“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10: 26-27
Some biblical counselors argue that love is just one form of idolatry among others. People idolize security, approval, money, influence, and much more. They argue that the idolatry of love is just one among others. Remember Powlison’s words?
When the conceptual structures of humanistic psychology are “baptized” by Christians, the fundamental “rather than God” at the bottom of human motivation continues to be missed. For example, many Christian counselors absolutize a need or yearning for love. As observant human beings, they accurately see that fallen and cursed people are driven to seek stability, love, acceptance, and affirmation, and that we look for such blessings in empty idols. As committed Christians they often want to lead people to trust Jesus Christ rather than their idols. But they improperly insert an a priori and unitary relational need, an in-built yearning or empty love tank as underpinning the heart’s subsequent divide between faith and idolatry.
Now hear me clearly: this article is a must-read, a very helpful word. But here’s where I differ. I don’t think that an a priori love core is a humanistic addendum to Christian psychology. I believe, in fact, that Jesus summarized the law in one word: Love.
Biblical counselors challenge us to find this in the Bible. I challenge them to show me that love is not central. God made us in and for love, creatures hungry for intimacy, dependency, relationship, and connection with God. In this vacuum, we take our hunger in many, many different idolatrous directions. But these idols are counterfeit loves, I’d argue. This, I believe, is what Jamie Smith argues for in Desiring the Kingdom.
Every other idol is contingent on love. But each and every twisted human desire can also find redemption in and through redeemed relationship, in love. True story: Consider the porn addict. He comes to me after seeing a biblical counselor, and he tells me that he’s seen his idol of lust and repented of it. I ask, “Has that helped?” He says, “I’m learning that the Gospel means that I’m forgiven and that helps, but I’m still acting out regularly.” Tell me more, I say.
He realizes that he’s got many idols – control, approval, pleasure, and more. That’s helpful. And it’s true. But he’s still addicted. I ask him this: What do want when you look at porn?
He tells me typical things: momentary pleasure, release, a feeling of connection.
Hmmm. I ask about connection. He tells me about the feeling of being with a woman without judgment. I ask for more. He tells me that he’s basically scared of women. His story animates this. He feels shame, fear, insecurity. I take all of this in.
PG13 section: What I know that he doesn’t know is this: male porn addicts don’t focus on breasts. They don’t focus below the belt. The look at…the eyes. The research bears it out. Men are looking for…connection, intimacy, approval, love. Lust may be an idol, but its roots go much deeper. Beneath lust is a hunger for love.
My goal, then, is not to make sure he doesn’t look at a porn image ever again. My focus is to get to this relational ache. What is he hungry for? Why?
Now, I’m not with those “empty love tank” folks who are looking for someone to blame, whether Mom, Dad, or a wife who isn’t interested in sex. I’m fully aware that he is responsible, despite anything that has happened in his past. But, I am interested in knowing his whole story. I’m aware of his secondary idols – security, approval, sexual gratification, control. But my focus is now squarely centered on his hunger to love and be loved. After all, he was born into relationship, made in and for relationship, wounded in relationship, and redeemed in relationship. This is God’s economy of things.
My client, I find out, is a scared little boy. Yes, he’s an idolater. Yes, he’s replaced God with many other false forms of worship and satisfaction. But, he’s a boy trying to live in a man’s world, relating like a 16 year old to a wife who is 35. He’s an emotional teenager. And why? There are many reasons, all worth exploring. But I’m not content with merely blaming Mom and Dad. After all, our hunger for love is innate, a priori, built-in by way of neurobiology and psycho-physiology and so much more. Some of us just emerge from the womb more needy than others. Our imperfect parents can’t possibly fill this need…only God can. But we’ll look for satisfaction in all the wrong places.
Why is love core? I’ve offered a few thoughts. Please feel free to comment. Disagree. Agree. Push back. Argue. That’s how we learn.
More to come.