William Tang, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
In today’s society, many people see love through a rather one-sided lens. It’s the lifeblood of fairy tales, the driving factor behind the most endearing of songs, and the intangible force that ties together even the most unlikely of marriages. And while I certainly agree with each of these associations, there’s another facet of love that is often overlooked: its power to cripple and restrict. When we think about crippling restrictions, the immediate associations that leap to mind are rules and regulations, red tape, steel chains, and a variety of other mechanisms meant to hold one against one’s will. But what’s unique about love is that its constraints are voluntarily self-imposed. The one in love need not be physically or legally restrained; rather, the person will willingly limit himself or herself for the sake of love. And it’s this confounding, almost masochistic aspect of love that perhaps best exemplifies its beauty and value.
If we take a trip down memory lane, we probably needn’t look too far before we come across our first crush—our first romantic interest. And while I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to claim that this was genuine love, the experience itself is almost as unforgettable as it is stereotypical. For a male, when we first gaze at that girl and realize that something has changed—that a core part of our perception has permanently been altered—our priorities are suddenly flipped on their heads. Our pride, our money, our time, our energy—all of it is at the mercy of this mysterious, beautiful creature whom we hope will somehow reciprocate our feelings. We are crippled. We dote on her every word and can’t help but watch her out of the corners of our eyes, hoping for a wayward glance or passing smile. Biologically, we might have been taller, stronger, or more physically dominant in every sense of the word, yet how was it that a simple glance from her melted our hearts? And looking one or two decades later, how is it that one person could bring us to our knees with ring in hand, willing to bind ourselves to her for the rest of our lives? And conversely, what possible insanity could bring any right-minded girl to agree?
Or moving away from the arena of romantic love, we see one of the most prominent examples of this restriction in parenthood. From a purely rational, cost-benefit analysis, a married couple has no real reason to produce children. They’re a liability and limitation at best. Statistics show that raising a child from birth until 18 years of age costs, on average, $250,000 in the United States.1 And for much of the developed world, we’re long past the days when children were parents’ “insurance policies” for the future. So then why? What causes parents to so willingly take on years of stress, time, and energy for these helpless bundles of poop and constant wailing? If the average married couple can live happily without this added financial and emotional burden, then why accept this living, breathing restriction into one’s life?
This love—this seemingly benign, “feel-good” force—is actually far fiercer and more powerful than most would give it credit for. Love’s most touching qualities aren’t necessarily based in chocolates and roses. But rather, they’re found in one’s willingness to be restricted and limited for the other. It’s the reason why Disney’s Hercules renounced his godhood to join his human lover, Megara. It’s why Jane left society and enclosed herself in the jungle to be with Tarzan. And when we look to the Bible, we see a similar story etched on its pages.
In Genesis 12, we see the story of Abram and his beautiful wife, Sarai, as they travel through the hostile lands of Egypt. And out of fear for his own life, he makes a request of Sarai—that she might pretend to be his sister:
11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance,
12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.
13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”
14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.
15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.
Most readers of this passage are quick to pounce upon Abram’s cowardice—his willingness to give his wife into the clutches of another man. But what perhaps stands out as even greater than Abram’s cowardice is Sarai’s love. Having heard Abram’s request, we can’t possibly imagine that she was happy with her husband’s wish: her beauty and body being used purely to save Abram’s own skin. And at this point, she could have left Abram to the dogs. As shown by the passage, her beauty was powerful enough to win the affections of even a king, guaranteeing a life in the lap of luxury; she didn’t need Abram for her survival. But her love and faithfulness told a different story, driving her to limit herself and her rights for her husband.
When we look at these examples in history, we see that love has the capability to limit and restrict in the most astounding of ways. And in many ways, it’s the greatest of these restrictions that strikes us as the most meaningful and significant. We sympathize with the lovestruck boy, tear up at the sacrifice of parents, and reel back in awe at the devotion of Sarai.
But if we approach these inspiring yet ultimately finite sacrifices with such wonder, then how much more should we admire a sacrifice of infinite proportions? If there truly were a being who had eternity and infinity at his beck and call, then how much more veneration would his self-limitation deserve? Can there even be such a thing?
We need only think for a moment before realizing that no mere human could fit this description. All the presidents that ever held office, all the emperors that ever reigned, all the warlords that ever conquered—all were finite beings with vast, but ultimately limited, capabilities. But if we expand our search and open our minds to the possibilities, we come across an oft-overlooked candidate: God.
In Luke 2, we see the God of the Bible brought down to the most humbling of forms: a baby with nothing more than swaddling cloths and a manger to receive him. What was once infinite and untouchable became flesh and blood through Jesus Christ—the mightiest of beings now shedding his own suit of armor:
“One night in the cold, in the dark, among the wrinkled hills of Bethlehem…two worlds came together
at a dramatic point of intersection. God, who knows no before or after, entered time and space. God, who knows
no boundaries took on the shocking confines of a baby’s skin, the ominous restraints of mortality.”
—Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew3
Putting aside all doubts and denominational differences for just a moment, we quickly realize that the nature of God’s sacrifice—His self-limitation—is of a completely different nature than any of our previous examples. With the lovestruck boy or even the loyal Sarai, we simply see the finite becoming more finite. But with God, we see a paradox in reality itself: the infinite made finite, the timeless now bound to a mere 33 years of life. And the reason for this seemingly suicidal transformation? Love for the very people He created. Like a father longing to connect with his children, He knew our sin prevented us from reaching Him and He came to us instead:
1 Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear,
2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.
But had the story ended there, Jesus’ life would have been nothing more than a sentimental parental visit—God’s casual stroll through the human world before returning to his heavenly abode. But instead, God’s inconceivable self-limitation was only met by an even more inconceivable response: betrayal and crucifixion by the very people he loved. In the most brutal of ways, Jesus was humiliated, tortured, nailed to a cross, and left for dead to the delight of his own sinful children.
So how did God respond? With wrath? With justice? With an abandonment of the loving self-restraint that crippled Him in the first place? Not in the slightest. Like a parent who simply could not abandon his children, God could not abandon us. Up until the very moments before His crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane, God lovingly, painstakingly showed self-limitation that is undeserved. The man who could have summoned “twelve legions of angels” to his defense was instead quietly taken away—a lamb brought silently to the slaughter for sins that were not his, for a people that would not love him, and for his own love that would not die.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
When we consider love, we must be privy to every facet: the rosy-colored glasses as well as the crippling restriction that comes with it. And we see examples of this scattered throughout history. It’s driven countless adolescents to fall head over heels, millions of parents to make the most tender of sacrifices for their children, and even royalty itself to bend a knee. And in just one case in history, but only once, it drove the God of the universe Himself to a cross, broken and bloodied, infinite made finite, to redeem us from our sins. All for the sake of love.
1“Parents Projected to Spend $245,340 to Raise a Child Born in 2013, According to USDA Report.” USDA. USDA, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.
2“Genesis 12:11–15.” Holy Bible ESV Bible. N.p.: Crossway, 2016. Print.
3Yancey, Philip. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print.
4“Isaiah 59:1–2.” Holy Bible ESV Bible. N.p.: Crossway, 2016. Print.
5“John 3:16.” Holy Bible ESV Bible. N.p.: Crossway, 2016. Print.
William Tang is a graduating senior at Cal who loves dumplings and pasta, watches the occasional breakdancing video, and somehow found himself studying Business Administration and Computer Science somewhere along the way.