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Love, Marriage, and Pizza

What is "true" love? What makes it true? Can you fall into it? Can you fall out of it? Is there "false" love? Can you love someone falsely? And this is just confusion created by the vocabulary!

I had a theory. So I put my expensive, hard-to-use, over-the-top Bible study software to work on the phrases "feel love," "felt love," "feeling loved," and "feels loving." I got nothing. No verse in the Bible puts the words (or any derivative of) "love" and "feel" together. The Bible simply doesn't describe love as a feeling. However, love is encouraged. Love is even commanded!

In Ephesians 5.25, Paul instructs husbands to "love your wives." Notice he didn't say, "Men, marry the one you love." Paul tells men to continually love their wives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor killed in 1945, viewed the relationship between love and marriage this way, "It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, your marriage that sustains the love." Hmm.... That's not what we get from the movies.

Love is something you do, not just something you feel. In Matthew 22.37, Jesus says to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind - and love our neighbors like ourselves. Love is a verb. It describes our behavior. It's something we do. Not just something we passively fall into, like we couldn't help it. Can you imagine, "I was just living life, partying like crazy, then out of nowhere, I was just madly in love with God; I was accidentally serving people and without doing anything, I was overwhelmed with selflessness." I don't think so.

And I (only half-jokingly) blame romantic comedies. Two selfish people get through one conflict, and we're supposed to believe they ride off in the sunset and never have any more problems? Maybe the problem is that life is not like the movies. The reality is, right after they worked out their first problem, and just when they thought it was resolved, another problem came up. Then another. They worked it out, and before long - another. "Wait, this isn't like the movies at all! Maybe it's not true love. Maybe he's not the right guy. Maybe I've fallen out of love with her." Or maybe they expect to feel love all the time without ever having to do love. Sin and culture have so greatly distorted our ideas of intimacy. After all, it's not even weird to hear someone confess that they love pizza. Or those new shoes.

On love and marriage, John Piper says it this way:

Staying married... is not mainly about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant.... Therefore, what makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God's eyes is not merely that it involves covenant-breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and his covenant. Christ will never leave his wife. Ever. (This Momentary Marriage, 25)

And Christ and his bride really do live happily ever after.

"For the Love of God..."

Ever heard anyone say that? Sure you have. People say it all the time - mostly out of frustration - without knowing what they're saying. But have you ever really considered what it means? Have you ever thought about the love of God?

I hadn't. I mean really thought about it. I know that God loves the world. And that He loves me. I know that the love of God is forgiving, great, and gracious. And if asked, I probably would not have said I found it "difficult" to explain.

But then I read this 84-page book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. And I was blown away. Carson's starting point is basically how I've set this up. No one thinks "the love of God" is a hard thing to grasp - until they look at it more closely.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is close to the beginning, when Carson points out five ways that the Bible speaks of the love of God. They each get more treatment as the book progresses, but they are worth mentioning briefly here. For me it was like stumbling onto a gold mine - just knowing these differentiations exist makes it easier to read parts of the Bible that speak of God's love. They fit together better now. They make more sense. And so here are five ways the Bible speaks of God's love:

1. The special love of the Son for the Father, and the Father for the Son. The gospel of John cites this in 3.35 and 14.31.

2. God's providential love for the whole creation. This theme runs through the entire Bible, but it is clearly seen in God's declaration that His creation is "good" (Genesis 1), and in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus speaks of God's providential care for birds, the grass, etc. (Matthew 6).

3. "God's salvific stance toward his fallen world." In spite of the world's rebellion, God commands people to repent, and orders His people to take the message of reconciliation (through Jesus) to the ends of the earth. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but wants people to repent (Ezekiel 33.11).

4. God's particular love for His elect. This one has been the cause of many an argument between brothers, mostly because neither understand this in the light of the other four points - this is one aspect of God's complex love. But according to Deuteronomy 7.7-8 and 10.14-15, as well as Romans 9 with Jacob and Esau, and Ephesians 5 with Christ's love for "the church," there is definitely a special way that God loves His people that is different than how He loves everyone.

5. God's sometimes conditional love - conditioned, that is, on obedience. Jude commands us to "keep ourselves in God's love" (verse 21), and Jesus tells his disciples to remain in His love (John 15.9). This way of treating God's love as conditional reminds us that we are still morally responsible for our actions, and have a part in our becoming holy, as He is holy. It's not as if we could ever fall out of His love, but remaining in His love is more like a teen getting home by curfew so as not to incur the wrath of his father. He will rest assured that his father is pleased with him. So it is with God's "conditional" love.

I recommend reading the whole book for further and better treatment of each of these "types" of God's love. It's short, and very accessible - in other words, you don't have to be a scholar to understand it.

And who knows? Maybe the next time you hear someone say, "Oh, for the love of God," you can strike up a spiritual conversation about which one!