Tuesday, 14 February 2012

God's love and human romantic love

Seeing as it's Valentine's day, I got to thinking - is there any connection between God’s love and human romantic love?

Some Old Testament passages describe The LORD’s attitude to his people in emotional terms. He delights in his people and considers Israel, even in exile, precious and honoured, the very apple of his eye (Deut. 30:9; 32:10; Is. 43:4; 62:5; Zech. 2:8). Yahweh ‘desired’ [hashaph] Israel (Deut. 7:7; 10:15), akin to how Shechem desired [hashaph] Dinah (Gen. 34:8), or an Israelite may desire [hashaph] a war-captive woman (Deut. 21:11).

The New Testament also portrays God as desiring his people, and this desire motivating him to redemptive action. Christ felt compassion [splagzomai] for needy people, and this compassion motivated him to acts which eradicated the effects of sin – healing the sick (Matt. 14:14; Mk. 1:41), feeding the hungry (Matt. 15:32 = Mark 6:34; Mark 8:2), giving sight to the blind (Matt. 20:34), raising the dead (Lk. 7:13). The virtuous characters in his parables demonstrated similar compassion attitudes and merciful actions: the ruler in the parable of the unmerciful servant forgave the servant’s debt (Matt. 18:27); the Samaritan cared for the Jewish man (Luke 10:33); the father of the prodigal son did not hold his sins against him but rejoiced at his return (Luke 15:20). Saul discovered that to persecute Christians was to persecute Christ (Acts 9:4-5). This all demonstrates that God, in Christ, ‘desires’ his people: he sets his affections upon them, identifies with them, and therefore acts to redeem them.

The analogy must be handled cautiously. First of all, the the doctrine of God’s asceity indicates that, in his eternal, Triune self-giving and mutual constitution, God is replete – he is fully satisfied with himself.

[I]n their interpersonal reciprocal relations the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the Communion of Love which the One God eternally is in himself… It is as this ever living and acting Communion of loving and being loved that God is who he is… (T. F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, London: T. & T. Clark, 1996: 5-6.)

Shechem and the Israelite men were attracted to the women for their beauty; Yahweh did not redeem Israel for any attractive feature they possessed, but because his consistent character moved him to fulfil his promises to their fathers (Deut. 7:7-8). God’s affection for Israel is unilateral and often unrequited; Song of Songs and 1 Cor. 7 show us that healthy marriages are characterised by mutual affection. Jealousy drives humans to excessive anger (Prov. 6:34, 27:4; Eccl. 4:4; Acts 5:17, 13:45, 17:5; etc), while Yahweh is slow to anger (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jon. 4:2; Nah. 1:3).

Nevertheless, the analogy is there. The God of the Old Testament acted to redeem his people because he ‘desired’ them – he ‘wanted’ to dwell with them. So he acted powerfully to rescue them from oppression and take them to himself in the promised land. To say ‘God loves’ is to say he, of his own gracious will, binds his well-being with the well-being of his people, and this alignment motivates him to redemptive action, supremely in the cross of Christ.

God's redemptive love is unique. We cannot "save" anyone by our love. Only God can do that through Christ. Missionary dating is a disaster. Do not marry an unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14). The first point of contact for this analogy is that we who trust Christ should feel absolutely comfortable in his love, expressed and enacted in Christ.

But, I think we can say that God's love in Christ reflexively validates human romantic love, in the sense of the goodness of a desire to be with someone, and share life in mutual blessing. This isn't "redemptive" in the proper sense - doesn't save us from sin - but it does fulfil our genuine created relational needs. We were not made to be alone, we were made to be in relationship with each other, especially the relationship of marriage. Human romance is, at its best, an expression of this appropriate need. And this need is connected to the gospel of the God who does not need us, but voluntarily chooses to be with us.

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