Ah, love, let us be trueExcerpt from Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Matthew Arnold wrote this popular poem more than 150 years ago during a time of political and religious upheaval, yet maybe it is more timely now than ever. Or, if you will, there is always wars and rumors of wars in every generation. Arnold jumped on the bandwagon of criticizing institutional religious systems. Like many European intellectuals, he saw Christianity as a primitive religion that needed to shed its absolutist claims. Perhaps, in light of people’s current religious fervor for music and the pop arts, he rightly predicted that the future wasn’t religion: but poetry.
In Dover Beach, he directs the listener’s allegiance not to any truth claims but to one another. Certainly we could learn something from this today. Ignorant armies are indeed clashing at night. Aldous Huxley’s prediction came true: that information would one day flood our brains, muting our ability to hear the truth. Deconstructionism has brilliantly broken down any story or thesis into a million subconscious influences, so much that we don’t trust anything.
All we have is the person next to us, in the flesh, regardless of all their broken components. We can only love a person. Not an idea. Not a truth.
Yet this is really what is always has been. We are who we are because of the people we have met. People just want to be loved, or the equal inverse, hated. We just want someone to come home to. Wars may not have happened if a boy was loved by his father. We just want to be liked by others, appreciated, heard, held, kissed, breathed on. We just want to be not alone.
Nothing has changed despite our technology, scientific achievements, and brilliant essays. We never leave that three-year-old self calling to our mother: Look at me! More than truth, we need relationships. Relationships make truth believable.
Here are your neighbors. Here are your enemies. These are the people desperately needing to be loved and to love others. This makes all the difference.
Yet our tragic flaw cannot let this happen. We hurt those we love, especially those who could truly love us the best. Even the most well-rounded, well-raised young woman pushes her loyal friends away.
For all its claims of truth and absolutes, the Scriptures tell the story of relationship. God chases after Adam and Eve, even after they steal from Him. God doesn’t lay down a number of tenets to Abraham, but establishes a relationship and a promise. He even tents with His silly people, like Ruth, going where they go. Even His law is not arbitrary rules and habits, but it is actions for good relationships between Himself and others.
Finally, or as was set in motion before the fall or creation, God’s Son eternally unites Himself with His creatures in a manger. He becomes a son to Mary and Joseph, a friend to Mary of Magdalene and the woman at the well, a shepherd to the sinners that He personally gathered.
More than that, He made friends with those who had un-friended their community, even the thief on the cross who probably assumed he would die alone and forever disdained by all. In one moment, the thief discovered he was not only not alone. Next to Jesus, he had found someone who loved him, namely God.
So did we all. There is someone who loves us, even when everyone else lets us down. Even when we let ourselves and others down. But we also won’t die alone. There is someone who is true to us, even on this darkling plain, even while the mountains fall into the sea. It is God. It is our Brother. It is our Savior.
We are not saved by ideas or truths. We are rescued by a person, by a hand, by the breath of God. He breathes upon us through another, whispering; You are forgiven. You will rise again. Today you will be with me in paradise.
Truth is not an idea adhered to by God, it is Jesus speaking. Something is true because He speaks it. It is believable because He says it, and nothing more.