The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Programmed to Love

Leading this year’s Booker Prize longlist is Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel.

Klara and the Sun offers a perfect opportunity to talk to friends and neighbours about the source of authentic relationships.

It tells of a future in which parents buy ‘Artificial Friends’ for their isolated children. Our narrator is Klara, a solar-powered android who is purchased as a companion for Josie.

A keen observer, Klara notices that what humans call ‘love’ prompts a range of responses, from kindness to control, affection to anxiety. Her own relationship with Josie is, of course, devoid of genuine love. It is instead pre-programmed, and entirely uneven. Klara is ultimately a product and a possession, wired to be unconditionally loyal and to make whatever sacrifices that might entail.

But this is never reciprocated. So Klara never fully grasps human love, either through understanding or experience. Even when she confronts her own god – the nourishing, life-giving sun – for answers, she is left unsure.

What are we, as readers, supposed to feel for Klara: affection, anxiety, pity, love? Perhaps those of us who believe in a deity might be tempted to associate with her plight. We too understand ourselves as created beings, designed to serve a higher power.

For Christians, this goes one step further. The Bible says that we are called not just dutiful service, but to love. We are to love God foremost, and to love our neighbours (Matthew 22:37-39). We are even to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

This may seem impossible, given our weak and conflicted hearts. What can we know of such expansive, selfless love?

How life-giving that we can not only know about genuine love, but we know it for ourselves by receiving it directly from its true source. For this is love, writes John, ‘not that we loved God, but that he loved us’ (1 John 4:10). Love starts not with our willingness to sacrifice ourselves for God, but with the reality that he sacrificed himself for us.

This is the reverse of the dynamic we see in Klara and the Sun. For in the central relationship of our lives, it is the all-powerful one who chooses to extend love.

So genuine is this love that it allows us to offer love to God in return. It also propels us to reach out to those around us to tell them about it, and to demonstrate it by forming meaningful friendships that are selfless, loyal, and far from artificial.

Rachel Smith
Rachel is a part-time writer and a full-time mum. She attends King’s Church Durham.

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