My marriage was doomed from the start. No, I should say it was doomed from my early childhood years. Yes! That’s right! From the days of my youth, even before I became interested in girls. Long before my first crush. Long before my first kiss. My marriage was doomed to fail. Before you begin jumping to conclusions, I’m not going “psychoanalytic” here by saying my adult problems stem from my toilet training routine or any of Freud or Erikson’s theories of psychopathology. No, it’s my fault for carrying childhood ideas into my adulthood.
Understand something. Divorce and marital dissatisfaction are steadily on the rise. Even in many of today’s evangelical Bible-believing churches, the divorce rate and the marital dissatisfaction rate mirrors that of the unregenerate world. Why? There are two reasons, and the two reasons go so much hand-in-hand that you probably wouldn’t have one existing without the other.
The first reason is this…we, as children, and parents of children see little harm in the fairy-tale romances we read to our children routinely. The other reason is that the church, in general, has become so worldly, that Biblical love and Hollywood love are so intertwined that it’s hard to make a distinction between the two. More than that, the reality, in a lot of cases, is that Biblical love between husband and wife is rarely taught from the pulpit as much as it could be. Interestingly enough, I have heard biblical love versus worldly love taught from my church’s pulpit. When God reveals something and then it is solidified by the preacher in a sermon, it helps me to realize I am on the right path.
It’s my contention, and I believe research in this area bears this out, that divorce and marital dissatisfaction are rooted in a lack of commitment on one or both of the parties involved. Fundamental to this lack of commitment is an unrealistic view of marriage that, itself, stems from an unrealistic view of love. There have been numerous studies done that reveal how unrealistic marital beliefs, based on assumptions that are likewise not grounded in reality, often lead to dissatisfaction among couples in intimate relationships.
One such study, in a 2003 article in the Journal of Psychology and Theology, has advocated early outreach to youth as a way to build healthy marriages. This study recognized that the youth in today’s churches have bought into the world’s unscriptural view of what love is and what it entails. A presentation at the Family Impact Seminar in Washington, DC in 1998 suggested that marriage and couples’ education could be more effective if begun earlier and expanded to a broader audience. But, how can we broaden our focus beyond couples? How about children. How about expanding to children before they begin believing in what love seems to be, and not believing in what love is in reality.
I know what some may be thinking, “Wow! This guy’s down on Cinderella.” Before you stop reading this article and never pick it up again, let me ask you one question, and think about it honestly and thoroughly. Over the long-term of your marriage, or that of another couple that you can ask, which is closer to the reality: Cinderella and the “happily ever after” or Fiddler on the Roof when, during the song, “Do You Love Me” the characters realize that love had nothing to do with feelings, but rather, commitment. Go find the soundtrack at your local library and listen to that song. In fact, the reason they asked each other that question was because their daughters were each marrying based on feelings associated with being in love, which was a foreign concept to the couple in the movie.
In today’s society, what do people believe about love? Researchers have identified that unrealistic beliefs about love were grounded in four ideas: 1) love can overcome anything, 2) there is only one soulmate that was meant for an individual, 3) idealized beliefs about future partner or future relationship, and 4) love at first sight. This backs up claims that other researchers had discovered in which individuals who hold to unrealistic beliefs of romantic love are most likely to encounter disillusionment and disappointment when they become involved in intimate relationships.
It’s because romantic love is so central to contemporary notions of marriage that young people marry with the expectation that romantic love will remain forever in intensity and strength and will never wax and wane. Did any of the princesses in any of the fairy tales have a fight, argument, or unkind word ever said to them? I think not. What, instead, do we see? The two ride off into the sunset, to the castle, and live…all together now…”happily ever after!”
OK…so worldly conceptions of love are being inculcated into the minds of our children, teens, young adults, and adults who are ignorant to sound Biblical definitions of love (which we’ll get to soon). Just where is this all coming from? I’ve already indicted the fairy-tale reading parents and caregivers. By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I enjoy reading stories like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid to my children, but I read the last page like this, “and they lived happily ever after ON AVERAGE.” Other times it will sound like this, “and they lived happily ever after WITH OCCASIONAL ROUGH SPOTS, ARGUMENTS, DISAGREEMENTS, STRESSES, ETC”… Once my 6 year-old is old enough to catch on and ask questions I will be provided with a teaching opportunity. Then I can tell her what love is (Biblical love) and what love isn’t (Hollywood love).
You can devise a lengthy list of other culprits who are responsible for peddling the devil’s deception. Adult romance novels, television shows, movies, love songs of any genre, and peer groups all play a role in shaping the young and old alike. Again, the church, if it hasn’t bought into the worldly ideals already, does little to effectively teach against all the aforementioned tools the devil uses today.
Consider this piece of research. Eighty-three percent of undergraduates that were never married reported that they had, at one time, been “in love” with a dating partner. Sixty-seven percent also reported that “love” was essential for a happy marriage and they would divorce if they “fell out of love.” This is how the young adults, who are on the verge of marriage and entering into committed long-term intimate relationships think. They talk about falling in and out of love.
My friends, the term “in love” is not a Biblical term, nor is it a Biblical concept. But it’s evident that the belief of being “in love” is equated to Biblical love, which is essential to a happy and strong marriage. Doesn’t it alarm you that 67% said they would divorce if they “fell out of love?” I grew up believing this way. In an article entitled “Born again couples less likely to co-habitate, just as likely to divorce,” the article states that the divorce rates among Christians closely resembles that of the world. When 6 out of 10 marriages fail among Christians, it is the collective fault of many (individuals, church, media, etc…).
Here is what the Bible says about love, and what it doesn’t say about being “in love.” There are innumerable references to use as proof texts of God’s love for us in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, be it between God and us, or between each other, love is the deepest representation of commitment between parties. Love, between God and man and love between each other is operationalized in the Scripture as our self-sacrificing for the good of our loved one (Leviticus 19:18,34) and is also described as unyielding loyalty as seen in I Samuel 20:17-42.
I John 4:7-21 explains that God is love personified. Note three characteristics of God’s love: 1) It is deeper than the love for a parent to their child (Isaiah 49:15), 2) Since God is love and God is never changing, His love for us can never be deterred or altered by His feelings or emotions (Hosea 1-3), and 3) God’s love is everlasting (Jeremiah 31:3).
An interesting thing about God loving Israel is that God chose Israel and thereby loved Israel based on the value He created in those people. Israel did not do anything to earn the love of God. He valued Israel and thereby loved Israel with all of the characteristics I just mentioned. He extended that love, in the form of a command, to some extent, when he established in Leviticus 19 through divine law that love would be the basis for the ideal relationship between people.
I doubt many Christians would argue against the Love of God and all its characteristics. Where people tend to stray off course is in the New Testament with the various Greek forms of what the word “love” means in English. Incidentally, if you looked up the Hebrew equivalent of “love” in the Old Testament, the word aheb is described as having as broad of a meaning as is found in the English translation. For example, growing up I enjoyed eating a batch of moist brownies (and still do) but I can’t say I love brownies. That’s how aheb is used in the Hebrew. The equivalent of saying, “I love you,” and “I love the beach.” Pretty non-specific.
The Greek language breaks love down into three distinct types: 1) agape, 2) phileo, and 3) philos. These three delineations of love will expand on the Hebrew word aheb and, hopefully, remove any doubt from the mind of Christians as to what exactly Biblical love is supposed to be and how it is so antithetical to what is “preached” from Hollywood.
Agape love is the variation used most rarely in all of the New Testament. It basically describes a love that is used toward a person or God because the person who is extending that love to them finds something in them that is precious beyond comparison. God’s love for us is in the form of agape love and our Christian love for our brothers and sisters in Christ should be in the agape form. Phileo love is another variation in the Greek language. This would be the type of love seen within intimate marriage partners. Lastly, philos is the level of love that is between friends rather than intimate partners, and differs from the agape love we are to have with all brethren, and the world for that matter. If you want to look at the three in another way, consider this. Agape love is broad and should be extended to everyone. Philos love is less broad, and shows preferences toward certain other people (friends). Phileo love is exclusive for the marriage partner. Of course, someone like me who never dealt in the Scriptural mandates regarding love did not operate toward friends, family, God, and my wife properly. And when you don’t do things God’s way…it ain’t gonna work!!!
We need to also take a moment to see some of the characteristics of love in the Bible. Love is unconditional (Romans 5:8). The ability to love Biblically is afforded to all after salvation once the indwelling Holy Spirit is allowed to work (Galatians 5:22). We all have the ability to love the way God asks us to. Paul describes loving as a conscious decision in I Thessalonians 5:8 when he tells us to “put on” the breastplate of love.
That is probably my biggest point to stress about the difference between being “in love” and “loving” Biblically. The world wants to fall in love. This description of falling in love portrays a passive act. We cannot passively decide to do something. It’s a philosophical impossibility. When the Bible says to “put on” love, we can envision standing in front of our closet and putting on a shirt. We stand there. We consider our options. We decide to put on our particular shirt. We don’t stand in front of the closet and passively fall into our shirt and then go on our way…that’s absurd. But that’s what the world has reduced love down to.
Love for the world has become, “I love him/her because they do this/that, and they make me feel this way or that way.” If their love is based on feelings and emotions and the ability of the partner to fulfill needs and wants in their lives, is it any wonder why people “fall out of love” when their partner falls short of what the other has come to expect from them. Now, instead of considering what they have, they believe the relationship has lost something that can never be regained. They think something is wrong with the relationship and immediately seek a divorce (in the case of married couples) or they just break up because the relationship has lost its luster. Remember that statistic I cited earlier, 67% of people said they would divorce if they “fell out of love.” In today’s world, “for better or worse” has been replaced with a mentality that thinks “as long as it’s good and satisfying for me.”
That’s where I was several years ago. Well on my way to becoming another statistic in the category of divorced Christian. I had no clue about love. I was an honor student in the world’s curriculum regarding love and marriage. Love is a commitment to your spouse and not something that is always easy to do. If you can still love during “better and worse” than that shows the value you place on your spouse. If you can’t love during the “worse” times, than perhaps you’re letting the fairy tales and Hollywood movies dictate to you what love means rather than letting God get a hold of your heart. Just think about how things would have been if Christ had not died for us while we were yet sinners, but instead waited until we were displayed “lovable” characteristics. We need to extend Christ’s example to our spouses.