If our culture hasn’t forgotten what it means to truly love, then we surely have changed true love’s definition.
The former definition of true love is seen in traditional marriage vows: “for better or for worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and health, so long as you both shall live.”
Unfortunately, our culture sees love as a self-gratifying feeling, not a choice and commitment. Love is supposed to always be easy, fun, and pleasurable. When love stops being that way, something is wrong in the relationship and it should be discarded.
Perhaps the clearest view of this is in what many call a “hookup culture.” This culture treats sex as recreation and a right for someone whether or not they are interested in a committed relationship. In A Loving Life in a World of Broken Relationships, Paul Miller looks at love and commitment through the biblical idea of hesed love (loyal covenant love), contrasting it with ideas prevalent in our culture:
…no one in the ancient world trusted young men. Traditional culture protected young women’s purity like a precious jewel. A young woman only offered herself sexually when a man had committed himself publicly to hesed love–in other words, marriage. Being sexually intimate outside of marriage is like giving a stranger the title for your car and hoping he will eventually pay the cost. We would never do with a car title what many young women do with their bodies. Sexual intimacy is not a path of love; it is a seal for love.
Tim Keller, bestselling author and pastor, summarizes the Christian view of sexual intimacy:
“Sex is a unitive act. It is a way of saying, “I belong exclusively to you.” After two people have given one another their whole life in a public covenant, sex seals that commitment. It’s like glue, a way of creating deep intimacy between two people who say, “All the rest of my life belongs to you.”
If you have sex outside of marriage, then you are saying, “I want your body and I want to give you my body, but I don’t want to give you the rest of my life. I don’t want to give you myself legally, psychologically, or permanently. Let’s give each other our bodies but keep our lives to ourselves. Let’s stay independent.”
In contrast, our culture encourages young women to give away their best gift, their sexuality for free as a way to get men to deepen a relationship and then commit.
Miller continues to show how our culture puts the cart before the horse by skipping commitment and going straight to sexual intimacy:
Hollywood relentlessly tells no-consequence stories showing sexual intimacy leading to committed love. In this false trajectory, feeling love is invested with almost divine power. The false trajectory that destroys purity goes like this:
Feeling love–>sexual intimacy–>loss of feeling–>discarded relationship
Finding fulfillment through feeling love is the great hope of our modern culture–and it is pure foolishness. Men take this best gift and then discard their girlfriends once the cost of love begins to weigh on them, leaving their former companions emotionally abused and alone. What was meant as a seal for hesed love becomes a temporary source of feeling good that ultimately destroys both sexes and leaves children fatherless.
In contrast, the biblical trajectory puts public commitment of hesed love before sexual intimacy:
Feeling love–>public commitment–>sexual intimacy–>enduring love
Dietrich Bonhoeffer summarizes this beautifully in a letter from prison: “It is not your love that sustains your marriage, but…the marriage that sustains your love.”
Later, Miller shares this reflection from a woman sick of the ‘hookup culture’:
“Depending on whom you ask…[hookup culture] has either liberated young women from being ashamed of their sexual urges, or forced them into a promiscuity they didn’t ask for. Young men, apparently, couldn’t be happier.”
(Kindle Locations 1230-1259)
So many promises to liberate women actually cause them to be taken advantage of more and lead to greater pain.
Should we be surprised that a deviation from the biblical model of love and marriage leads to pain and brokenness?
God is a god of second, third, and fourth chances. If reading this post reminds you of a mountain of regrets, know that with God’s help, it is not too late to turn things around and pursue a deep and committed love that honors both Him and your significant other.
“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:2