The World's Romance vs. God's Romance
By: G. Shane Morris|Published: February 14, 2011 2:49 PM
We all use the word carelessly on an almost daily basis. But how many of us know what it actually means (or what we mean when we use it)?
I'm not talking about parental love or the love between friends. I'm talking about romantic love. You know, the kind that makes your knees wobble and your mouth go dry. The kind that can make you feel light as a feather or heavy as a lead brick. The kind that our culture obsesses over but never seems to get right.
What is it, this thing we call “love”? More to the point, is the thing we call “love” really love?
Frighteningly, our ideas about love are largely shaped by a culture which can’t seem to figure out its own ideas about love. To straighten things out, we need to ask ourselves three basic questions about the meaning of romantic love, and contrast our answers with God’s answers. If you’ve been reading a lot of novels or watching movies on the Hallmark Channel lately, prepare yourself. This rose has a few thorns.
1) Is romantic love unconditional or conditional?
Everyone claims to love unconditionally. But do we really? What does "unconditional" mean—that we have a high tolerance for disappointment? That we hold out hope a little longer than everyone else? Does it mean that I love someone regardless of how she acts because of who she is, or regardless of who she is because of how she acts? Does it involve performance at all? Is it possible to dissolve this kind of love? Is it just a poetic way of saying, "I like you a lot," or does it mean something more than that?
In weddings, the groom and bride vow unconditional love to one another. "To honor and keep in sickness and in health...'till death do us part." And yet a staggering percentage of marriages end in divorce. Why is this? Do married couples simply change their minds after a while? If so, did they really know what they were doing? Did they really love unconditionally to begin with, or were their promises exercises in self-delusion?
Perhaps we need some help defining “unconditional love.”
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If I became a millionaire overnight, I would immediately suspect every new friend, every romantic interest and every distant family member of loving me solely because of what I had to offer. Some might still see through the money to the man, but I would have no way of distinguishing these from the gold-diggers. In the end, I might give up the money rather than give up love.
Obviously, romantic love is not selfless by itself. Eros, the Greek word for that kind of love, is much simpler. But in Ephesians 5, Paul specifically commands agape (unconditional) love within marriage. There’s no escaping the association. And there’s no escaping the descriptions of agape elsewhere in Scripture:
More than that. God’s idea of love is not only that I should fix my thoughts and actions more sincerely upon the recipient of my love, but that I should literally love her as myself, erasing all distinctions between “her” and “me” and regarding her as a joint stock-holder in the overflow of my heart. This means that I can no sooner cease to love her than cease to love myself. Such a mindset produces love so durable that it cannot fathom using words like if and when. Truly selfless love makes it impossible for conditional “love” to gain a foothold and begin laying those little qualifications that degrade promises. Selfless love is forever.
“We weren’t made for each other.” “It wasn’t meant to be.” “It wasn’t our destiny.” “We’re not soul mates.”
The notion that God ever makes one human being solely for another—and will honor none but that predestined relationship—is nowhere in Scripture, unless you count the gospel of Walt Disney.
But this gospel is pure poison to godly relationships. Not only does it keep countless lonely young people waiting in vain for the Prince Charming or Cinderella who will never show up, but it provides a ready escape from virtually any relationship.
Coupled with new research which purports to explain the laws of human attraction, this fantasy has the power to absolve just about anyone of any real commitment.
We’re so sold on this idea of irresistible love, that we’ve even come up with a term for it: “chemistry.” This primal, natural attraction, we tell ourselves, cannot and should not be resisted. Instead of seeing biological desires as raw materials for lasting love, we often base our relationship decisions solely upon them.
The “soul mate” gospel sees human love as predetermined and irresistible. But the truth is far more romantic. In Ephesians 1, Paul conveys the voluntary relationship of Christ toward His church, and describes the love with which the Savior chose his bride:
G. Shane Morris is Web Manager and in-house designer at BreakPoint/Colson Center, as well a writer for The Point radio and various online features. As a senior studying humanities at Thomas Edison State College, a former Capitol Hill intern and a 2009 graduate of Focus on the Family Leadership Institute, Shane specializes in politics and worldview, but has a deep appreciation for theology, sociology and the natural sciences. You can email Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org.