I don’t like to watch mushy dramas. But during my mandatory quarantine period in Beijing this summer, I sat in my hotel for three days doing just that. Little did I know that I would be swept up for hours on end by the melodramatic stunts of a Chinese drama entitled Rich Man Poor Love, whose main plot seemed at points unexpectedly analogous to my own love life with God.
In the drama, a filthy rich yet incredibly handsome real-estate mogul falls in love with and marries a low-income college student. However, this is not a happily-ever-after Cinderella story. The marriage is a contract between the two which stipulates that the girl become the mogul’s wife for one year. In exchange, he gives her the large sum of money she needs to pay for her boyfriend’s life-sustaining burn treatment at the hospital. Only after a year does the girl find out that the mogul had been the one responsible for her former boyfriend’s accident. The mogul decides to tell his wife, who has begun falling in love with him, that if she so desires, he will confess his crime to the authorities and face the consequences, which may include the death penalty. Later, in jail, the convict tells his visiting ex-wife that this was the first time he held back nothing and handed his life so entirely into the hands of another.
This is where the analogy starts. For the billionaire to be humbled in this way for the sake of a poor girl he loves seems to me to echo our own redemption story as the brides of the King of Kings. Our gazillionaire gave up all the Treasures of Heaven and humbled himself to be born into a trough of hay so that he could be with the ones he loves. However, the analogy isn’t perfect. The mogul was actually at fault, whereas our Heavenly Prince had no sin in him. So then, compared to a flawed man’s imperfect love, how much better is a flawless Man’s perfect love?
To hold nothing back, to hand your life entirely over into the hands of the one you love, to ask for nothing in return, knowing well that the one you love may not return your love, or return it as deeply, that the one you love may even be the one to murder you on a cross—this is how Christ teaches his followers to love. Who knew that an atheist drama in a quasi-Communist nation would agree with Christ on the definition of love as self-sacrifice?
If love is bound up with self-sacrifice, then it is inevitably tied to suffering. As one friend of mine subtly put it: people suffer, complain, and die. Jesus warned us that this was going to happen; he said right before he was arrested and condemned to crucifixion, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” But suffering is salvation because it is the road Jesus has taken. He expected nothing in return; he knew for all his troubles, most wouldn’t love him back anyways. This selfless love is the hardest. I have trouble putting those whose personalities clash with mine above myself. I don’t want to spend my time and energy loving people who don’t have anything to offer me in return. I expect my affection and kindness to be rewarded and reciprocated, but that is not love as Christ teaches.
I think there is something innate that tells us that true love is selfless, is giving up the self’s right even to breath if need be, for the sake of the loved one. At the most basic and un-nuanced root of it, God offers us one thing—complete love that will fill up even the deepest, emptiest cup. Our first response may be to put up the yellow caution tape and clang shut the gates on our innermost hearts. But after a while, we might peek out a little from behind our defenses, enthralled, our curiosity piqued, perhaps…could it be? We live in a world of chaos, mistakes, and flawed human beings. We cannot accept that a God’s love can be perfect, fulfilling, complete, and exactly what we need. We resist assigning universal, all-encompassing Truth to any single belief, understanding, or actor, because we live at a time when plurality is in and mono-philosophy is out. On the other hand, some of us may deeply desire to believe in a God who is true, who is life-changing, and who offers the most fulfilling life imaginable, but we are harassed by the pestering doubt that this idea of love is uninformed, constructed, or misled. We worry that, in the heat of passion and the fear of shame, for the need for inclusion and under the pretense of adequacy, our attempt to love this God is all a mask which we don for a while and later must discard. Finally, we are apprehensive too, about the price tag attached to God’s love, because we’ve never experienced a love that trumps the flawed loves of flawed human beings. But I guess that’s the beauty of the conclusion that this Christ-God draws—He pays the price, so that it does not cost us anything.