By David Hegg
Many years ago a popular song declared that “love will keep us together.” But apparently it doesn’t, at least not in its most popular form. The statistical score card on relationships in America consistently shows that, even among those whose love brings them to the point of marriage, a little less than half of them stay together.
And while more songs describe it, and films display it, and societal norms redefine it to allow more to engage in its sexual component earlier and more often, we are watching the most essential elements of love get washed away by the tide of immediate gratification. What is missing from love in America in far too many cases is a radical commitment to the ethical essence that has defined love since the beginning of time: sacrifice.
Jesus said, “There is no greater kind of love than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends.” The ancients understood that Jesus was confirming what had long been known and held tightly by societies across cultural and geographical boundaries. Love that is selfish, that is primarily looking for personal enrichment, may qualify as a type of friendship, but it does not rise to the level of great love. We all know that. Real love, “true” love as some might dream of it, is a life-dominating conviction that one will do whatever it takes, give whatever is demanded, in order to secure and sustain the well-being of the object of that love.
Marriage is supposed to be reserved for this kind of love. The history of wedding vows testifies to this. And, throwing aside all respect for those calling themselves “evolutionary psychologists” who are trumpeting the benefits of serial monogamy (read: serial promise breaking), don’t we honor those whose hard work and commitment to relational harmony and family security has been secured by a sacrificial extension of love? On our wedding day, we stand face to face and make promises to care for, and stay with one another until death. But it is apparent today that for far too many, these promises are the stuff of tradition and ritual rather than the commitment of the heart.
I am not alone in seeing the erosion of marital commitment in America as signifying a far more serious decline in our national ethic. And yet, there may be an even more significant indicator that we are quickly losing our understanding of love.
From 1973 to 2005 (the last year for which statistics are available), 43 million pregnancies were terminated legally in America. And while the politics of personal choice have dragged the issue of abortion into the legislative and government arena, at its core it is not a political issue. How we view a fetus — a baby in its mother’s womb — says almost everything about the level and seriousness of our understanding of love. Perhaps even stronger than the love between husband and wife is that visceral sense on the part of a mother to provide for, and protect at all cost, the heart that is beating within her.
Today we would do well to re-examine just what the abortion debate is doing to us all. We could discuss the financial aspects of a multi-million-dollar, male-dominated industry whose only customers are women. We might also find it ethically profitable to ask just why a disproportionate number of abortions, and the clinics that provide them, are to be found among the poorer ethnic minorities in our cities. If we were interested in mental health matters we might want to find out why a vast majority of women who terminate their pregnancies never lose those deep feelings of regret despite the passage of time.
But as profitable as those discussions might be, my object here is simply to suggest that the abortion issue is really about the nature of love. To think that 43 million termination decisions were made by those whose natural instinct was to love their baby tells us something so heinous about the ethical environment we are fostering in America today. We are losing our sense of love as a radical commitment to the welfare of another, whatever the cost. In the case of a pregnancy, we must get back to the place where we can say, “Greater love has no mother than this, that she is willing to lay down her life for her baby!”
And while the scientific community, and those involved with the political issues surrounding abortion continue to debate the exact time when life begins, I think it’s time to change the subject. Bob Casey, the late Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, summed it up perfectly: “When we look to the unborn child, the real issue is not when life begins, but when love begins.”
I’m praying America is wise enough, and strong enough, to really love again.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.