Friday, May 27, 2005
Love: duty or pleasure?
The last couple nights, I've been watching a mid-1980's version of the classic novel, Jane Eyre. Although I find that this great work of literature has much of importance to say to us, as a Bible-believing Christian I cannot subscribe to what seems to be its primary theme: that true love is based on passion that's sometimes so strong that it compels one to do what is sinful in the sight of God, thus making your passion to rule your life rather than God himself. Although in the character of Jane Eyre there is much that is commendable, she and Mr. Rochester erred in allowing their passions to rule them, especially in their hearts. On the other hand, Jane's cousin, St. John Rivers, a clergyman who felt called by God to become a missionary, saw marriage as a duty, an opportunity for service. He was in no way "in love" with Jane, but this didn't inhibit him from proposing marriage to her. In his zeal to do what is right, he'd lost sight of the reason why we ought to do what's right: out of love towards God and our neighbor.
I am persuaded that the Scriptures paint a picture of the marriage relationship that's rather unlike the two portraits painted by Miss Bronte so many years ago. According to the Bible, love is indeed a duty. In fact, the two greatest commandments are to love God and one's neighbor. A commandment tells us what we ought to do, and we are to obey regardless of whether we "feel like it" or not. However, it would be a gross distortion to paint this kind of love as cold and passionless. Instead, the kind of love we are to practice has everything to do with what is kind and compassionate. God would have us obey him, but with a cheerful and willing heart!
In Ephesians, Paul compares the husband/wife relationship with the relationship that exists between Christ and his Church. Don't tell me that the love of Christ for his Elect is cold or unfeeling! In fact, the very reason that he laid down his life for the sake of his people is his fervent, passionate love for them. It is this kind of love that ought to be found in every Christian home where a believing man and woman have become one flesh. Romantic feelings come and go, to be sure, but it is the husband's duty to his wife to love her at all times, even when he doesn't feel very romantic towards her. Not only is this good and right because it is God's command, but there's also a fringe benefit: as the husband strives to obey God's Word and love his wife as Christ loves his church, the "warm and fuzzy" feelings that all of us so covet will come in due course, perhaps not always as quickly as we'd like, but they come all the same. Since I'm not yet married, I must rely on the testimony of many of my godly married friends who unanimously attest that this is so.
On second thought, perhaps I'm being too hard on Miss Eyre. Perhaps she ought to have mastered her feelings better, submitting them to the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, but she did at least do what was right in the outward sense--fleeing a bigamous relationship--and in the end, once her beloved was indeed free, she was quite willing to love him in spite of his many faults and shortcomings. Mr. Rochester was indeed no longer handsome and active in the end, but he had her heart all the same. May this be true for all of us who are presently married or who one day will marry!