of an illicit desire for someone else’s things or their success as it is an inappropriate desire for sex. John hints at the full scope of this cardinal sin in 1 John 2:16: “ For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” As far as John is concerned, when it comes to lust everything in the world is a potential target.

The opposite of lust is love. But the terms themselves may not be of much help in distinguishing between the two. We often use “love” to refer to a multitude of desires and affections, some high and some low. A couple on a date might declare undying love for one another during dinner and then in the next breath say that they “love” the food that is on their plates. Neither thinks of the second of these as genuine love, at least not in the biblical sense.  Afterwards, they might decide to “make love,” using the same term in a third sense that is really more in line with what the Bible actually means by lust. Not every desire we experience is necessarily lust nor does every affection that we call love qualify as love in the biblical sense.

You would think that sin and love would be incompatible. After all, if the heart of righteousness is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself, then the essence of sin must be the opposite (Matt. 22:37, 39). To sin is to love yourself at the expense of your neighbor. More than that, it is to love yourself at the expense of God. Yet this assertion seems to imply something in addition to this. Namely, that sin has its own version of love.

Sin shaped love expresses itself primarily in the form of narcissism. It is self-absorbed love. This affection is actually a distortion of love which, once it has achieved its full effect, proves to be an exercise in self-loathing. It is hate masquerading as love, compelling us to engage in self-destructive behavior. Sin promises freedom and delivers slavery. It speaks the language of friendship while treating us like enemies. It is a cruel master who promises good wages only to reward our loyalty with hard service, disappointment, and death. Yet for some reason, we return repeatedly to this false lover and expect a different result.

In the Old Testament, David was criticized for preferring his unfaithful and rebellious son to those faithful men who had risked their lives for him. “You love those who hate you and hate those who love you” David’s commander Joab complained (2 Sam. 19:6). Similarly, when Jehu the Seer went out to meet Jehoshaphat after the king’s ill-advised alliance with Ahab, the prophet warned, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, the wrath of the LORD is upon you.” A similar charge might be laid at our own feet in this present age. We claim love as our cardinal virtue. But a closer inspection all too quickly reveals that what we are really celebrating is an infatuation with ourselves.

The alternative to lust is love. It is a love that comes to us, like the righteousness of Christ, from the outside. Adopting the same language Martin Luther coined to speak of that righteousness, we might call it “alien love.” Because it is not our own it is the only love powerful enough to wean us away from ourselves.

Out of My Mind: Going to the Dogs

I never thought of myself as much of a dog person. I grew up with cats, disagreeable ones at that. But several years ago one of my wife’s colleagues gave us a small Yorkshire terrier that she had named Luigi. Yorkshire terriers, as any owner can tell you, are notoriously co–dependent. They crave human companionship and physical touch. Our dog was no exception. He hated being alone. It was not enough for him to be in the same room with us. He wanted to be as close as possible, preferably on someone’s lap. When my wife Jane sat on the couch, Luigi was right there with her, his head on her lap as he gazed worshipfully into her eyes.

This trait endeared him to my wife, the person Luigi correctly identified as the true Alpha human in the house. Jane was the center of his universe. He followed her when she was home and pined for her when she was away. If she left the house, he stationed himself near the door so that he could watch for her return. I would do in a pinch. But only in an emergency. Jane was the real love of his life, as she is in mine.

This dynamic, as you can imagine, was a recipe for a love triangle that would be the envy of any soap opera. And my dog knew he had me at a disadvantage. True, between the two of us, I was the one with the larger brain, a fact that my wife may sometimes have doubted. But I am less portable and not nearly as cute. What is more, I am more easily distracted, given to alternating fits of work and television.

In the evening when our little dog was snuggled next to my wife, I sometimes caught him watching me out of the corner of his eye, as if he were plotting my demise. But as soon as my wife left the room, Luigi would make his way over to my side of the couch and plop down with a sigh. Content as Lazarus when the Angels laid him in the bosom of Abraham.

Over the years, my dog’s capacity for canine devotion captured my heart too. Watching him age and become infirm was difficult. I found myself drawing uncomfortable parallels to my own journey through mid–life and pondering the kind of theological questions one usually hears from small children. Do dogs go to heaven? I knew the correct answer and did not like it.

If I find it hard to imagine a heaven without my dog, it is even harder to picture a heaven in which I am not married to my wife Jane. We have enjoyed so many things on earth together it only seems natural that we would explore the undiscovered country hand in hand. It disturbs me to read Matthew 22:30, where Jesus says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”

Perhaps this is why I found my dog’s descent into old age so disconcerting. Like a sudden chill at dusk, it seemed to herald the coming night and an unwelcome separation. But Jesus’ words were meant to be positive not negative, displaying the power of God. In heaven our earthly relationships are changed, not eliminated. If the love we experience in heaven transcends the greatest love we have known on earth, then heaven must be a wonderful place indeed.