Love – By Law or Grace? by Greg Albrecht

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Friend and Partner Letter from February 2016

While she was in college in the 60s, Lisa wore flowers in her hair, burned her bra, smoked a lot of pot and had sex so indiscriminately her grandfather told her it seemed to him that she was having sex “with anyone and everyone, at the drop of a hat.” Lisa attended college in Berkeley, California – ground zero of permissive and promiscuous “free” love during a time of great moral upheaval in the United States.

And Lisa often did have sex with partners at the “drop of a hat” – sometimes she discovered their names later, if at all. Her anything-goes-lifestyle did not end when she graduated – she started her career in San Francisco and continued to believe in Permissive Love. Lisa was not interested in marriage because she didn’t believe in allowing “a piece of paper” to restrict or restrain her self-indulgent quest for the ultimate high achieved by drugs and the illusive perfect sexual orgasm.

Shortly after her 30th birthday, Lisa woke up and realized her relentless pursuit of Permissive Love had left her obsessed with sensual gratification and that she was a shallow and empty shell of a person. She resolved to stop taking mind-altering drugs and giving her body away “to anyone and everyone” she might meet at the coffeehouses she frequented. One day at work she met Mark and within a few weeks of dating they found out that each of them had recently renounced their past lives characterized by wild, frantic over-indulgence. As Mark and Lisa continued to date, they both discovered that they now believed in making a lifelong commitment to one person.

Mark and Lisa were in their mid-30s when they finally decided to define their commitment to each other by, among other things, a piece of paper called a marriage license. Up until this time their search for love had consisted of wallowing in Permissive Love: the cesspool where love is defined as anything you want it to be. A friend introduced them to a church, and while they did not know it at the time, this church exchanged the evils of Permissive Love for another set of evils embodied in Law Love: love understood and expressed as the product of rigid restrictions and regulations. They had been addicted to drugs and sex before, now they longed for authorities and laws that would tell them precisely and exactly what to do about virtually all areas of their lives. Now they believed in Law Love: stern, ruthless, unwavering and unforgiving devotion to law. They believed Law Love would be the solution to the extremes of Permissive Love.

Shortly after they were married, Mark and Lisa welcomed Kate, their first (and it turned out their only) child into the world. When their daughter Kate started first grade, news of the AIDS epidemic started to alarm the world. Mark and Lisa lived in fear that the consequences of all their unprotected past sexual activities with literally hundreds of partners might mean that one or both of them would have AIDS – or even worse, that Kate might have been born with as yet undiagnosed HIV/AIDS. As it turned out none of them ever tested positive for AIDS, but the fear of that dread consequence caused Mark and Lisa to redouble their efforts to protect Kate from the wild and permissive lifestyle they had lived. They intensified their commitment to their rules-happy, domineering church and all of its rigorous laws and stipulations. Lisa and Mark swallowed the concepts of Law Love hook, line and sinker – and insisted on rules and regulations for their daughter Kate because “it was for her own good.”

Lisa and Mark quickly signed over their freedoms and their critical thinking to this church in return for legalistic assurances that those who love God earn his love by obeying “his” laws (or at least “his” laws as explained, interpreted and taught by the church to which they sold their souls).

In accordance with church teachings, they home-schooled Kate to keep her away from the schools of “this world.” They didn’t allow Kate to listen to rock music or watch television or go to movies. Kate wasn’t allowed to wear dresses and skirts that didn’t extend down to her shoes. Kate wasn’t allowed to use cosmetics, because the church that Lisa and Mark were members of taught that makeup was worn only by whores.

All during Kate’s teenage years, Lisa and Mark told their overprotected daughter that a devout, law-abiding man would be her best husband. Their church believed that young women should get married as soon as possible after turning 18, so they wouldn’t be tempted to commit fornication. About the time of Kate’s 18th birthday their church welcomed a 50 year-old new pastor whose wife had died the year before. Because they firmly believed that God’s love was one and the same as Law Love, Lisa and Mark came to believe their new pastor (who was about their age) would be just the right man for Kate. Lisa and Mark “arranged” a marriage for their daughter with this no-nonsense man who was an absolute perfectionist.

Kate quickly found out that life as the wife of a stern-tyrant pastor was about the same as being a controlled daughter in her parents’ home. Every morning before he left for his church work, her pastor-husband made a list of all the things he wanted Kate to accomplish that day.

Then every night, when he got home, he would go through the list with Kate and 1) criticize and condemn her for all of the things she had failed to do on his list, and 2) for those items she thought she had accomplished, her pastor-husband explained how she could fulfill them much better next time. Her pastor husband believed in Law Love: he demanded that his wife’s love be demonstrated by her obedience to him and that his love would be a response to the love she had earned.

As time passed, her pastor-husband became insanely jealous of any man who might dare to make eye contact with Kate. He really believed controlling Kate and demanding perfection in everything she did was an example of God’s love. Kate sat and listened to her husband yell and scream at his congregation – because of her overbearing parents and her harsh, unyielding husband she thought she was literally headed for eternal torture in hell. She had no idea about what God’s love was – if indeed God was even interested in love.

After Kate had endured ten years of never being able to measure up to the harsh standards imposed by her husband, ten years of condemnation, shame and guilt at the hands of Law Love, her overbearing much older husband died of a massive heart attack. Though she was actually now free from the repression of the rules, regimens, routines and rituals of her deceased authoritarian husband, Kate discovered the only kind of love she knew was Law Love – love as defined and limited by law. Even though her husband was long since dead and buried, Kate still felt guilty when she failed to live up to the high standards he had imposed on her as a condition of his Law Love. As a daughter and a wife, she had only experienced love as something she could earn and deserve. Kate had no idea that there was any other kind of love.

Two years after her husband died, Kate met a man and after a few months of dating she remarried. Her second husband was the polar opposite of her first. This man treated her like a queen. He didn’t preach to her or at her. He didn’t try to control her or remake her into his image. When they discussed God, he told her that he was a Christian, but he lived by grace, rather than law.

Several years after her wedding, experiencing a heavenly kind of love in her married life, Kate was sifting through some of her old boxes of papers stored in the attic. She came across one of those daily lists her first husband had given her, and she started crying. She was still crying when her husband came home from work, but she stopped sobbing long enough to assure him that her tears were tears of joy. Then, for the first time, she told him what her life was really like during her first marriage, including all those daily to-do lists her first husband had given her every morning before he went to work.

Tears still running down her cheeks, Kate said to her new husband, who lived by Grace Love,

I could never fulfill any of those lists perfectly – and God knows I tried. But the most amazing thing happened this afternoon when I found one of those actual lists he made for me. I read the list and realized that because of your love and grace I am now doing all the things he demanded – then I had to, now I want to. I could never please him and the laws he called God’s law, but now because you don’t make love a condition or try to control me or blackmail me in some way, I am actually being the kind of wife to you that he demanded I be to him. My former husband was so jealous of me – he demanded to know where I was every second of the day. That wasn’t love – that was control – that was the oppression of law! I would never dream of looking at another man, not because you demand I not do so, but because I have found true, eternal love, by the grace I see in you – and why would I want something else? I could never measure up to being the kind of wife my first husband demanded I be by obeying laws, but now, I am that kind of wife and more, because by God’s grace you love me first, and then I respond!

• “Now I know why you have always treated me like a queen. You are passing on the gracious love of God to me, because God gave you that love.”

• “Now I understand what you mean when you say we don’t deserve God’s love, but he loves us anyway.”

• “Now I am beginning to see that Law Love commands that we love perfectly. Grace Love announces that we are perfectly loved. My first husband commanded me to love him perfectly and prove it every day. You tell me every day, by your words and actions, that I am perfectly loved.”

• “Because of your love for me, I love you, and not only am I beginning to see what God’s gracious love is all about, I think I am beginning to fall in love with God!”

Because of his amazing grace, head over heels in Grace Love,

Greg Albrecht

Letters to My Friends

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