May 31, 2015
Love and . . . Happiness?
I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls
(2 Corinthians 12:15).
The satisfying thing about love is not that we get happiness but that we give it. We may be glad when those we love return our love in ways that make us happy, but that doesn’t always happen. When it doesn’t, we need to remember that real love doesn’t require being returned. When it is unrequited, love may grieve, but it can still survive and even thrive, as it did in the case of Paul. He longed to be loved by his friends in Corinth, but his love didn’t depend on that happiness. He would love them even if it meant giving and giving and giving until there was nothing more to give. “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls,” he said, knowing full well that the feeling was not mutual.
Our modern concept of love is so self‑centered that the idea of love without happiness seems ridiculous. Why would a person love anyone or anything if it didn’t bring him happiness? This, for example, is why marriage is such a transitory, vulnerable thing in our culture. Most spouses now live under something like the following threat from their partners: “If you ever fail to bring me the happiness I think I deserve, then I will be released from any obligation to keep the vows that have guaranteed my love for you.”
And we don’t do much better when it comes to God, do we? We think of God solely in terms of how much happiness we get in return for loving God, and if at any time God fails to see the subject of happiness in the same way we do, we feel free to sidestep our commitments to God. If God ever stands between us and anything we think is necessary for us to be happy, we just go around God.
Yet there is a higher path we could follow. It’s an old‑fashioned path, admittedly. It’s the way of joy. Joy, unlike happiness, does not depend on whether what “happens” to us is pleasing. It’s not at the mercy of circumstances. Instead, it’s grounded in deep, unchangeable truth. And the love that flows from a joyful commitment to truth will gladly give itself and keep on giving. All it needs is the privilege of singing some part (just any part) in the great chorus that glorifies God. All it wants is that Christ “will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).
“With love one can live even without happiness.”