Posted by: John Adams | April 10, 2010

A Few Words about Falling in Love

I was driving through East Texas recently on a beautiful spring night when a friend told me that he doesn’t think that love is about emotion so much as it is about commitment.

“Our culture is full of people falling in and out of love, divorcing one another when they no longer ‘feel it,’ basing life decisions on a rush of chemicals to the brain,” he said. “In many countries, marriages are arranged. If you think you’ve found a good match, you have to your parents present their parents with a photo resume and hope they like your chances of compatibility.”

It sounds awkward to Western ears, he says, but instead of resulting in stilted relationships, arranged couples usually end up liking each other just fine. In any case, countries like India have a much lower divorce rate than their free-wheeling Western counterparts.

Pastor Matt Chandler made a similar point in a sermon he preached last year at Southern Seminary:

“Lauren, my wife, she’s just a girl,” he said. “You know how I know she’s the One? Because we’re married. I asked her, ‘Hey, what are you doing for the next 40, 50 years? Would you like to do that with me?”

My friend says that “people need to stop waiting for the One to come along and just pick someone Godly,” he said. “Commit to someone whether or not the feelings are there. Chances are if you commit the feelings will follow.”

Everything my friend said sounded pretty logical. There is nothing in the Bible about finding your soulmate. Nothing in Scripture gives you permission to back out of a marriage simply because you “fell out of love.” Most of Scripture affirms the fact that love is more often an action, a commitment of the will to someone else’s good, than it is a temporary feeling. What my friend said was Biblical and sound and I almost completely agreed with him.

Almost.

If you’ll excuse the use of a very humble example, there’s a line in the movie Finding Nemo that captures something I think my friend is missing. Dory turns to Marlin and tells him, “When I look at you, I’m home.”

I believe that that sentence captures something true about life. Once or twice in my life, it has been my experience in life to connect with someone in a way that transcends attraction. The shutter of my mind whirs, the lens of my heart comes into focus, and I realize that this girl is a moment in time I could swear that I’ve dreamed before. She is a song I know in my bones though I’ve never heard. She is a book whose pages say everything that I ever wanted to say but was never able to. I knew her before I knew her. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.

There is a story in Genesis that I have always loved. Jacob, on the run from his brother Esau, skips town to hide out with some distant relatives. Hot, sweaty, and exhausted, he happens upon a well in the wilderness and is asking for directions and making small talk when he sees a girl who absolutely knocks him back on his heels. Moses, in his usual understated way, writes simply that Jacob “kissed Rachel and wept aloud” (Gen. 29:11).

I may have missed some cultural subtext here. Perhaps weeping and kissing was what people did upon meeting distant relatives in those days. On the other hand, the text does go on to say that Jacob fell in love with Rachel, that he worked for fourteen years to marry her. In the chapters that ensue, it becomes obvious that she was always his first love, even after he got tricked by his creep of a father-in-law into marrying her older sister first. In Jacob’s mind, Rachel was always the kind of girl who was worth working seven years for–and then another seven when it didn’t work out the first time. In all honesty, he would probably have worked the rest of his life to have her. Whenever Jacob looked at Rachel, he was home. Perhaps what prompted his weeping was his recognition of something in Rachel that he didn’t realize he had been missing.

While not everyone will experience love in exactly the same way, I don’t think that this mysterious aspect of love should be discounted. Good marriages don’t ride on feelings alone — they are founded on Christ, who gave his life for His Bride, the Church. Good marriages consist of partners who are friends, meaning that they are already walking in the same direction and see the same truth. Good marriages are ones in which both husband and wife are fully committed, for better or worse.

But marriage is more than following Christ’s example, more than friendship, and more than commitment. Marriage is also a mystery, as the Apostle Paul once wrote. Marriage is a prophetic sign-act, a kind of theater production played out on the stage of real life that evokes the great mystery of Christ and the Church. It is a sacrament (by which I mean a conduit through which grace is released that doesn’t come through any other means) that retells and foretells the fundamental truth lying in, with, and under the universe–the great story of sacrifice and worship, of sorrow that cuts like a sword and of joy that comes with the morning, of a longing that rivers cannot wash away, and of a love that even death cannot kill.

I believe that any marriage worth its salt is filled with longing, the kind of longing C.S. Lewis called, “That unnameable something, the desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of “Kubla Khan“, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.” “Place me like a seal over your heart,” pleads the Beloved in Song of Songs 8:6-7. “Set me like a seal upon your arm.”

For love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.

Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of his house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.

I would go so far as to say that any relationship that does not awaken this kind of longing in you is probably not a relationship into which you should invest your life. We were made for joy. If we deny that, we deny something essential about ourselves. Commitment is the context for joy, to be sure, and in the case of those who are already committed and lacking joy, commitment may have to suffice until joy resurfaces. However, I believe that longing is an essential element of love. Love that fails to kindle our hearts with wonder, that fails to make our hearts ache with longing, that fails to elicit poetry from our lips, may not be love at all, but rather settling for second best.

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Responses

  1. Very, very good as always. Very thoughtful and thought-provoking. I’ve held the view of your friend for a while, and knew that it was very similar to (and derived from, really) the love of God for us. One thing that I’ve started to think about lately but I can’t really articulate is whether the whole set of language about “God being crazy about you,” “Head over heels madly in love with you,” etc. is really the best way to speak of God’s love for us. I don’t mean to downplay the inexpressible mystery of the grandness and seemingly irrationality of God’s love for us, but this language has begun to rub me the wrong way. The more I understand God’s love as a covenant, a choice, an agreement, a self-obligation, and that what he really wants to see in us is himself, the less inclined I am to speak of God being absolutely madly in love with me–because that language gives the impression that we are talking about God loving us the way we may love a mate for how funny and kind she is or how courageous and hard-working he is, and we just get butterflies when they’re around and can’t stop carrying on conversation with them. I believe that God loves, but I’m not sure it has to do mainly with being crazy about us. His love is mainly an action flowing out of a decision that was settled on by himself being in very nature love. That covenant hesed love just feels very different to me than the ooey gooey love that we often say God has for us. I still believe God’s emotions are in it, but I think talking about his love in that way is a little misleading and contributes to what I see as our misunderstanding of what love between people is all about.

    Sorry, I’ve just been thinking about this lately, and these are just random thoughts.

    I love your posts.

  2. John, this is why i can’t find a woman worthy of you. Girls wouldn’t believe me if I tried to describe you. Instead of trying to set you up, I will simply pray that God will bring a woman worthy of your mind, heart, and joy.

    If a man ever weeps after kissing me, i might explode. What a awesome story.

    I think the concept that someone feels like home is powerful. I love that song by Chantal Kreviazuk, “Feels like home to me.” Is there any greater statement of love than to say someone makes you feel so safe that they feel like home?

    Marriage is a mysterious “conduit through which grace is released that doesn’t come through any other means.” Brilliant. Inspiring. Beautiful.

    Rejoice! We were made for joy! What a good God we serve.

  3. love ur insight/thoughts, John…i concur wholeheartedly with ur sentiments, and i mean like 100%…thanks for expressing both the Providential and the Personal elements (sometimes one and the same, other times they’re not…where they start/separate is mind boggling)…and thanks for putting into words feelings that i’ve always felt…love u, bro 🙂


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