Learning to Love in the Midst of Suffering

This guest post is from Paul Miller, best-selling author of A Praying Life. His latest book is A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships (January 2014).

A Moral Collapse

Western society is in the midst of an unprecedented moral collapse. It is not just Christian moral values that are collapsing, but ancient pagan ones as well. For instance, the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar had multiple lovers, mostly arranged by his wife Olivia, so she could retain control over him, but the public face that Augustus and Olivia presented was of a happily married couple. Marriage was honored even though it wasn't followed. Instinctively, pagans knew you needed to keep marriage front and center. In fact, when Nero blessed gay marriages the pagan revulsion was a key element of his downfall. [inlinetweet prefix="" tweeter="" suffix=""]Something new is going on in our culture that has never happened before.[/inlinetweet] It is creating moral havoc, leaving people's lives in shambles. Let me explain.

A Theology of Feelings

A young married woman named "Sue", a member of a strong evangelical church, told a close friend of mine recently after the church service almost as an aside, "I think I've outgrown my marriage." When I heard this I had trouble suppressing the laughter. I said, "So her marriage vow 'til death do us part' was just how she felt on the day of her wedding?"

Sue's reflection was a perfect summary of Oprah's theology of feelings applied to life. Feelings trumped commitment. But don't blame Oprah. Orpah is just channeling 19th century thinkers like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. "I've outgrown my marriage" is just another verse to Whitman's poem "Song of MyseIf."

Notice Sue's choice of language. Sue used therapeutic language (the need for growth) to mask her self-will. To paraphrase her, "I've grown as a person. In fact, I've outgrown my husband, ready for a new relationship to enlarge my spirit." Her self-deceit is breathtaking. Sue presents herself on an upward, Oprah-like trajectory of self-improvement, when in fact she is spiraling into herself, a black hole of narcissism.

It reminded me of Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss (greeting Jesus as a friend)—as if Jesus didn't notice that Judas had 200 torch-bearing soldiers behind him, all armed to the teeth! Jesus brilliantly unmasks Judas' self-deceit by comparing his outer presentation (the kiss) with his inner motive (betrayal). Jesus probes Judas' soul, "Are you betraying me with a kiss?" It is a plea for integrity. So to Sue I ask, "[inlinetweet prefix="" tweeter="" suffix=""]Are you betraying your marriage vows with the language of self-improvement?[/inlinetweet] Are you masking your narcissism with words of love?"

Sharing in Christ's Sufferings

I've written A Loving Life to the Sue's of this world and especially to their spouses—to the modern widows and widowers who have been discarded or found themselves trapped in an uneven or broken relationship, where they are loving without love in return. I don't want them to just endure or grit it out, but in this hothouse of suffering to learn to love. I want Sue's husband to learn "the fellowship of sharing in His suffering, becoming like Him in His death, to somehow attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11).

So instead of being cranky or even bitter Christians, harping on our culture's moral decline or the unfairness of our life, we can become overcomers who are filled with hope because of the resurrection of Christ. [inlinetweet prefix="" tweeter="" suffix=""]God specializes in capturing evil to do his wonders.[/inlinetweet] That is what the cross and resurrection are all about!

Paul E. MillerPaul E. Miller is executive director of seeJesus as well as the best-selling author of A Praying Life, among other works. With the help of his ministry staff, Miller creates and conducts interactive discipleship seminars throughout the world. He and his wife, Jill, live in the Philadelphia area and have six children as well as a growing number of grandchildren. His latest book is A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships.