Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Safe Love

“It seems to me now that the plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.”

This is one of the conclusions reached by the protagonist in Nick Hornby’s How to be Good—for some reason it struck me more than many of the others. One reason it may have stood out is that it sounds like a conclusion reached by protagonists in Hornby’s other novels—the fantastic High Fidelity, and the heart-warming About a Boy. Love—romantic or friendship—is about taking a risk. A risk of injury, a risk of nothing ever changing, a risk that you’re missing something better, and so on.

And while I can’t think of any other examples at the moment (to my embarrassment, because this makes my argument harder to make), this is a theme common in recent TV shows, movies, songs, etc. To open up to someone is a dangerous thing, we’re told.

I halfway wonder if the appeal (and it is usually discussed in this way) of Love and Relationships as risky has something to do with the popularity Open Theism’s “God Who Risks” (á la John Sanders) . . .

But ultimately, I think this shows a problem with our zeitgeist. It’s too individualistic, not covenantal perspective on these things. Now, my Baptist friends, hold on—I think you won’t be offended here. If you covenant to love someone—either as a spouse or a “bosom companion” (to use a Puritan phrase) there’s a safety there that isn’t possible in other instances. Here’s where the courtship-only folks make their strongest case.

My wife and I have made a covenant—there’s no risk there, it’s safe. There’s where the whole richer/poorer, better/worse, disease/health thing comes in. If one of us changes into a “different person” well, that’s covered. Ditto for missing something better (as my wife is), or getting hurt—‘cuz you’ll get over it if you work at it.

Same thing goes for friends—a friend and I had a falling out some time ago—and we pretty much don’t speak for a year, which is made easier by us living 5 hours apart. A couple of years before that, I went through this Promise Keeper-Knock Off phase (about the same time as PK took off, so it was just a competitor then) and I’d made a covenant with him, as I recall lifting Jonathan and David’s language. Anyway, when my friend had gotten some major things straitened out in his life, he knew that he could resume our friendship safely. Within a matter of weeks our relationship was probably as close as it’d been before.

Now when I started thinking about this quotation a couple days ago, the application was pretty clear to me, and I think I haven’t translated my thinking too well to the page. But hopefully you see it. Real love—whatever form it takes—isn’t risky, it isn’t dangerous. Commitment is an integral part of love. And nothing’s safer than commitment.