I just finished PD James’s fantastic book, The Children of Men, which is chock full of profound Christian themes. I may do a post on these themes at some point, after my lovely wife has a chance to read the book also. However, even in such an obviously Christian book as this, there is an underlying view of love that I think, honestly, is a dirty and dangerous lie. Our culture, through film, literature, and songs, propogates the view that The Children of Men is not exempt from–that love exists most truly when it is ecstatic and mystical. My point here is not to point out how this plays out specifically in the book, but more to serve a launch pad to make a point. (You should, by the way, read this book. It is one the best I’ve read in a long time).
As Christians, we must take our cue from what the Scripture says about love, and not what the combined wisdom of playwriters, screenwriters, or songwriters or poets has amassed. We must understand that love in the Bible is tied to covenant. Eternally within the Triune God of Scripture there is giving and receiving of love; there is an unbreakable connection that on the human level expresses itself most closely in a covenant. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit belong eternally to each other and the bond can never be broken. The Lord the triune God is love, and his love is not love without covenant. The Lord covenants means that the Lord loves. Most profoundly, the Father gave his Son–and this is the clearest and most pure expression of love ever seen. In the Bible, where God describes himself and his love for his people, there is little (or nothing) of overwhelming sentimentality and emotional surges.
The truest love men can exhibit, then, is that which is closest to Yahweh-like. There is not any surprised and uncontrollable emotion in Yahweh’s love for his people. Yes–he delights in them, but that flows from love. It does not comprise it. Reducing love to emotional surges or powerful feelings is like reducing a steak to its seasoning or a salad to it dressing. Seasoning and dressing do not make up the meat and roughage of nourishment; they flavor the meal. Love does sometimes have the romantic elements of swept-off-your-feet euphoria which have been falsely deified. It sometimes (often?) does not. The seasoning does not make the meal, and emotions do not constitute love.
I wrote this poem, called “Liars,” some time ago, and I think it helps capture what I’m saying here.
I think this is a big deal, because the ideal of love as some mysterious, overwhelming force of emotion and fate is shoved down our throats from every angle. But it’s a lie. We must define love by the one who is Love, and he has a very different opinion from the lyricists and novelists and screenwriters.
Love’s supposed sages –
the poets and the novelists –
have bastardized what they grasp for;
making it into, or, more
correctly, defining it as
as a mystical instant, an ethereal haze
of indescribable “know it
when you feel it” something which
exists only within their pages.
They are liars.
For: love exists; but not
as they say, because it can be defined,
closely and concretely;
verbalized in the strictest sense—
In specific ways, which, simply, are love itself
with, or without, the instability of butterflied emotion