“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.
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron helped to launch Cor Deo UK in 2011, and retired from the ministry at the end of 2015. He continues to blog at his “A Spreading Goodness“. His doctoral thesis on Richard Sibbes is still available from Cor Deo and is well worth reading. For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Ron is now a pastoral care consultant with Barnabas International. In this role he provides care, coaching, encouragement, and educational services to those in overseas cross-cultural ministries. Go to Barnabas International for more information about this unique ministry and for a link that offers support options.