THE LOVE TRIANGLE
By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the great tragic plays of all time is Shakespeare's Othello. Othello was a general in the Venetian army. He secretly married Desdemona the daughter of a Venetian senator. Desdemona was the most lovely of all Shakespeare's characters. She was a beautiful and ideal wife. Othello was less than the ideal husband, however, for he killed her. There was no reason for this senseless act of violence, but he was convinced there was a just cause. This is how it happened.
Othello had promoted Cassio to higher rank, but bypassed Iago, and Iago was deeply offended. So much so that he plotted revenge. His method was to hint and imply to Othello that his wife Desdemona was involved with Cassio. He arranged that a handkerchief that Othello had given to his wife be found in the possession of Cassio. By crafty words and clever circumstantial evidence he succeeded in weaving a pattern of suspicion that put Othello in a jealous rage. In that evil stage of mind he smothered Desdemona in her bed.
In spite of the fact that Iago killed several people, including his own wife, to keep his evil scheme hidden, he was found out and sentenced to torture. But Othello, thunderstruck by his senseless jealousy, kills himself with his own sword crying, "The pity of it. O the pity of it." Indeed, a tragic story that illustrates the danger of the love triangle. Here was a case where there was no real triangle, but just the false suspicion, and that was enough to bring many to ruin. When David turned the love relationship of Uriah and Bathsheba into a love triangle, it could be said that the end result was a wreck-tangle, for it led to wrecked and tangled lives, and the tragic murder of the innocent, as was the case in Shakespeare's tragedy. The Bible, literature, and history, all agree that the love triangle is a plot that leads to tragedy.
In spite of this great danger of the triangle in the realm of romantic love, Jesus makes it clear that in realm of redemptive love the triangle is not tragic, but tremendous. The love triangle is not only permissible, but it is promoted as the only love that is complete. Any love that does not go upward to God, outward to others, and inward to self is as incomplete as a one or two legged tripod. Augustine said, "Where there is love there is trinity: A lover, a beloved, and a spirit of love."
It makes sense that Jesus would teach the necessity of a triune love. If God is love, and God is triune, then it follows that love must be triune if it is truly a Godlike love. Any love that lacks the triune nature tends to become a perversion. But what about romantic love? We just reviewed the well known fact that the love triangle on that level leads to tragedy. The problem there is a false picture we have in our minds. The triune nature of romantic love is also beautiful and complete. It is God, the husband, and the wife who make up the three of the true trinity on that level. It is when a fourth breaks into the triangle that there is a problem. Four is the number of earth, and three the number of heaven. Three is the number of heavenly balance even on earth. When Adam and Eve and God were the only three on the stage of history, all was beautiful. When the fourth, which was Satan, came on the stage, then came the seed of tragedy.
The point I am making is that love and trinity go together, and anything more or less is not complete love. On every level, if we rightly understand it, the love triangle is beautiful and complete. If you eliminate any of the three points on the triangle of love that Jesus portrays as the fulfillment of the whole law, you will destroy love. If you love God only, and not self or neighbor, you turn religion into a thing of horror. Men have committed every crime known for the glory of God, like Saul before he became the complete and loving Paul. He persecuted, tortured, and killed Christians for the glory of God. He loved God, but proved that without love for man love for God can turn you into a monster. History is filled with tyrants who claimed love for God while they crushed their fellow man. John rightly asks, "How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your brother whom you do see?" John is saying what Jesus is saying, that love that does not have a triangle shape is not true love.
If one loves himself but not God and others he is not to be admired, for his love is pure selfishness. He is the Pharisee who thanks God he is not as other men. He is the center of his universe, and those who are wrapped up in themselves make a mighty small package. The Bible will not honor that sort of thing with the name of love. If you love your neighbor only, you may be a great humanitarian, and a helpful guy to have around, but you are shallow and superficial, and have no ultimate values and goals to give life meaning. You may be the best liked of the three, who have only a one or two pointed love, but you still fall far short of complete Biblical love. The point is, there is no point in a one point or two point love. Love must be triune or it does not exist.
Samuel Shoemaker, the great American preacher, said, "In the triangle of love between ourselves, God and other people, is found the secret of existence, and the best foretaste, I suspect, that we can have on earth of what heaven will probably be like." Now abides faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love." Why is love the greatest, and why is love the first fruit of the spirit? Because love is eternal, if it is complete. This triune love is the key ingredient of heaven. If one fails to develop this three fold love, he has failed to become fit for heaven. Hell is the destiny men chose when they fail to form the love triangle in their lives. It is never God's will that any man lack this triangle. It is God's whole purpose in history to bring men to the point where this three fold love dominates their lives.
Jesus made it clear that the whole Old Testament of God's revelation is summed up in these two great commandments that cover this three fold love. In the New Testament we have in Jesus the final and ultimate demonstration of the love triangle that makes it possible for men to fulfill these commands. Man on his own can never love God, his neighbor, and himself as God demands. His fallen nature will pervert love on every level. The only hope to be what God wants us to be is to surrender to the Lord of love who fulfilled these commands in Himself, and who can fulfill them in you if you let His love invade your life.
To be saved, or to be born again, is simply to let the love of Christ fill you so you can fulfill the purpose of God for your life by entering into the love triangle. All men have a triangle shaped vacuum within, and only as it is filled with love can man fulfill his purpose in God's plan. Jesus is the only person who ever fully embodied this love triangle. He only, loved God supremely with His whole being. He only, could love himself without doubt or defect, because He only, had a perfect and ideal character. He only, loved His neighbor as himself, for He alone gave His life that all men might be reconciled to God. No one but Jesus ever completely kept these commandments. There is no way for any man to become what God wants him to be apart from the love of Christ. To be Christlike is to embody the love triangle. We want to look at each of these three essential points:
I. THE SUPREME LOVE.
The high point in the love triangle is our love for God. It is to be our supreme love. Our total being is to put God first in its value system so that nothing, or no one, is superior. To love God is to love what God loves. Love for God is demonstrated by the goals we strive for, and the purposes we live for. It is being one with God in our judgment of values. This locks us into the triangle of love, for no one can truly love God who does not love his neighbor and himself, for God loves the neighbor and the self, and so not to do so is to reject God's value system.
Love for God leads to love for self and others, and so it is the number one love, for it carries in it all other loves. Without love for God there is no true love, for God is love, and the source of all love. Weakness in any area of your love life can be traced back to your love for God. Here is the mainspring that keeps all the other wheels of love turning. Keep your love for God in good working condition, and you will have no trouble forming the complete triangle of love.
Everything we do in any relationship reflects love to God, or lack of it. David, after his great sin with Bathsheba, said to God in Psa. 51:4, "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned." He saw that his primary problem was not just lust, but his lack of love for God. Had he loved God with his whole being he would have known that his action could only lead to tragedy. All sin is against God because all sin, like the first sin of Eve, begins with a doubt that God's way is best. The only way to avoid sin is to love God supremely. If David had loved God supremely, he would know that God's way would be best for his neighbor and himself.
Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, "In as much as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me." Jesus is saying, all evil actions toward others are really directed toward Him. Every act of our life is saying, either I love God, or I do not love Him supremely. When Paul said we are to do all things to the glory of God, he was saying we are to live our lives so that every deed will be saying to God, "I love you." Everything we do and say has a cosmic significance, for every emotion of the heart, every action of the body, every thought of the mind, registers in the sensitive mind of God as love, or the lack of it.
This is both frightening and enlightening. It makes us fearful, for we know we fall so far short, and we fail to love God as we ought. Yet, it is enlightening and exciting because it makes all of life meaningful. There is no such thing as the insignificant in the Christian life. We can do all for the glory of God. A word, a smile, a trivial act of kindness, everything we do in our routine daily life can be an expression of love to God, and have infinite value. Love for God is what makes all of life meaningful, and that is why it is the supreme love. This exciting truth must be pursued further at another time, but for now we want to look at the other two points in the love triangle. The triangle has one point going up. It is the high point of the triangle, and represents love for God. The other points are on the same level, and they are equal. Jesus put it, "You are to love your neighbor as yourself." Equality is the emphasis. Love for God is the supreme love, and these other two are secondary loves. Let's look at the second point in the love triangle.
II. THE SELF LOVE.
You will notice that self love is not a command but an assumption. We are commanded to love others as ourselves. Love for self is assumed, for God has made it natural and normal that we will love ourselves. Not to love yourself is to be in a state of malfunctioning. The persons who does not love themselves are like knives that won't cut, pliers that won't grip, a flashlight that won't turn on. They are like anything that exists for a purpose, but which cannot fulfill that purpose. Those who do not love themselves lose the sense of meaning to life. Loss of self-love is the primary cause of suicide. Without self-love there will be no motivation to love God or neighbor, for there will be no motivation to gain heaven or escape hell. Self-hatred chooses hell. The lost sinner who lives without love for God is living in a state of self-hatred, and is choosing hell as his destiny.
The appeal of the Gospel to the sinner is not only that he should love God, but that he should love himself. If a man truly loves himself, he will repent of his sin and receive the gift of God which is eternal life in Jesus Christ. No man surrenders to Christ and receives life abundant until he loves himself. He may come to that love by being made to fear the loss of his soul, or he may come to it by seeing the price Jesus paid for his soul on the cross, and be stabbed into awareness of his infinite value, but one way or another salvation begins with self-love. It begins with a recognition of self-worth to God.
We who have entered the kingdom by receiving Christ must be ever growing in self-love in order to fulfill the purpose of God for our lives. If God's first command and primary purpose is that we love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, than we must face up to the high value that God puts on each of our lives. How can I not love myself if God's main concern for me is that I love Him. I must really be somebody and of infinite value to God if He wants me to love Him supremely. Barber wrote, "You know always in your heart that you need God more than everything; but do you know too that God needs you...in the fullness of His eternity needs you?" If God did not need our love, He would not demand it, and if He did not need our love, life would have no meaning or goal. But because God does need and want our love, all of life takes on value and meaning. This second point in the triangle is so linked with the first that they both lead to the same end. The third point of the triangle is-
III. THE SEEKING LOVE.
The love of your neighbor is a seeking love. It is the supreme love and the self-love seeking an outlet into the world. Love of God and self can be quite private, but love is not complete until it reaches out and becomes public. The triangle is not complete until love seeks expression in the public arena. That is why Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. The cross is the symbol of God's seeking love. It is the symbol of the price He was willing to pay to love others as Himself. The third point of the love triangle cannot be complete without a cross. There is always a price to pay to love others as yourself. G. Campbell Morgan said, "Loving your neighbor is not singing hymns about your neighbor, or merely hoping that some day your neighbor will go through the pearly gates into heaven. Loving your neighbor is to pour out your life in sacrificial attempt to heal his wounds, rest his weariness, and lift him to the level on which God would have him dwell."
Just as love for self is the passionate desire to be what God wants you to be, so love for neighbor is to have an equally passionate desire for them to be what God wants them to be. This means that true love for neighbor can include rebuke as well as positive guidance. We can't begin to cover all that is involved in seeking love, so I will focus on just one aspect. One of the main goals we strive for in self-love is happiness. We all want to be cheerful and encouraged. Love of neighbor is seeking to be a cheerleader in the game of life. It is a seeking to give encouragement by word and deed to those around us who also crave the same happiness we do.
The Pharisees had an apparent love for God, and a prideful love for self, but whatever good was in their love was lost because they broke off this third point of the triangle. They made religion a burden to be borne rather than a blessing to bear others up. Their idea of religion was to keep 618 different laws until life was just a daily pain. They forced this system upon the people, and that is why Jesus condemned them, and shattered their legalistic system. Jesus came that men might have life and life abundant. He came to love and give encouragement to men. To love your neighbor is to see that your neighbor receives the encouragement they need to move toward the goal of abundant life.
In the novel, Up The Down Staircase, Sylvia is a teacher of slow learners in a New York school. One of the boys in her class felt he was a worthless nobody. He did not even sign his name to his papers, but just put me on them. Sylvia loved and cared for her students enough so that when she left this boy wrote to her and said, "I, for one, will never forget you as long as I live. You've made me feel I'm real." When your love can do that for a person it is a vital part of the love triangle. Anything you can do that helps others get into the love triangle is loving your neighbor as yourself.
Some need to learn to love themselves before they can love God. Others need to love God to escape a perverted self-love. Still others need to love their neighbor to balance out an inadequate love. Since all men need help at one or more of these three points of the love triangle, loving your neighbor involves anything you can do to encourage them to strengthen that point at which they are weak. It is seeking love because you must care enough about others to seek to know what they need, and where they need the encouragement.
It is not easy to keep all three levels of love in balance, but that is the goal of the Christian life, for no love is complete and adequate until it is triune, and a part of what God has designed as The Love Triangle.