My Theory on the Case—Re: Attachment

Matthew 22:34–40 (NIV)

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

CONSIDER THIS

I have a dear friend, Tom Kirkendal (aka Big T), who is all at once one of the finest lawyers and first rate people I know. And speaking as a lawyer myself, we all know it can be challenging to find these two people in the same person (in any vocation if we are honest). For twenty-five years now, if I am preparing to preach or teach somewhere he will always ask me, “J. D., what’s your theory on the case?” He is asking me my one or two sentence summary of the whole message.

That’s what I want to give you today—my theory on the case of why the heart of the matter in life and faith comes down to this issue of attachment.  I will enumerate my thoughts for clarity. I do not offer this as authoritative, but as my best understanding and wisdom at this time. I believe it could be among some of the most important things I will ever say.

  1. Agape, or divine love, is both the means and the end of the purpose and power of life. We were made by God for three things that over time become one thing: the love of God, the love of others, and the love of ourselves. 
  2. This kind of love requires an ever-growing and deepening capacity for bonded attachment. 
  3. This attachment happens with God, with others, and with ourselves in the place the Scriptures call the “inmost being.”1
  4. Our inmost being is the place of our deepest and most complex brokenness. All human brokenness (physical, mental, spiritual, and otherwise) comes directly, indirectly, genetically, and intergenerationally from this place of our most catastrophic fallenness (the inmost being). It is this inward brokenness that generates our false selves which are built on our skewed notions of the character and nature of God, which leads to deceptive and distorted images of ourselves, which leads to self-oriented and dysfunctional relationships with others, which further compounds the brokenness within this deep seated place of our core identity. 
  5. We, as the image bearers of God (male and female), are made for deep bonded attachment with God, with ourselves, and others. This is the deepest essence of our humanity. These attachments are formed through our inmost being in our earliest life; beginning even before birth. Our attachments either evolve or devolve into secure loving bonds or fearful insecure connections from our earliest days and throughout our lives. As a consequence we are formed from a place of abundance and peace or a place of scarcity and want. Our parents and family of origin play an outsized role in the determination of the way we approach relationships and consequently the way we attach to others at the level of our inmost being.
  6. We tend to see and image of God, ourselves, and others in our inmost being in the way we experienced our earliest attachments with our parents and other early relationships. While this is not determinative, it is highly predictive.
  7. No matter how great one’s parents may have been, all of us are born into a condition of insecurity and fear owing to the genetically relational lineage of sin and death. Our earliest relationships will either be places of abundance, healing, and love or scarcity, fear, and further wounding and always some combination of both. None of us had perfect parents. None of us are perfect parents. This is not an opportunity to blame everything on one’s parents but rather, to own realities of life. Even in the face of catastrophic failure, give the benefit of the doubt: They did their best with what they had. (Same with us and our children)
  8. Only a bonded attachment with the living God creates the context of abundant grace and generous mercy that richly forms and nurtures all other relationships in life. As a consequence, the most important relational attachment a parent can have is not first with their children but with God and then with themselves and then with their spouse. 
  9. It is through our broken attachments with other people that our inmost being becomes damaged, distrustful, and even diseased. It is through the love (agape) of God shared through bonded attachments with other people that our inmost being becomes healed, whole, and restored. Broken people break people. Healed people heal people. This is the miracle of the salvation offered by God our Father through Jesus Christ, his Son, through the regenerating presence of the Holy Spirit. We are, in truth and essence, born again—by water and the Spirit—children, indeed sons and daughters of God.
  10. This gift of salvation and grace of mercy is expressed and extended through the community of beloved sinners becoming blessed saints known as the church (which local churches approximate to a lesser or greater degree). This is why the church, before it is anything else, is a community of salvation and healing; ministering the very grace and mercy of God. 
  11. This is why bonded attachment, forged through forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing are at the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why broken, detached, and unreconciled relationships within the body of Christ are the greatest denial of his kingdom and the greatest barriers to the faith of those who do not yet believe. This is why the cross stands at the very center of all that was and is and ever more shall be. As it has been said, the one who was whole made himself broken so that we who are broken could be made whole. The one who was full made himself empty so that we who are empty could be made full. 
  12. Therefore, I implore you to be reconciled to God, to yourself, and to one another. Enter into this grand work of deep wholeness at the place of your inmost self. Grace, mercy, and healing is abundantly available. And remember, you came to be broken in and through relationships with broken people (just like us). You will only be healed through relationships with broken people being healed (just like us) who have chosen to do the work together. 
  13. Now, then . . . your turn . . . 

Sorry Big T. rather than my theory on the case, I think I just gave the closing argument. 

Wake up, sleeper! This is the stuff of salvation. Far from a transaction gaining one admission into heaven, this is the gateway into the transformational kingdom of Jesus Christ. 

THE PRAYER

Father God, thank you for loving us so completely and comprehensively. Thank you Jesus for the way you took all that was so wrong upon yourself and made it right. Thank you Holy Spirit for the way you heal our inmost being by restoring our attachment to God, ourselves, and each other. Empower us to be bold in walking out this way of grace and mercy; of forgiveness and reconciliation; of salvation and transformation; from one degree of glory to the next. Thank you for the way you bear this fruit of the Spirit, this fruit of love in us and then through us. Praying in Jesus’s name, amen. 

THE QUESTION

Now, then . . . how does this impact you? What implications do you see? What intentions is the Spirit sowing into your inmost being now? 

For the Awakening,

J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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NOTES FOR FURTHER REFLECTION

  1. Rather than trying to separate and parse out the distinctive elements of heart, mind, soul, spirit, and further toward emotions, will, desires, affections, dispositions (which can be both helpful and over complex), I find it more productive to begin with the whole of the inmost being as containing all of these various elements and dynamics. It is kind of like trying to diagnose and fix the engine and the radiator and the air conditioner and the carburetor and the transmission of a car. What I need to do is give the whole of the car over to the master mechanic and let him/her sort it all out as they see best in order to repair it. I want to surrender my whole inmost being to God, who alone, through all the means of grace, can sort it out and restore it to his image. 

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

12 Responses

  1. JD, this has to be one the most helpful to me personally, posts that I’ve ever read. There’s a lot here to process so I’ve book- marked it and will study it in depth. It answers a lot of internal struggles that I’m dealing with. Thank you for this and may God bless others through this as well.

  2. Loving yourself is like giving yourself money. You can’t be both the subject and and the object of love. Being self-attached and denying yourself are opposites. We are compelled to choose one or the other. The Cross is all about self-denial, not about self-love. Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ.” John the Baptist said, “I must decrease and He must increase.”

    1. so Steve, if we are to love our neighbor as we love ourself— and we do not love ourself— how are we to love our neighbor? There is a form of self-love that is narcissistic and self aggrandizing– but this is not the true self. this is the false self. to love one’s true self is to love oneself as God loves us. To not love oneself as God loves us is not to deny self but to deny God.

      1. J.D. The commandment isn’t saying to love self. It’s assuming that we already do. Interpreting that verse with Philippians is important: “Consider others better than yourself.” Also, Jesus explicitly calls for His followers to deny themselves.

          1. I would see the scripture that says to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” as pushing us to be real before God. To tell God the truth about ourselves (confession), but then to also allow ourselves to listen to God and truly understand how He sees “me” and loves who I am, as His creation. When we fully grasp our value “aka love ourselves” in this way, we are then able to love others. A person who believes that they have to deny themselves to the point of self-flagellation cannot reasonably be expected to love others wholly like Jesus because they have a distorted lens of self-worth. This disregard of self is a tool of the enemy that cripples many from being able to live a wholistic Christian life.

      2. This is so true for me. It is my experience.

        Yesterday I shared (not nearly as raw as I am sharing now) a post on the WUC page about this distinction and got some interesting pushback. Which is not a bad thing, though it did hurt a bit. I ended up deleting the post because there was a long thread of comments that really didn’t make sense to me and veered way off from what I had posted.

        Looking back over my life, as God has recently been showing me, I was broken from an early age. For a variety of reasons, some of it pretty rough, I did not love myself. And it affected my life in so many ways. I knew something was wrong, but not what. Even after becoming a Christian, I still had no clue. And every negative feeling begat more negativity.

        I even had chosen Matt 22:37-40 as a “life” verse. But my struggles continued. I felt like I was getting everything wrong. Until one night during a spiritual retreat a dear clergy colleague and I had a life changing conversation. He told me, “Valerie, you’ve got to see yourself and love yourself as God sees and loves you.” Then he shared those verses. He emphasized I simply could not truly love others until I loved myself. He explained the word “as” was used to show an example. I was to love others “as” I loved myself. The implication being I needed to love myself first. Not in a conceited narcissistic way, but in the way God loves me. (perfect love).

        So over the years I have been working on this in my life. Even as recently as the past couple of months and weeks, as I’ve grown closer to God (many thanks to the recent WUC series), God is showing me more about the brokenness of my past. Those chunks that have been laying dormant in my life. Do I fully love myself? No, but I am working forward in that direction. And I see results. It’s much easier now to truly love those who are seemingly unlovable. There is a true change in my spirt, in my inner soul, in my relationship with God, and with others. And it’s because I am learning to love myself.

        The comments yesterday came off a bit brusk and it really affected me. And the rest of the day. But later last night, God affirmed to me that I could not effectively love someone else, until I love myself first. With His perfect love.

    2. It is true self-love to die to the old self to be raised with Christ. It is true self-love to promote Christ in true humility that God might lift you up at the last day. It is true self love to give rather than receive. “He who loves his wife loves himself…” No one ever loved himself as well as Jesus. There is a natural self-love that we are all created with – the ability to care for ourselves. There is a sinful self-love – the act of putting our interests above those of others. There is a holy self-love – the life of living for Christ through loving others selflessly. Be careful not to err on the side of asceticism (Colossians 2:18). This is false love of self.

    3. I agree, Steve.
      ‘Love you neighbour as yourself’ is first seen in Leviticus 19:18, and is preceded by a list of typical ways in which God’s people were to treat others, ‘leave gleanings for the poor, do not lie, do not rob, do not defraud, decieve, pervert justice, slander etc. The phrase in question is a summing up of everything else.
      Jesus himself quotes this saying, the whole law hangs on (loving God) then neighbour. How should we love neighbours? In the ways already stated in Leviticus.
      It is the same as treating others as we would like to be treated. If we know how we would like to be treated, we already love ourselves enough to realise how we should love others.
      If we wait until we think we love ourselves enough, we are in danger of never getting around to loving others.
      Now if JD is talking more about loving the created self, made in God’s image, and whom he loves, then yes, I see that this would have to be embraced first before we can understand what love truely is.
      We know God loves us, we love that which God loves. This includes ourselves.
      Embracing this, I think, has much to do with recognising we are loved, forgiven and no longer under shame or condemnation. I can see how realising or not realising this could affect how we feel about and treat others. So in one way we must learn to love self, or at least apprehend and accept God’s love for us before even being able to love our neighbour.

  3. Thank you J.D. for this reflection. So many deep truths that we as a broken people need to embrace in order to be made whole and to help others find healing.

    Note: You mentioned that “the hymns are being lost” in the church today. As a worship pastor I would have to lovingly disagree. I love the hymns, but much of the language has become foreign unintelligible to younger generations. Because of this, if picked apart, some of the theology in some of the hymns also isn’t clear or good. (note: NOT all hymns, but some.) This can also be said of modern worship songs.

    So there are now new hymns being written. Beautiful anthems of praise to God from prolific writers such as Phil Wickham, Natalie Grant, Chris Tomlin, Brenton Brown, Mac Powell, Zach Williams, Israel Houghton and Matt Maher. They have strong theology as well as deeply touching imagery that is speaking deep to the hearts of a new generation of “not-yet-believers” as well as young Christians. Songs that are helping them see God’s prevenient grace and helping them to become full believers in Christ by loving God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving their neighbor as themselves.

    I love the Wakeup Call. Keep up the great work. It feeds me each day!

    1. thanks Pastor– I too have written some of these modern hymns and with some of those you mention here and laud them along with you. I am reacting to the situation in most contemporary worship settings where songs are sung from a ten to twenty year range of church history. In time, this will stunt the growth of the church and diminish the imagination of the worshipper. In a conversation I had with N.T. Wright once, he remarked that in his opinion a church should sing no more than one song per century in a given worship service. I’m not sure I agree and yet I appreciate what he is trying to say. We are part of a vast communion of saints. we stand on their shoulders. in fact, they are a cloud of witnesses gathered around us as we sing. also appreciate your encouraging words today.

      1. Thank you J.D.

        I actually came across a song that you co-wrote with Chris Tomlin, Uncreated One. It’s a beautiful piece with great imagery and theology.

        It seems that hymns have become more a style versus a necessary component in our western worship mindset. To continue on your latest reply, if we were to sing, as N.T. Wright refers “one song per century” how do you feel Gregorian chant an other ancient Christian songs would fit into our liturgy of worship?

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