The lie that love won’t make us change
Love may forgive all infirmities and still love in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.
C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
There’s a common axiom in our culture that to love someone you must accept them “as they are.” Willing that they change in some way means, we’re told, that we are not really expressing loving. Our love is, in some sense, conditional. Conditional love is no love. And it is true: conditional love is no love.
What we’re talking about here, however, is not conditional love. It is something else. In conditional love, the love we commit to or express changes (it comes or goes) based on the actions of the one we love. When they act as we wish, we bestow love upon them. When they act in opposition to our wishes, we withhold love. This is not true love.
At the same time, the type of love that does not wish for the reformation of the character of the one loved is also not true love. If a constituent element of authentic love is wishing the best for the one loved, then resigning that person to the unhappiness that comes from immoral living cannot rightly be said to be “wishing the best” for them.
There is a third way in this as with most other things. It is possible to love someone with an unwavering, self-giving, wishing-them-the-best, love and yet still wish for them to change or improve in some important element of their life or character.
Until we recapture a sense that this sort of love is possible our culture will continue in the slow decline that accompanies the “its their life” sort of love described above.