Counterfeit vs. Genuine Love by Greg Albrecht

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Friend and Partner Letter from September 2013

Where is love? Does it fall from skies above? – Lyrics from “Where is Love?” from the stage musical and film “Oliver!” – based on the 1839 novel “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens.

Ten-year old orphan Oliver Twist sings the haunting refrain “Where is Love?” after being banished to the cellar of a funeral parlor. After enduring most of his early life in a “workhouse,” Oliver is assigned as an apprentice in a funeral home, which turns out to be another slave-like exploitation, where he serves an undertaker.

Just before Oliver plaintively sings about the whereabouts of the love he has heard about, but never experienced, the spiteful and heartless wife of the undertaker, says: “Right then, Oliver Twist. Your bed’s underneath the counter. You don’t mind sleeping among coffins I suppose? It don’t much matter whether you do or don’t cause you can’t sleep nowhere else!”

Begging for love, the orphan Oliver, who had lived the first ten years of his life with little food and no love sings “Where is Love?”

Where indeed is love? And when we humans seem to “find love,” do we really find what we are looking for? There is a vast difference between genuine love and counterfeit love. What passes for love in our world is often nothing more than a facade. Oliver Twist is every child and every man and woman, in that human beings often spend a lifetime looking for their “own, true love” – someone who will love them for who they are, as they are.

Counterfeit love is characterized by exploiting and manipulating another person to fulfill or achieve a self-serving end. Counterfeit love holds the person who is convinced that he/she is loved as an emotional hostage so that the person who is supplying such “love” can feel good about themselves. Counterfeit love often targets its recipients as projects – someone to be fixed – someone it can build into its own image for its own satisfaction and gratification.

The comfort, assurances and rewards promised and delivered by counterfeit love are doled out reluctantly and sparingly, always with reservations and conditions. Counterfeit love doesn’t make itself vulnerable. At its core, counterfeit love is always prepared to cut its losses if the other person fails to live up to the expectations of the person supplying this diminished and devalued love.

Counterfeit love has its limitations and conditions, because the person/group/institution giving that love doesn’t want to get hurt. Counterfeit love causes people to enter a marriage with the thought “if it doesn’t work out [meaning if this person doesn’t cut the mustard and be what I expect them to be] I can always get a divorce.” Counterfeit love always has an exit strategy.

Counterfeit love invests its time and affections where and when it thinks it will get the most “ROI” (return on investment). Counterfeit love is fraudulent because it does not totally love another for who he or she is, as they are. Counterfeit love is only interested in self-centered personal benefits, so this false love causes humans to love another only if the person will help them feel or look good.

When a marriage almost exclusively relies on counterfeit love, at the first sign of troubled waters, one or both parties may decide to “go to counseling.” Make no mistake, marriage counseling can be helpful, but in many cases the problem with this activity is the perception many have of what counseling will accomplish. Many husbands and wives see counseling as a way to drag their partner to a counselor who (they falsely presume) will proceed to fix their partner, who is primarily or singularly to blame for the martial problems being experienced.

Within marriage, counterfeit love can cause people to almost exclusively blame marital dysfunctions on their spouse. Counterfeit love blinds individuals, filling them like a hot air balloon with an inflated sense of who they actually are. In many cases, the partner announcing to friends and family that “we” are going to counseling is actually announcing that their husband or wife is broken and needs a major overhaul. The person who is deeply motivated by counterfeit love sees their partner in need of necessary and essential repairs and hopes all the work to fix them gets done in a timely and satisfactory manner. Counterfeit love is conditional, while genuine love is unconditional.

Genuine love is characterized by serving another individual, sacrificing for them so that their needs are taken care of. Affection and love in a genuinely loving relationship is unconditional – there are no planned exit strategies.
Genuine love really is “till death do us part.” Genuine, true love is completely vulnerable – it’s wide open to hurt and betrayal.

Genuine, true love spends itself, giving itself away, without conditions or reservations.

Genuine, true love loses itself, without thought of selfish gain, lavishly and unconditionally giving itself away, without stipulations or limitations.

The problem is simply this: no human being is capable of giving pure, genuine love. Thus, there are many times in our lives when we join Oliver Twist in pleading “Where is Love?”

We all desperately want to receive genuine love, to be loved for who we are. On the other hand, we would like to think that we give genuine love to our friends, family and loved ones. But we are human, we are imperfect, and by and of ourselves, we are incapable of giving true, genuine and unconditional love. We are all, apart from God’s grace, failed, flawed and false lovers. Apart from God’s love in our lives, our failure to provide genuine love to others therefore is only a matter of degree.

And here’s a really amazing dynamic! As much as we desperately long for genuine love, because our human orientation is based on self-interest, we find it incredibly difficult to believe that God truly loves us! Our ability to appreciate and fully embrace God’s genuine, pure and unconditional love is obscured by all the human relationships we have had – because every single human relationship we have ever had, even the very best ones – had some degree of self-serving, counterfeit love involved.

Apart from those who are enabled by God’s grace to pass on the love of God which he has given them, every purely human relationship is based on “what can I get out of this relationship?” Relationships may continue, and a degree of “love” may be given, but deep down, apart from God, the questions we all inevitably ask go something like this: “When will my wife, son, grandson finally start appreciating me? Is my husband, adult child, friend or granddaughter taking advantage of me – when will he/she start showing some respect and gratitude?”

Because of our experiences with counterfeit love (self-love) we find God’s love too-good-to-be-true. There must be strings attached, we reason. There must be a catch somewhere, we think. And when we can’t find one, then we willingly listen to some “expert” or some iteration of Christ-less religion that will explain God in human terms – because a god in our image is so much easier to accept and worship.

While we crave genuine, unconditional love, we find such love so hard to believe that we willingly worship lesser gods who will manipulate us and shame us, telling us that we are receiving God’s genuine, unconditional love when we’re being given counterfeit love. Apart from God’s grace, we are blind to God’s unadulterated, genuine love, so we fall for the assurances and sales pitches of counterfeit love over and over again – that’s the only kind of love we can imagine.

When Jesus came into this world, he was rejected by the most religious and pious and “righteous” people because they simply could not accept a person who had no known ulterior motives. Jesus was happy to hang out with the least, the last and the lost. He wasn’t interested in “winning” – he came to die, not to live as long as he possibly could. Jesus’ love was genuine and unconditional – he came to serve rather than with the expectation of being served.

There’s an old story about old friends (and I do mean “old” in every sense of that word) getting together for their monthly lunch at a coffee shop. Suddenly, Bob jumped out of his chair and started to dance and sing, circling the entire table. Harry said: “What’s gotten into you, Bob?”

Bob explained: “Last night my father told me he loves me.” Harry replied: “So, what’s so special about that?” Bob said: “This is the first time he has ever told me that, and he wasn’t even drunk.” Harry couldn’t understand: “Bob, you’re 70 years old and you’re telling me that this is the first time your father ever said he loves you! How old is he?” Harry said, “93.”

There is absolutely nothing that we crave more than genuine, unconditional love. We deeply desire to hear the words “I love you.” We want to believe that someone loves us. Some spend a lifetime and several marriages “looking for love in all the wrong places.” With Oliver Twist, we all sing “Where is Love?”

God reveals himself to us as love. Love is the sum total of who God is and what he is all about. Love is who and what God is. All that God does is for love. Genuine, unconditional love is the heart and soul of the gospel. God loves you, genuinely and unconditionally!

Because of God’s genuine, unadulterated, pure love,
Greg Albrecht

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