“I love you . . .”

“I love you!” he said.

“And I love you . . . my heart aches to be with you. Let’s find a way to be together!”

Question: was this brief exchange—let’s say it’s from a movie—something good or bad?

One reader might respond, “It depends on the context: who were the speakers and what was their status?”

Another might say, “Yes, as long as it’s true love, let’s celebrate it!”

Yet another might respond, “Sounds like a chick-flick! I prefer something more cerebral myself—or even a good adventure—not another syrupy love story!”

Let me offer some reflections on all three responses, starting with the last. I’ll label him—it’s typically a guy’s comment—a Stoic: someone who prefers the place of the mind and will over the emotions.

Who are the Stoics? The watchdogs of adult society. They promote the great disciplines of life: the stuff that only the iron-willed can achieve. Triathletes, marathoners, skinny dieters, sleep deprivation specialists, massive memorizers—whatever!—are feted as supremely human because of their iron willpower. In fact any discipline seems to be fine, as long as it’s a real hair-on-your-chest challenge! The point seems to be, “Look, I can control the sort of appetites and emotions that rule your life, so I’m one up on you!”

Yet I’m convinced that even our Stoic friends are driven by their emotions. We all are! If, for instance, some iron-willed friends come and report on their latest remarkable feat, I know it’s my cue to offer praise, “Wonderful! You’re the greatest!” Is it because I know they love my cheering? I think it is, and that it unveils their deepest motive: the love of praise.

So here’s the point: emotions have taken a bad rap. But, before defending them, let me say that “I get it” when discipline-devotees tell stories about the evils of emotional living. Why? Because we have all seen how a level-headed person can go crazy, making terrible choices, because of some off-the-wall emotion. And I agree: it is their emotions that made them go stupid.

Let’s go back to the second commenter’s point, above, who celebrates love as an end in itself. Our critique of emotions is proper if our movie lines represented an adulterous tryst with another person’s spouse. Yet the question of right and wrong has everything to do with the object of love, not the nature of love itself. And once the affair collapses the love-fool often becomes his or her own best critic: “What was I thinking?! I was taken in by my emotions . . . I should have known better!” Yes, but by what measure? Ultimately, the measure will be who we love above all other loves—and if God is that loved one, the gift of loving others flows out of his love as a basis for proper affections and true emotions.

Even in talking about sin and salvation as offered in the broad setting of salvation history, a proper love for God was replaced in Eden by self-love. Adam embraced the serpent’s invitation to be like God—a call to a new love. Jesus, in John 3:19, captured that as the overall problem of human sin. He came to offer life and light, yet the “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” The salvation promise of God in Christ was offered as an antidote in John 3:16—“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son . . .”

So God’s restoration is a symmetrical calling, to “love God” with all our being. We are made to be lovers, and God alone is lovely enough to capture and hold hearts forever.

I hope the point is clear: why defend our emotions? Because to live is to be emotional—we were designed as lovers, in God’s image. God is love, and God created us from and for love. Our emotions—our desires, our loves, our longings—are the motors and rudders of life. What we love most will always steer the course of our lives, and the power of that love is the drive behind any of our pursuits. It was God’s love that moved him to send the Son to die on our behalf, and to use that as the means to bring us into an eternal love relationship as the collective “bride of Christ.”

If the lines of our movie dialogue were applied here, the “I love you!” are the launching words of an eternal marriage.

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6 Comments

  1. Leanne

    “…. if God is that loved one, the gift of loving others flows out of his love as a basis for proper affections and true emotions.”

    Using your quote above, are you saying that “movie” love is appropriate if, as a by product of true love with God, we find ourselves in romantic love with another or are you saying that, even if we find ourselves longing for “movie” love, God and the “eternal marriage” His believers have with Him is enough?

  2. R N Frost

    A fair question, Leanne!

    The object of our greatest love defines us because we are responders to what we find lovely: “We love because he first loved us.” So if I love God as my greatest, i.e. as my defining love, then any of my lesser loves grow as those aligned with that love; or, alternatively, our hearts begin to discard those lesser loves because they distract us from the true love of our hearts. If Christ is not attractive enough to displace other loves (as the Creator whose beauty surpasses anything he created) it must be because I still haven’t “seen him” as he is, and may actually love a consumer version of deity. So a transforming love of God comes on the basis of his self disclosure, with the Scriptures offering his heart to us. In hearing his heart we begin to be captured (“tasting and seeing” his goodness) and also to become increasingly more “holy”/Christlike in all our desires even as he is holy, thus being unselfconsciously transformed from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).

    The movie reference is made simply to represent our love of Christ as a “real” love [versus some sort of non-affective “theological” love], and a love that invites us into eternity as his “bride” as the Scriptures anticipate.

  3. Morgan Reynolds

    …after much thought, what resonated with me is what Mary Magdalene must have been thinking as she waited at the tomb of Christ after the stone had been rolled away. That must have been love.

  4. Morgan Reynolds

    the comment was made in haste as i was thinking of that unfathomable subject! sorry! there are so many resentments in my life,love being one of them that i must mirror Corinthians 13 to my emotions of love to test the feelings. i cannnot be ruled by my emotions, i also use proverbs to test my feelings, as we are a fallen people. seek ye first…and the greatest commandment, love.
    God Bless! morgan

  5. Sharon

    God and I have had many heart to hearts over this. When God pours love into our hearts, it is not always just for our own good, but for the good of others. When I complained to Him concerning the love I have for one who is either unable to receive it or God has not poured love in his heart for me, He reminded me of His own broken heart for those that cannot receive His love (I say cannot receive because sometimes the sinful acts of others have put stumbling blocks in the hearts of some.) and those who outrightly reject Him. So even though the one whom I love does not seek a relationship even as friends, God will not remove the gift He has given. And though the enemy tries to use the longing in my heart against me and pit me against my God, I know that the love God has poured into my heart is for His own good purpose, to share in my heartache and to let me share in His and perhaps because even though I have no apparent relationship with this man except for what we share in Christ, I know that genuine love for another is never wasted just as God still loves the many who through deception never receive His love for them. I still ache sometimes. I actually told God once that the love I have might as well be poured out on the ground. I even tried to be interested in another. I wondered if the man that chased after me for a couple of years was actually the one God had for me and I was just too blind to see. But one glimpse of the one I love even after not seeing him for a couple of years and I melt right down to the ground and wonder if I could even use my voice. I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet. I just trust that God had a purpose for it and that He is near. And I know real love is unconditional and mature love accepts that it takes two by the hand of God. It is not one sided. Only God can make a marriage that lasts and if it is His will, He will bring it to past. And if it is not in His will, I don’t want it anyway.

    And who, but God, knows what our futue will be. We don’t know the days of our lives. Sometimes, I think I can waste a lot of time being broken-hearted except when I’m sharing it with God.

    Sharon

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