Something that has been in my thoughts a lot over the past few months is the way in which the love of Christ is not just love in a parental sense or a friendship sense but is love in the romantic sense.
This is something that hasn’t always sat particularly comfortably with me, and I’ve therefore tried to avoid acknowledging it and remained unsure of it. But there is a lot of imagery in the Bible that compares the love of Christ for his people to the love that exists between a groom and his bride.
The relationship we have with God appears differently throughout scripture, and in some ways there seems to be a progression (John 15:15 appears to ‘replace’ the idea that we are as servants, for example). I imagine the progression to go something like this:
- A Potter and clay. The Potter forms us as he wishes – Romans 9:21
- A Lord and his servants – Luke 17:10
- A Father and his children – Galatians 3:26
- Friends – John 15:15
Of course, the fact that we could be considered friends of one who is so holy, who is goodness, is an immense privilege and a huge gift of grace. But I think that there is reason to not to limit God’s love to us to the love of even the best friendship and so I’d like to talk to you a bit about how I understand this to work.
God’s love for his people, Israel
Throughout the Old Testament, God’s love for his people is continually expressed, in a way that also includes sexual language, e.g.
“I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown” Jeremiah 2:2
and the description of God as a husband, e.g.
“She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them…Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.’ ….. Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my Husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my Master.’ Hosea 2:7, 14-16
The book of Hosea can be viewed as an allegory of God’s love for a people who are unfaithful. In it, The prophet Hosea is told to take Gomer as his wife – a woman who commits adultery multiple times. He is told the following:
The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her even as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…. Hosea 3:1
I think the key to this verse is the little phrase ‘even as the Lord loves’ – the Lord is perfect love, always faithful and always true. We can see had told Israel from the beginning that he would not share her with others. “You shall have no other gods before Me” was the first of his ten great commandments (Ex. 20:3).
This love including sexual love?
I don’t think that marriage and sexuality are meant to be disconnected from God. I think God made marriage and sexuality because it was a way of showing us the sort of union and intimacy that he wants to have with us. Peter Kreeft writes the following:
“Human sexuality is a foretaste of that self-giving, that losing and finding the self, that oneness-in-manyness that is the heart of the life and joy of the Trinity. That is what we long for; that is why we tremble to stand outside ourselves in the other, to give our whole selves, body and soul: because we are images of God the sexual being. We love the other sex because God loves God.
And this earthly love is so passionate because Heaven is full of passion, of energy and dynamism. We correctly deny that God has passions in the passive sense, being moved, driven, or conditioned by them, as we are. But to think of the love that made the worlds, the love that became human, suffered alienation from itself and died to save us rebels, the love that gleams through the fanatic joy of Jesus’ obedience to the will of His Father and that shines in the eyes and lives of the saints—to think of this love as any less passionate than our temporary and conditioned passions “is a most disastrous fantasy”.
Husbands and wives are to love each other completely, to want and desire each other, to enjoy each other’s company, to be unified. God is that sort of love, and he is that love more perfectly than any husband or wife. His heart is never in question, he is full of grace, he gives his everything for us. The idol of romantic love which we seek out as a promise to be loved fully and passionately, without end or conditions is something that reflects our longing for God – for no single person on Earth has capacity enough to love us that way, no single person knows us like God does.
God’s love for us
Did you realise that when Jesus came, he proposed to us? In his day, a suitor would make his proposal to his bride and then he would go and prepare a place for his bride and then bring her to live with himself. This is what Jesus does. He calls himself our Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15) and prepares a place for us, promising a day that he will bring us home to live with him (John 14:2-4). (See also Revelation 19:7-9)
Do you know how much you are worth to God? He loves you so much, that you are worth not just the universe to God, but you are worth his own death, his own crucifixion.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
1 John 3:16