In my first year of marriage, I can still remember the frustration of realization after realization that my husband wasn’t exactly who I wanted him to be. He wasn’t as into working out as I thought he would be, and he liked football way more than I was aware any normal human was capable of enjoying a sporting event. When we moved him out of his apartment and into the tiny home we had rented together, I remember sobbing in a huge pile of mismatched socks, saying aloud to him, “Why would you ever need this many pairs of socks?” I also know that I wasn’t exactly who he thought I would be (don’t worry, I just asked him). He says I wasn’t as “laid-back” as he had envisioned. This is most certainly true, as I’m sure the sock fiasco of 2014 – among many other events – points to.
Moments like these – inside a marriage or any relationship – confront each of us squarely with the reality that despite our greatest attempts, love is rarely about making others into ourselves. We have a hard time not turning love into something meant to serve us and our needs because we have a hard time with true love. While we are actually quite capable at loving ourselves (even when it’s through means of self-depreciation!), it’s loving those around us we have such difficulty with.
As Jared Wilson says in his newest book, Love Me Anyway: How God's Perfect Love Fills Our Deepest Longing, “When we love the idea of someone more than his or her actual person, we are really just in love with ourselves” (49). Instead, Wilson defines love as “an orientation toward others for their glory and for their good,” – a definition he works to define throughout Love Me Anyway with insight, humor, and Scriptural clarity. It’s a definition based not on our own ability to love those around us but instead on the fact that God himself is love for us through Jesus Christ. This is a reality that means as sinners, we can go to him honestly and freely, and that, in turn, we can also love our neighbors without worrying about how well they love or accept us in return.
Wilson’s treatment of love also maintains a clear distinction between sin and grace and law and gospel. In this way, he focuses his attention on untangling the confusion we so often feel between love and total affirmation. Patiently and concisely, Wilson works his way through many of the things true love is – patient, forgiving, long-suffering – and is not – envious, hateful, prideful – to help his reader better understand how to love broadly, but even more fundamentally, how deeply and eternally we are loved by our Creator and Savior.
When we love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us, we are in spirit handing them over to God, hoping not just that they will get what they deserve but that, like us, they won’t -Jared Wilson
One of the highlights of Wilson’s work is his understanding of forgiveness, which is threaded throughout each chapter and focused on specifically at the center of the book. In a time when forgiveness is so often thought to be damaging, perhaps simply useless at best, and when God’s justice is too frequently traded in for our own, cheap version of retribution, Wilson clarifies the reality that forgiveness lays at the heart of God’s love for us through Christ’s death and resurrection. “The cross is proof that God loves sinners and that even the most impossible forgiveness is in fact possible,” he says (147).
The most impossible forgiveness is that God gave his only son for us so that we may have life everlasting - a task that means our sins no longer separate us from him. This reality doesn’t belittle sin, but pulls it into the light so that it can be laid to rest forever with Christ on the cross. It’s to the cross we return again and again, and it’s the cross which frees us to forgive those around us. While Wilson addresses the complexities of forgiveness between imperfect and sinful human beings with nuance and care in a way that Christians often overlook, he also refuses to sacrifice an explanation of forgiveness’ radical nature. “When we love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us, we are in spirit handing them over to God, hoping not just that they will get what they deserve but that, like us, they won’t,” he says (58).
The world tells us perfect love must confirm us as acceptable as we are. Yet Wilson reminds his reader over and over again that, in his love, God accepts sinners as they are so that we may be delivered from the self-acceptance, self-worship, and self-justification of our selfish definitions of love. We don’t have a hold on love without looking Christ in the face. This is a radical departure from a world in desperate need of love but without a roadmap for where to find it. “All you need is love, because if you have the God who is love, you have all you truly need,” Wilson says in his conclusion (234).
For those of us tired out by confusing and convoluted definitions of love, Love Me Anyway is an accessible and approachable read which reminds readers that the gospel of perfect love in Christ isn’t simply available to us but that it’s overflowing. God’s love is abundant to the point of excess, to the point that it flows through his people and out toward our neighbors. While our attempts at love will remain mired by our selfish desires, we can rest securely that the fullness of Jesus’ love for us draws us out of ourselves and away from what we would hope for love to be, and ever nearer to him.