As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
In the world we live in, love is always presented exclusively in relation to romanticism.
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.
Colossians 3:19 (ESV)
There is a gap in our ordinary way of thinking as Christians, because we live out our faith in a world where romantic love, falling head over hills in love and physical attraction are paramount.
We complain about the hypersexualization of society, and with good reason. But we don’t realize that in novels, films, TV series and shows, teen magazines and everywhere else we could think of around us, everything is designed to teach us a completely wrong idea of what love is. An idea which is not biblical, really, but is disguised as goodness, God’s light, when it really isn’t about that.
As Christians, we should be countercultural; we are very clear about the moral limits on our display of affection for others -basically, sex is meant for marriage- but, beyond that, we experience the other dimensions of love within the parameters imposed on us by society which, even if it has a Christian foundation, has built upon said foundation with notions that aren’t Christian.
This takes its toll on us.
Let’s review an example to see this more clearly: let’s think about the classic passage read in weddings, 1 Corinthians 13. “Love never ends”, we tell the bride and the groom. Some even engrave those words on their wedding rings. Nevertheless, and forgive me for being a party pooper, that passage is not referring in any way to the romantic love between a man and a woman getting married. It’s embedded in a passage that talks about how the relationship between church members should be. Of course, the Bible says there must be love in a marriage, and proof of that is found in the verse from Colossians. However, our spiritual shortsightedness prevents us from seeing that biblical love is rich, overflowing and generous, having many more goals than romanticism does.
In this respect, it’s not hard to see the perversion in our cultural context. In this world we live in, love is always presented exclusively in relation to romanticism. Other kinds of love can be something else, but they can’t be called “love”, it would sound unnatural. And, in the end, all kinds of love lead to sex, in one way or another.
The concept of love we must live with is a sort of impersonal force that overwhelms everything, you can catch it like you catch the flu, which nobody can control, and before whom one has to surrender without putting up a fight, because everybody knows that “trying to fight love” (or any other cliché) is a lost cause. Even so, the Bible talks about something much bigger and unheard-of.
Almost every time love appears in the Bible, it tends to be in the imperative mood (“love one another”, “love your neighbor”, etc.) which clearly shows that love is a decision, not an impersonal virus.
One decides to put it in practice because he or she wills it, compos mentis, whatever the circumstances. It comes from God and we cultivate it in our relationships.
Some people are scandalized by heretical theories that say Jesus had a wife, or even the sheer madness that he had some kind of homosexual affair with his disciples. However, it’s obvious that these ideas come from believing that there is no kind of love other than that shown in films.
In the first century, those Paul was writing to -in Colossae, Ephesus or Corinth- would never have thought that there must be love in a marriage. In those times, marriage was a social institution in which the decision of who could be a good husband or wife was not based on any type of mutual attraction, much less in something as prosaic as “love”, in abstract terms. Nobody would have married, in those societies, on the premise that “Love bears all things”, or “It’s OK as long as they love each other”.
Marriages were convenient, offered safety, responsibility in front of society and, if you were lucky, mutual esteem. Maybe a time came when husband and wife, after living together, would like and enjoy each other. But, seen in perspective, it wasn’t even close to the situation we have nowadays.
I wonder if you have noticed, in films or TV series, that when someone starts a relationship, they start it by having sex. In fact, the whole idea is that you have to relate to others through sex. It’s something personal that’s nobody else’s business, let alone society as a whole. There are thousands of movies showing two people going to bed together and, all of a sudden, realize they have fallen in love. The climax of the relationship is when one of them says to the other: “I love you”, even if it’s a hard moment of dramatic tension. This “I love you” is something than you can only say to somebody absolutely special, so special that has stirred your emotions, and you can only think of him or her; someone who makes you lose your breath when they smile at you. The sales pitch goes like this: “this system is perfect, this is the way to get to marriage, this is happiness”.
However, the Bible teaches us and Jesus tells us a completely different story. We should go telling “I love you” to everybody we like, all the time, freely. We should say that to the brothers and sisters at our church, in all honesty. And, we would only have sex with one special person, only with the one we’ve chosen, not using criteria that could be confused with an obsessive disorder or paranoia -which are not the same thing as passion, really- but making a rational decision to share a common project for their lives and to keep growing together in a special way that can only be found in such a personal relationship, marriage.
I’ve only scratched the surface. We should deal directly with God about the way love has been perverted, and how this affects the way we relate to each other -at church and outside of church; we should all ask him to teach us, as explained in James 1:5.
We need him to teach us about these lies, to pull them to pieces, to convince us of his powerful and supernatural love, which doesn’t even come close to what romantic movies try to sell us along with the popcorn.