Mad Love

             My son went to see a movie called “Crazy, Stupid Love” recently. The title intrigued me, because I have been long fascinated by what the French callamour fou–“mad love”, a love so consuming that it drives people to do irrational things.

            One of my very favorite films is, in fact, titled “Mad Love”–a 1935 Peter Lorre vehicle in which he plays a surgeon who becomes unhinged by his passion for a beautiful actress. (Film critic Pauline Kael in a famous essay said that this Peter Lorre film helped inspire “Citizen Kane”). And the concept of “mad love” is behind a whole raft of films noir from the 1940s–“Scarlet Street”, “Double Indemnity”, “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, and many others. In such films, men are pushed by love into destructive behavior.

            Another, much more cheerful depiction of “mad love” is in “Bambi”, when springtime comes and all the forest animals find themselves “twitterpated”–filled with a love that causes them to behave in a goofy fashion. (Coming after the death of Bambi’s mother, the “twitterpated” scene is wonderfully refreshing!) As light-hearted as the “Bambi” scene is, the point is very much the same as in the films noir–love sometimes sends people out of their heads!

            I have known a little “mad love” myself. When I was dating Bonnie, and trying to sustain a long-distance relationship, I would drive from Illinois to Pittsburgh every month. I would save up my days off and, at the end of the month, would make the 11-hour drive one day; would spend the next day with her; and then would do the eleven hour return on the third day. Many found my three-day Pittsburgh trips a little eccentric–but 25 years of marriage shows that they worked!

            I was thinking of this concept of “mad love” as I was meditating on the love of God. Because God’s love causes Him to do some wildly extravagant things.God’s love causes Him to become human in Christ! Out of His deep love for us, God leaps across the greatest distance of all–the gulf between the Creator and His creation.

            But the extravagance of God’s love doesn’t end there. He embraces even death for our sake. The eternal, immortal God goes to the cross for us. This, too, is incredible beyond imagining. God’s love for us is so great that, to save us, He is willing to endure pain and death. Some people express extravagant love by having a message put on the screen at a baseball park; others hire skywriters to emblazon their love in the clouds. But God’s extravagant love is written in the wounds of Jesus Christ.

            The “mad love” we see in the movies often has destructive consequences. But God’s extravagant love, on the contrary, has a wondrously positive effect–it leads to our salvation and our blessing!

            And when we come to know this God of extravagant love, then we end up with some “mad love” in our lives, too. “Love your enemies,” Jesus tells us. (Matthew 5:44). “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He commands. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” (Romans 12:20 ). This does not seem like a rational kind of love! An enemy is someone you hate! And as far as neighbors go...well, some people are lovable, and others aren’t. But God’s Spirit compels us to love in a way that seems “mad”. And that’s exactly how God loves. He loved us when we were His enemies: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). He calls on us to imitate his love, love that actually does look a little “mad” in the world’s eyes.

            A little-known incident in Jesus’ ministry happened shortly after he began preaching: “When his family heard [about his preaching], they went out to seize Him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:21). Paul faced a similar accusation from a Roman official: “Paul, you are mad! Your great learning has driven you mad!” (Acts 26:24). And a prominent agnostic author in a recent book says over and over again that Christians are “certifiably insane”. (A foul-mouthed atheist magician published a book just a few weeks ago that sees Christians, not as insane, but as mentally challenged–in fact, he coins the ugly and insensitive word “Christards” to describe us. What makes these atheist writers such nasty people?) Actually, believers have been “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2), so that our actions may indeed look irrational to a worldly mindset. It’s irrational to allow yourself to be thrown to wild beasts in an arena, like the early Christians did. It’s irrational to go back as a missionary to a country that kidnaped and enslaved you, like St. Patrick did. It’s irrational to expose yourself to leprosy to minister to people suffering from that disease, like Damien of Molokai did. It’s irrational to risk death by standing up for God’s truth, like Blessed Martin Luther did. It’s irrational to get up Sunday morning, leave your coffee and newspaper behind, and go someplace to sing songs and hear a balding guy from Texas talk, like the people of St. Paul’s in Amityville do. It’s irrational to take a goodly chunk of your hard-earned pay and give it to a God you can’t see, and often to help people you’ll never meet. But when you are driven by a “mad love” for God, all these “irrational” things make perfect sense! Because you look at the world differently–you look at it God’s way!

God loves you madly...and so do I!

Vol. 82 - No. 9
September 2011