I love humanity! It’s people I can’t stand. —Linus
Social Compassion and Self-Interest
Liberals have their own package of values. This package includes passionate sincerity, love of humanity, concern for social justice, personal autonomy, as well as an endless commitment to change. Almost all liberals see themselves as loving people. They want to change the world for good, and they believe with all their hearts that the most effective way to accomplish that change is through the power of the State. They also believe that the State has the power and competence to create a world in which social and economic equality will be the norm. To this end, they are often willing to sacrifice certain political and economic rights, especially those of others. But they never want the State to interfere in their private lives.
Conservatives have another general package of values. Conservatives stress patriotism, economic growth, responsibility, and personal morality. They realize the value of love, especially where family is concerned, but they also are suspicious of human nature, even their own. They believe that human selfishness is a given. Rather than trust the State to sort out the world’s problems, conservatives are generally content to let self-interest check self-interest in the free market—not because self-interest is good, but because on some level, it’s inevitable. Conservatives would have the State serve in a much more restricted role than would liberals, but many believe that the State should actively discourage certain non-violent acts—like pornography for example.
Liberals accuse conservatives of being cold hearted, of lacking compassion. Conservatives accuse liberals of being sloppy sentimentalists with Marxist rhythms. Both say they believe in love. Both are passionate about their beliefs and agendas. Both are deeply committed to their vision. Both hope to change the world for good.
The Libertarian Alternative
If conservatives give a polite nod to self-interest, self-conscious libertarians revel in it. The whole libertarian ethic assumes that each man owns himself and that it is his right and responsibility to pursue his own self-interest. Ayn Rand writes, “To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement”—the highest achievement from her point of view. Of course, this self-interest must be guided by rational thought: “Only a rationally selfish man, a man of self-esteem, is capable of love—because he is the only man capable of holding firm, consistent, uncompromising, unbetrayed values.” For Ayn Rand, as for modern libertarianism generally, real love is rooted in self-interest, in self-love.
This rational love Rand describes compels the libertarian to prize political and personal liberty above public and personal morality. Dinesh D’Souza says properly that “…libertarianism is a philosophy of choice without political concern for what people actually choose” (12). As long as no one is hurt, as long as no one’s will is violated, the rational choice of the individual reigns supreme. This means practically that the State, if it is allowed any existence at all, may only legislate against violent crimes. All other acts or exchanges condemned by traditional morality are private matters. As one writer observes, “These behaviors might not be good, but would you want the police and courts involved?” For libertarians, personal choice draws the boundaries on civil authority. Love then, for true libertarians, is defined by the random or arbitrary choices of individuals.
The Metaphysics of Love
The Christian worldview however roots love in the eternal nature of God. God, on some level, loves Himself. More specifically, the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father (John 17). They delight in one another, and each seeks the other’s glory. The Holy Spirit (among other things) acts as the personal bond of love between the two. Jonathan Edwards, channeling Augustine, wrote of the Holy Spirit’s place in the Trinity in these terms:
The Holy Ghost is… the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself (“An Essay on the Trinity”).
So the Holy Spirit… is breathed forth both from the Father and the Son, by the Divine essence being wholly poured and flowing out in that infinitely intense, holy, and pure love and delight that continually and unchangeably breathes forth from the Father and the Son, primarily toward each other, and secondarily toward the creature, and so flowing forth in a different subsistence or person in a manner to us utterly inexplicable and inconceivable, and that this is that person that is poured forth into the hearts of angels and saints (“Treatise on Grace”).
God Himself is perfect Love and that love is intense—and perhaps even fierce. Notice Edwards’ choice of words here: “wholly poured,” “infinitely intense,” “pure love and delight.” God’s love is more than nodding intellectual approval or cold legal acceptance: it’s a holy passion. It is the burning, flowing Spirit. The Father passionately loves the Son, and the Son passionately loves the Father—even unto death.
Given the perfection of His love, God can’t lovingly or rationally have any goal that doesn’t honor that perfection. And so, as John Piper writes in Desiring God, “The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever” (33). It can’t be otherwise. “God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest virtue and the most loving act” (45). And so, “God has the right and power and wisdom to do whatever makes him happy” (34). He is bound only by his covenant promises.
But where does that leave us? If God’s love is perfect, what does that mean to us?
Love Not Only as Joy, But Duty
God’s love is always full to overflowing. God loved the world. He created man. In sovereign grace He calls men to share in His love: He calls men to love Him and, in loving Him, to love one another. The chief end of man is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Because of who and what God is, God is not being vain or selfish when He makes our delight in Him our highest good. “What could God give us to enjoy that would prove him most loving? There is only one possible answer: himself!” (Desiring God, 48). There can be no greater joy for man than knowing and loving God. The Psalmist understood this:
Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever (Ps. 73:25-26).
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? (Ps. 42:1-2).
God calls us to love Him passionately. He calls us to enjoy Him forever. He wants us to be wholly satisfied in Him and Him alone. This is our joy and glory. “For God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” (50). Where our relationship with God is concerned, duty ought to be joy, and joy is unquestionably duty.
Proper Desires and Proper Passions
The Tenth Commandment from Sinai says:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s (Ex. 20:17).
The word for covet is somewhat neutral. It means “strong desire.” Strong desire is not always a bad thing. In the law, God told His people that they could kill and eat flesh, “whatsoever thy soul lusteth after” (Deut. 12:15, 21). Paul tells believers at Corinth to “covet earnestly” the best Spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:31). And Jesus spoke of the Last Supper with these words: “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). The words translated desire here may also mean “covet” or “lust.” The Tenth Commandment, then, does not require us to be Stoics or ascetics.
So the moral issue here is focused on the nature of the desire and its object. First, the nature: my desire for anything must rise out of an honest and passionate love for God. All my desires must be in God and for God. The Psalmist writes, “There is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (Ps. 73:25). If I trust God, if I am content with His providences, if I want to serve and glorify Him, then my desire, my passion, may be well directed. But if I have to break God’s law to get what I want, then my desire is evil.
Second, the object: I am not supposed to covet my neighbor’s house. I can want a house like his. I can even offer to buy his. But if he sets too high a price or simply says, “No,” then I need look at other real estate possibilities (cf. 2 Kings 21). And there may be other things that I should not want for other reasons. A novice in the faith should not ask to be made an elder (1 Tim. 3:6). A Christian should not want a non-Christian wife. An artist or craftsman should not want the reputation of a master until he has earned it. A man should not want anything he can’t get by godly and honest means. Again, desire becomes sin when it wanders outside of God’s law.
But there are many godly desires and passions. These should propel us to seek great things from God and to attempt great things for God. And here’s where I fail personally. I fail, not because my desires are too strong, but because they are too weak. I often have a lame infatuation for “things” or “project successes” when I should have an all-consuming passion for God and his infinite joy. In “The Weight of Glory” C. S. Lewis writes:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
But I guess that is the nature of sin.
Love and Politics All Over Again
The political implications of all of this are enormous. In everything, politics included, I should seek to love and enjoy God. I should seek His glory. I should obey His law, because His law outlines the proper actions of love. His law should trump my legislative agenda.
More specifically, I should not use the State to take my neighbor’s stuff. Neither should anyone else. Neither should everyone else collectively. The Robin Hood mentality is evil. National socialism (Fascism) is evil; international socialism (Marxism) is evil; liberation theology is evil. The socialist State is institutionalized covetousness. It practices legalized theft in the name of the people, and its officers and citizens actually glory in their self-love and secular self-righteousness. But at the core, they are the worst sort of thieves and scoundrels.
On the other hand, within the boundaries of God’s love, the State does have a legitimate function. Yep, the State ought to protect life, liberty, and property. But it’s pretty obvious if you read the Bible that God has other concerns as well. For example, God’s law establishes the legal sanctity of marriage, of the oath and vow, and of the life of the unborn child. That makes adultery treason against marriage, and abortion wrong—for love’s sake.
And if as Americans, we think that, having established a free market and a constitutional government, we are done loving our neighbor, Jesus gives us the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30ff). Liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike often miss the ethical consideration requiring us to use our own money, time, and energy to help those in trouble. The Bible that prescribes a limited civil government also commands personal charity.
Everyone talks about love. Most have no idea what it means. Depending on who’s talking, the word “love” can mean passing infatuation, sexual abuse, psychological manipulation, or as spun by the current administration… legalized plunder and Marxist tyranny. It’s almost always cover for some form of covetousness. Until we love God, no appeal to rational self-interest, a higher law, social justice, or common humanity will give us any sort of foundation for a stable society. Jesus taught us that love is the fulfilling of the law. Until we figure out that God himself (not the civil government) still requires this of us, life in America will continue to crumble.
For Further Reading:
Dinesh D’Souza, Letters to a Young Conservative (New York: Basic Books, 2002).
Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1987).
Rousas John Rushdoony, The Politics of Guilt and Pity (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1970).
Chuck Colson and Jack Eckerd, Why America Doesn’t Work (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991),
John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Press, 1996).
Chuck Swindoll, Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1981).