On Friday night I went with a friend to a concert at a local club. It was a good show—just three guys with their guitars, and a packed room. But one of the singers insisted upon ruining the cheery vibe. He kept talking about how the world was in such a bad place, and about how he didn’t know if or how we were ever going to get ourselves out of the messes that we have made.
He had been reading the news, he said. He wasn’t particularly enamoured with our political moment, he said. He had seen videos of kids suffering in wars and earthquakes, he said, and now that he had young kids of his own all of this struck him in a new way. He was tired of all of our religious intolerance, he said. I tried (and failed) to stifle an exaggerated eye roll. Another young idealistic guy going on about peace and love and why couldn’t we all just be like his little kids who didn’t see difference and weren’t hung up on race and religion? Sigh. But then I had to repent of my cynical eye rolling (I have to do that a lot, it seems). I know that I have felt and uttered similar sentiments.
Anyway, he proceeded to launch into a song whose theme was whether or not love was enough. It was an ok song. Fairly predictable, lyrically and musically, but catchy enough. A few chords, mixed with a big of angst, anger and naïveté. Isn’t love enough? Can’t we all just set aside our differences and get along? Can’t we just learn from the children? I repeated the previous exercise of cynical eye rolling and repenting.
Like many, I have been marinating in U2’s latest album over the last few days. My early impression is that it’s one of their better albums in a while, although as I told my brother the other day, I don’t think they’ve written a truly great song since Achtung Baby. Like much of their recent oeuvre, this album talks a lot about love. Titles like “Love is All We Have Left” and “Love is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way” are the typically grandiose and idealistic fare we’ve all come to expect from the boys from Dublin. Bono really loves love, it seems.
At the concert on Friday and after about ten trips through U2’s latest love-drenched album, I’ve found myself having some perhaps improper thoughts. I think I’m supposed to be hearing all of these love songs and thinking, “Of course, love is enough.” I’m probably supposed to bask in the warm glow of like-minded tolerance, to settle into the big inclusive hug that these songs are imploring us toward. But I’ve lived just long enough and read enough and heard enough “love is all you need” songs over the years to pause. I know how easy it is to sing a song full of platitudes about love and feel like you’ve done something meaningful. Probably only slightly harder (and probably more meaningful) than writing a blog post criticizing the sentiment.
At any rate, what I have found myself thinking over the last few days, in the moments between eye rolling and repentance, is something like, “No, love isn’t enough.” Not any love that we can conjure up, at any rate. Human love is too small and selfish to fix all that is broken. Our loves too easily drift away on the winds of harmless words and ethereal aspirations. Our loves too naturally shrivel into hollow clichés and slogans like “love wins” and status updates and memes and (God help us) tattoos of doves and Bible verses and crosses. No, love as we often understand and articulate and embody it is clearly not enough.
But the love of God? The God who is love? The God who showed up as Love Incarnate? The God who demonstrated that real love is a million miles from soppy platitudes about good will and tolerance and mushy inclusivity, that it is a gritty and costly thing? The God who inspired words like “love keeps no record of wrongs… always protects… always hopes… always perseveres… is patient… and kind…? The God who relentlessly drives us away from self and toward the other?
The love that died for God’s sake? The God who died for love’s sake?
That love is surely enough. It has to be.