Love vs. Romance
[I think it’s important to point out the difference between love and romance. You don’t love your family the same way you love your girlfriend; the latter would be considered romance. So rather than risk any confusion when referring to love, I will always refer to romantic love as “romance” and never just “love”, as is the common use in our culture.]
I’m always amazed by the people who freak out at me as if by my denial of romance I’m thwarting God’s plan for my life and passing up the mate God wants me to marry. As if life is a game where you have to play all your cards right or else you screw up and you’re accidentally off track the rest of your life. And how is it that I screwed up? By analyzing my life and earnestly seeking out how best to serve God instead of just giving into my selfish desires on a whim like the godless American majority? If anyone would hear God’s call for marriage wouldn’t it be those who surrender to His will and open their ears to hear from Him? If we are celibate because we honestly feel it’s God’s will, then we will marry when we honestly feel it’s God’s will. If it’s God’s will He would make it so, change the circumstances, change our hearts, and those of our soul mates, to bring us together providentially, not through eHarmony or dating every girl you see at church. It’s in His hands, any other way is faithlessness, out of fear and out of His will. There’s times and seasons in our lives, and God changes us according to our best fit in reaching the world. But at the same time there weren’t “times and seasons” in Paul’s life, and we must live with that resolve until God tells us otherwise.
I think of romance like hard drugs. Romance is something you find physically tempting because of its promise to pick you up from your neutral-to-depressing existence and put you on cloud 9 in an experience of emotional ecstasy. Once you give in just a little bit and have that first taste, your system is completely transformed to revolve around it. It’s all you can think about, all you care about. It immediately detours your plans for the day all the way until the day you die. All your previous ambitions and decisions are immediately thrown out the window and replaced with attempts to get another taste. Yet neither are necessities for living. Neither help you physically or spiritually. And in fact they do harm to your potential and that of the Great Commission as they throw away your time, talent and treasures. Any spare time you have is spent thinking about it, to the point that you can’t really enjoy anything else anymore, so that anytime you are without it you are in emotional misery, which affects your mind, body and relationships to make all of them miserable as well. Whatever time you do have is spent trying to get it back or fantasizing about it. Whatever spare money you have is used to bring it back to you. And then, of course, you neglect using your god-given talents by instead laying around, listening to the siren’s song in a euphoric state, and are no good to anybody.
How can anything be good that you are obsessed with all day? The first thing you think of when you wake to the last thing you think about when you go to bed. How can anything be so obsessive and yet considered good (aside from God, of course, whom we should be obsessed with all the time)? Isn’t that just as bad as hard drugs? In fact, isn’t that the reason hard drugs are considered bad? Because they possess you and take over your life so that every decision is made in favor of that addiction, and so they destroy your life and recreate your identity.
[Of course this argument is largely referring to the puppy love stage, which is temporary….but I wouldn’t know anything about that having never made it beyond the puppy love stage. 🙂 And sadly I fear that many couples never make it past this romantic infatuation before getting married (so that their marriage is based on emotion instead of reason), and that is why they do not last.]
The truth is that romance is blinding, and if you randomly fall in love with someone, regardless of their compatibility, then your mind (being now possessed and controlled by emotion) will shape logic around them, shape God’s will and your calling so that the person fits in right at the center– your new god. Can’t you see that this addiction (just like any other) is idolatry? And yet it feels so natural, so right! When you’re in love there’s no such thing as logic, because your emotions refashion your previously existing logic. And if, as was my case, the logic is square against the romance in any area, you just ignore it. When in doubt, side with emotion. Because you and your body feel emotion. You don’t feel logic. Your primal desires are more desperate to be satisfied than your mental unsatisfactions. Romance is invincible and blind. That’s why it’s important to look for a mate not based on romance, but before romance sets in and blinds you to God’s will.
I ask you, is that love? In the immortal words of Haddaway, “What Is Love?”
If Paul, writer of majority of the New Testament, encourages celibacy then why is it so rare today? Wouldn’t we all pursue, or at least consider, his logical, God-ordained advice? It wasn’t a command, just advice. But personal advice coming from the main apostle, perhaps the greatest Christian to ever live, shouldn’t that be heeded more than the advice of any other christian leader since? I mean, it’s in the Bible! And who is the opposition? Not the Catholic church, whose leaders are celibate. It’s the comfortable American church that fits into an unbiblical, non-sacrificial, hedonistic society pursuing the American Dream. It’s just Christian enough to get into Heaven, but not Christian enough to make a difference. Unchristian enough to fit perfectly in the devil’s plan. Why would Satan waste time on the lost who are already lost when he can just keep Christians from reaching them?
Romance Is Not Ideal
34Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” – Luke 20
If nothing else, we can all agree that at the very least romance is not ideal, otherwise it would be in Heaven. Because Heaven is ideal and marriage (thus sex and romance) isn’t in Heaven, marriage must not be ideal. And if there won’t be marriage in Heaven why bother dealing with it here on earth? Of course, you could argue “because you won’t be able to experience it in Heaven”, but isn’t the goal of Christianity to do God’s will on Earth as it is in Heaven? And to ultimately prepare this Earth to become Heaven, which will descend to reside here at the end of the age? If God’s will is perfectly done in Heaven where there is no romance then what does that imply we should strive for here on Earth in making this place more like Heaven?
Remember that in the beginning, when God commanded marriage, that everything was perfect and he himself dwelt there so that there was no need of Heaven on Earth; Heaven was already on Earth. Which raises a serious question: God created romance in the beginning, and wasn’t all God’s creation perfect and thus ideal? Perfect, yes; ideal, no. Because it’s only perfect for this particular, physical world; it’s not the overall, universal ideal. Just like planet Earth itself: though perfect, it was never intended to be as good as Heaven. As Luke says, there is no marriage because there is no need for marriage. In other words, the point of marriage in the beginning was to procreate and keep mankind alive (and tending the Earth), but since man doesn’t die in Heaven, there’s no need to procreate, thus no marriage (thus no romance which is the seed of the others).
Which also raises an interesting point: If the main point of marriage was to populate the Earth, now that the Earth is more than populated does that original intent hold the same weight? I’d argue that the Earth had become completely inhabited by the time of Jesus, so when Jesus fulfilled the Law (including “be fruitful and multiply”) and encouraged celibacy in Matthew 19 the timing was Providential. God created romance in the beginning, thus it was “very good.” But oh, how things have changed! The version of romance we have today has been corrupted just like everything else post-Eden, so who’s even to say that it is still just as “very good.” But that’s besides the point; the point is that even if modern romance is still good according to God’s design, it’s not the best. Romance is good, but giving up your own romance/pleasure for the greater good of humanity is better.
Imagine all the drama that would vanish if there were no ulterior motives and mind possession from lust/romance. Imagine people living without exclusive relationships to be jealous of or bitter about, to make for awkward situations. No one would be left out or marginalized based on their insecurities, looks, or handicaps. While there would still be jealousy, loneliness, etc, it wouldn’t be magnified by this amazingly-large staple of human life, this void which only serves to intensify the pain of those who would be single regardless. People would just be people, living together as friends. Some are better friends than others (enter jealousy/bitterness/loneliness), but there’s no exclusive/legal/sacred bond between 2 people. There would still exist the same kind of issues that exist today among people, it’s just that they wouldn’t be romance-related, which probably takes away half of our major issues. Oh, what a relief the very thought is!
Doesn’t God have a divine plan for every person? Don’t we need to seek Him and wait on Him to reveal our specific calling, how to fulfill it, and the provisions needed to fulfill it, all exactly as God planned it? Of course. If that’s how it is with the most important thing in our lives, wouldn’t it be the same with the other most important thing in our lives (aka, marriage)? Worrying about marriage and rushing around trying to find a good enough girl to marry lest you miss it and are lonely your whole life or it’s too late to have kids is the same thing as worrying about missing your calling and rushing around trying not to waste time and plugging into a ministry based on society’s influence on you and what’s available, instead of based on prayer and seeking God’s voice that calls you to the ministry He created you for. No devout Christian condones the latter, why then is it the norm to condone the former? Just as God created you for one specific ministry above all others, so God has chosen one soul-mate to complement you above all other people.
Everyone should start off as celibate until God reveals his talent/ministry/calling so they know what attributes to look for in a mate, but waiting on God to join them together supernaturally, not just marrying whoever is convenient or who you happen to be around and fall in love with. Because you’re not just marrying another person, you’re marrying your future self- as you two become one mind. It’s not good to live a life of solitude unless you’re specifically doing some good project that requires it (ie, monks copying manuscripts). Celibacy might not be best for you if you struggle more than usual with being single while living in a world of single women to tempt you and married couples to make you jealous, bitter, lonely, feeling left out, and longing. But struggles are inevitable while living in this sinful world in our sinful flesh, regardless of your calling.
Celibacy is a gift (1 Cor. 7:7), but what is the gift exactly? A lower sex-drive? Simply more self-control? Greater contentment or independence? Couldn’t it just as well be the realization and conviction that Paul himself had that this life is short and temporary and we should live as such? Many things are done better with a helper (someone to pick you up, as iron sharpens iron), but some things are better done alone. And why can’t your helper just be a friend? Celibacy doesn’t mean living a life of solitude, in most cases celibates would probably have more friends than couples because couples are so tied-up with each other they don’t have time or care about socializing. It’s not like being single means you’re all alone and don’t have any friends or family, or you’re living a sad existence alone at your house every night. If you’re single you probably have roommates and it’s like being in college your whole life, which could be better than marriage.
Just as your talents are spiritual gifts, the means by which you employ them (ie, celibacy/marriage) is a gift, too. Sure celibates are seen as set apart or above the norm of society and flesh. But I think couples can still be “set apart” or holy in contrast to the society they live in, and in deed should be. In fact married couples probably have it harder being in, not of, the world as they live more in the midst of the world and its temptations and trials, whereas celibates are typically set apart literally and physically. The married are tempted to keep up with the Joneses and the American Dream, and in fact the world looks down on them, too. Because they’re abnormal just like the celibate, though not as much.
But just as one member of the body isn’t better than another, the means of one calling (celibacy) isn’t better than another (marriage). We’re two different kinds of people, members of the body, with different functions/missions. Celibates shouldn’t look down on the married for “giving in” to their primal desires. And the married should not criticize celibates for being “too uptight”, “legalistic”, “missing out on the joys of life”, or “rebelling against their design”.
Of course the most persuasive argument for celibacy comes from just reading 1 Corinthians chapter 7, which I encourage you to read alongside this essay, and I don’t feel the need to expound on it because it speaks for itself. But where Paul talks of his own advice (not of the Lord), the Lord Himself gives the same advice in Matthew 19, and if the Lord is giving advice, is it really just advice? Jesus says getting divorced and remarrying while your spouse is alive= adultery. The only justifiable reason for divorce is if your spouse committed adultery, but even then the innocent person is forced to commit adultery when they marry someone else (it’s the only justified adultery). The disciples responded saying that it is better to never marry once, than be divorced once. Then Jesus condones their words in a curious way by saying, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given….[For] there are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” Jesus changes the topic slightly to affirm the call to celibacy, later echoed by Paul (the 2nd most influential person in Christianity, next to Jesus). God Himself lays it out plainly: If you can remain single you should. Which seems to me that if you can remain single but do not, you are not living up to God’s expectations. It seems like He’s saying if you’re not sure you are called to be married then stay single. It is better to lean towards remaining single and being sinless than to lean towards marriage and possibly sinning. Better to err in the noble fight for righteousness than to err by simply giving in to the temptations of the world.
Ministry before Matrimony, Matrimony above Ministry
You should not marry because it feels good, nor should you be celibate just to lock yourself away to meditate in a euphoric state all the time (get high on God). The feeling you feel doesn’t benefit others, so it’s not worth doing unless it benefits others, such as if it is a means of a spiritual rest or equipping to prepare for future service. When it all comes down, the only reason you should marry is if it brings you closer to God to help you preach the gospel better. If your relationship takes away time from service or hinders your relationship/growth with God then you are clearly in sin. But if you’re married then it’s too late, and you have higher responsibilities than your calling. You must first understand your calling, then if marriage would help it or hurt it, then figure out what type of person would complement your ministry. Although only God ultimately knows what would help our ministry, there should still be some obvious things to look for and look against.
What is the one thing you are best at?
I think the answer to this is the clearest indicator of where you could make the biggest impact for the Gospel’s advancement (aka your calling). I have the gift of song-writing; I feel it is the one thing I can do better than anything else. So if I felt called with my mind and God’s spirit to marriage, it would only make sense to marry someone who would understand my calling, appreciate my songs, give constructive criticism to strengthen my ministry, and also give me enough time and space alone to work on them. It would be a sin to marry someone who I’m attracted to, though they could care less about music and would get mad at me for spending large amounts of time writing and thinking. If they need more time with me to fulfill their own calling so that my own is watered down and put on the shelf then I screwed up in marrying the wrong person, going with my emotions rather than the spirit, not waiting for God to reveal it first and confirm it in a way that makes sense. And I fear that is the fate of many (if not most) marriages, if they aren’t centered on ministry. I’m not saying your ministry takes priority over your marriage in your daily life (it’s the opposite), but your ministry/calling comes first chronologically in your life-time and defines what your marriage will be. If at all. Marriage takes priority over ministry, so make sure your marriage complements both the ministry of the groom and bride. That way when you make marriage your top priority you strengthen your ministry at the same time.
Luke 14:16-24: Jesus said to them, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many… One said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ … The master said … “None of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”