An Obsession with Love
People in our culture today love love. We have lots of song lyrics and movies that extol love and romantic endings. Our children pass out stale, heart-shaped candies on Valentine’s Day. You can justify anything in culture today by saying that’s loving or they love each other.
Love does kind of play the role of God in many ways. It justifies. It sets boundaries for us. People in America—in the West in general—love love. Some of their views of love seem to have the Bible in the background. There are good things in it, and that’s why it’s easy for us as Christians to adopt or imbibe our culture’s view of love.
We need to look at the Bible and what the Bible says love is.
What is love? Coming out of the romantic era of the 19th century and moving through the sexual revolution and identity politics, you get this idea of love as self-discovery, self-expression, self-realization.
Think back to the novels of the 19th century, like Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are different levels of society, but they want to break through those barriers, those aristocratic levels, because they love each other. That justifies, and nothing can stop love. It’s a voyage, it’s a trip of self-discovery, self-realization, and pushing off whatever constrains. "That’s how I know what love is. Love is finding somebody who completes me." Think of movies today: You complete me.
Really, that kind of love is about me. There’s truth in it, but there’s a lot of me in it. So you have that popular-cultural concept of what love is, but then there’s a theological stream that informs how culture broadly—and especially Christians—think of love. This view is of love that is utterly unconditional. God loves us as we are. We’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone. So he must love us, therefore, unconditionally. There aren’t conditions he puts on us in order to love us. That’s true, kind of. He does call us to repent and believe. In fact somebody did meet the conditions. Christ met the conditions. When we’re called to repent and believe, we’re called to live differently.
So there’s truth in that theological view of unconditional love, but you also have to be careful with it, because you can go too far. I like the way David Powlison puts it: "God’s love is contraconditional." It’s contrary to what we deserve. It’s not merited. Nonetheless, it calls us to a life of righteousness and holiness.
So, you have these different things informing how Christians view love and we come into the church expecting the church to meet us where we are without judgment. Just take us as we are. I can be myself here. I can be transparent here. I want people to look like me and have my life experience. They complete me. I look for ministry opportunities that help me discover and realize myself. All of these things make for a loving church.
Again, there’s truth in that. I don’t want to say that’s all wrong. But I want to ask: Where are we learning love from?
Jesus says something: "If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments." He says, "Even as I abide in the Father’s love because I have kept his commandments."
In this culture, we don’t have a category for that. In other words, we need a radical reorientation of what love is. We need to look at the Bible and what the Bible says love is. We’ll find some things that our culture says are true, but we’ll also find a lot of idolatry and things that aren’t true. Let the Scriptures and all the different, complex ways the Bible talks about love inform what our understanding—as believers—of love is.
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No human marriage, no matter how good, can bear the weight of our expectations.