On Falling in Love Biblically
I will not lie. I am a big fan of online dating sites. Although I didn’t meet Patti this way, I know of many couples who did meet online and who now have healthy, fulfilling marriages. There’s something to be said for a resource emphasizing compatibility in the areas of life that matters most to us—whether spiritual beliefs, personality type, number of children desired, career goals, or other.
But there’s one thing I don’t like about online dating sites. The very first thing a user sees is a photograph. Whether on a website or at a co-ed party, many will instantly eliminate ninety percent of potentially great partners on the basis of looks and body type alone. We’ve all heard it before, and some of us have even said it: “He isn’t the best looking guy in the world, but at least he has a warm personality,” or, “She isn’t what most people would call ‘hot,’ but at least she’s really nice.”
In spite of what we know Scripture teaches, that “charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting” and though “man looks at outward appearance, God looks at the heart” (Proverbs 31:25-31; 1 Samuel 16:7), in practice we easily exchange substance for cosmetics, internal holiness for external “hotness,” godliness for eye candy, the heart for outward appearance.
We have it backwards.
In the consideration of love and marriage, there are really just two questions wise people will ask as they consider who their mate and closest friends in life will be:
First, does being with this person motivate me to move toward Jesus?
Second, is this person looking for me to motivate her or him in the same way?
Even more than a pretty face or a chiseled body, the main things we should be looking for in our deepest, most enduring relationships are:
a) a humble, honest heart, and
b) a well-worn Bible.
In a sexually charged, consumer-and-image-driven culture, these essentials are easily forgotten.
Another important part of long-term relationships is the ability to feel safe when our fragility, incompleteness, sin, high maintenance habits, and not-having-arrived-yet nature are discovered by the other. We all need to feel confident that when we are at our worst, we won’t be abandoned.
In the Bible, when David and Jonathan made a friendship covenant together, they committed to each other for life. Likewise, when Scripture says that a husband and wife are “united” and “cleave” to each other, it means they have become willingly and permanently glued to each other. For better and for worse, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, when they are at their best and when they are at their worst, when they are low-maintenance and when they are high-maintenance, when they are easy to live with and when they are difficult to live with, they are bonded together as long as they both shall live.
There are two reasons why, as a pastor, I have always encouraged engaged couples to use traditional vows instead of writing their own. First, very few people are the poets they think they are. (Hehe…) There’s a reason why traditional vows have stood the test of time. Second, and more significantly, the traditional vows don’t focus on how the parties feel about each other in this moment. Instead, they focus on what the parties promise to be for each other during seasons when the feelings, which come and go, weaken or fade.
As CS Lewis once said in Mere Christianity, true love is revealed when you stay committed to the other person during those seasons when you fall “out of like” with them. He writes:
People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on “being in love” forever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change—not realizing that, when they have change, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one.
The film A Beautiful Mind beautifully demonstrates covenant faithfulness through thick and thin, even after the initial “glamour” of marriage wears off. It chronicles part of the life of John Nash, the Princeton mathematician and Nobel laureate who was also a paranoid schizophrenic. As the mental illness gets hold of him, Nash becomes increasingly troubled and more difficult to live with.
During one scene, a friend asks his wife how she can stay in a marriage that is so difficult, and in which the give/take dynamic is so one-sided. Her answer: in the darkest moments, she forces herself to remember the man she first married. Her memory of the man John had once been gave her the energy to continue loving him in his current state.
But it’s hard to find strength to love when the only good memories available are from the past. Thankfully, inside marriages and friendships between Christians, we can draw not only on past memories, but future ones as well. Because in addition to past history, Jesus also gives us a vision for what the person in front of us will one day be.
Falling in love biblically means seeing the person in front of us as an incomplete work in progress who will one day made complete; a flawed sinner who will one day be made a perfect saint; a weak, wounded, sick and sore creature who will one day be made happy, healthy and whole. It means looking at a person in the good moments and the bad, when she is easy on the eyes and when he is hard to look at, when he evokes warmth and when she evokes anger, knowing that Jesus, who began a good work in this person, will eventually complete that work. And the work will be glorious (Philippians 1:6; 1 John 3:2).
Don’t just fall in love with who they are now, God says to us.
With eyes of faith, fall in love with their future, fully redeemed, fearfully and wonderfully re-made self.
Jesus invites us—especially when marriages and friendships get difficult—to see ourselves and each other as he sees us. Jesus sees us and knows us with an everlasting love, with a love that has saved us from our past and present selves and that is smitten with our future selves. In our present condition, Jesus sees us as the acorns that will become oak trees, the apple seeds that will become orchards, the caterpillars that will become butterflies, the random cacophonies of words and notes that will become musical masterpieces.
“I am confident of this…”
says the Truth,
“…that he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
When Jesus finishes the good work he has begun in us, we will see why he loves us the way he does—with a love that will never leave or forsake us; with a love that is bigger and stronger than our spots, wrinkles and blemishes; with a love that is stronger than death; with a love that will save us from the worst in ourselves; with a love that will transform us into the Beauty that he, Jesus, intends to have and to hold, forever and always, as his Bride.
In light of these things, no more consumerist romances or friendships for us. Only covenant. Let’s live by faith and love by faith, shall we?
For what Jesus has begun in us, Jesus will complete.
That’s something worth committing to.