There’s no doubt in most Christians minds that that Jesus was – and is – the kind of guy that just loves people to bits. After all, according to John 3:16, He did die on the cross for our redemption. A heck of a lot of people love Jesus right back too, and rightly so. After all, Jesus is not just the savior of mankind, He was pretty amazing as a human being, too. It’s fully appropriate that we regard, respect and admire Jesus, as we do all the amazing people we know of, especially ones who do great things for us personally, and for the collective good of mankind. But there’s something weird going on with Christians these days, particularly Christian women. It seems it’s no longer enough to love Jesus Christ as God, as a great person, as a savior, a brother, or a friend. People – men and women – are falling in love with Jesus. That’s falling in love, romantically – like they do in movies, like you do with your first crush, like you do with your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, like with Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom or Aragorn. Christians are falling in love with Jesus – and encouraging others to do the same – just like teens at a Twilight movie. Like swooning fans of Justin Beiber and his ilk, they’re falling for Jesus in churches and gatherings everywhere, quickly, obsessively, and sometimes even with a great big mob of their screaming friends.
Am I the only person who isn’t totally comfortable with this?
This is actually a veeeeery sensitive topic for me to broach. Many of my dearest friends enjoy what seem to be deeply intimate and even romantic relationships with the person of Jesus Christ, and I have no wish to criticise or alienate them. But I don’t share their feelings, and the whole falling in love with Jesus thing just makes me feel very uncomfortable. I’ve tried to do it, and I’ve been strenuously encouraged – by the usual methods; socialisation, sermon, and song – to push my relationship with Christ to it’s utmost emotional and spiritual limits, for as long as I can remember. But after all these years loving Christ and being loved back, I think I’ve found those limits, and they’ve stopped way before I could ever consider myself to be in love with Jesus. I consider Him my brother, my friend, my master and my Lord. But my lover?
You see, I already have a lover. His name is Ben. I married him 23 years ago, and we have 4 children together. We’ve had our troubles, but at this time we are more in love than ever we have been. God gave us to each other, we believe, and we seek His help and guidance in our marriage every day. And we enjoy a level of physical intimacy with one another we don’t share with anyone else. This love we have is God-ordained, and absolutely appropriate. The Bible describes this love in Greek as eros – sexy love – and according to the Bible it’s for the enjoyment of people who are married to each other.
Ben is also my friend. We’ve been friends for a little longer than we’ve been married, and we are best friends. Literally, best friends. I don’t have a female best friend – I gave them up a few years ago. Female best friend making and keeping caused so many problems in my marriage, I stopped trying to keep Ben and the female best friends, and decided just to keep the one friend I promised to love forever in front of God and everyone. I have a lot of friends, people I love, admire, respect and have history with, and like my marriage, this is a God-ordained kind of love. The Greek word is philio – brotherly love. I love my husband as my friend and brother in Christ, and he does the same for me. I also love my male and female friends that way, and this is entirely as it should be.
I have these other people in my life I love better than friends, but not in the same way I love Ben. My family – my parents, my children and my biological brothers. The Greek word for this is storge – familial love.
The other kind of love – one the Bible talks about in relation to God and us – is agape. Agape love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional – and it’s the love God has for us. This is the most difficult kind of love to practice, because it cuts the strings of expectation and obligation and just gives itself to it’s object expecting nothing in return. I try to love people with agape – and we’re all encouraged as Christians and worshippers of God to love others as God loves us – but I’m not very good at it. Agape is God’s special kind of love, and it’s a miracle working kind of love. In fact, the only miracles I have ever seen or known of are the ones where agape love was practiced or experienced in its simplest and purest form.
In church, as far back as the eighties, congregations have been encouraged to fall in love with Jesus. I recall songs we sang, such as I Keep Falling In Love With Him, Jesus – Lover Of My Soul and Falling In Love With Jesus, and I know they made me squirm a little. We used to sing this song that went Jesus, you have stolen my heart, I’m captivated by you, and I just couldn’t bring myself to sing it. I tried, but to be honest, it just felt weird talking about Him this way. I used to sing, Jesus, you have all of my heart, but even that seemed off, and was actually quite untrue. Jesus didn’t have all of my heart, hadn’t stolen the part He did have, and I wondered why we needed to use these images to describe what was meant to be the most natural, healthy thing for me to do in the world – have a relationship with Christ, and love the people He gave me to.
Besides, I didn’t want to see Jesus as someone I could just fall in love with. I didn’t want my relationship with Christ to descend into the kind of emotional quagmire other romantic obsessions had in my past. And really, that’s what falling in love means, isn’t it? Romantic obsession. I don’t know about you, but all my romantic obsessions had the following features. 1) They were based on an unrealistic picture of the person I was obsessed by 2) They sprang and were perpetuated from a place of deep unmet needs in me that actually needed to remain unmet for the obsession to continue 3) They inevitably ended badly, but always ended, because that kind of heightened emotional lust is simply not able to be satisfied, isn’t in any way sustainable, and most certainly is not healthy.
There’s another thing. The biggest problem I have with imagining myself to be in love with Jesus is the imagining part. Falling in love as a rule relies very, very heavily not on the wisdom, the will or the character of either of the lover or the loved – but on boundary breaking, fantasy and false expectation.
Do you really think Jesus wants us to do this? For Him?
I believe Christ loves me with philio love – I am certainly His friend. I also believe He loves me with what the Greeks called storge love – I am His sister, too. I have no trouble believing He loves me with agape love – His sacrificial love for me is evidenced in His actions on the cross on my behalf. But do I believe Christ wants me to express, feel or encourage anything other than these kinds of love toward Him?
I think when it comes to worshipping Christ, contemporary Christianity has kind of lost the plot. Instead of teaching reverence and the art of relationship, because that’s all far too traditional and pedestrian and not very sexy, we’ve instead created a physical and spiritual celebrity of Jesus Christ and then made ourselves into His silly, screaming fans. We imagine Jesus as our doe-eyed boyfriend and cast Him in our imaginations as a youthful, chisel-featured and ever chaste lover. We then paint ourselves in the role of perky-breasted ingenue in some broody teen movie based on Song of Solomon. But despite the fact the Bible describes Christ returning for His bride – the Church – that bride isn’t literally us, as individuals, as lovers. Jesus doesn’t want to be our boyfriend. He doesn’t want to be our lover, in the sensual, sexual or erotic sense, at all. Call me old fashioned, but the more I get to know Him, the more I know He has no interest in sweeping me off my feet. Sorry, but that swoony Jesus movie you and He star in is all in your head. All the romantic notions of falling in love simply go against everything Jesus ever said or did when He was here, and everything that was said about Him before He came, and after He left.
I actually think the depiction of Jesus as a romantic object detracts from our relationships with real people, and teaches us to remain spiritually and emotionally immature. I don’t want the kind of relationship in my imagination I have with my real-life husband. It feels erky. God gave me a husband made of flesh for a reason. Because I am made of flesh. I don’t want to be chasing after an imaginary, pin-up Jesus when I have a real life Ben and a ring on my finger.
I know we’ve been told that loving our spouses and families and friends must come second to loving Jesus. For me, I find there’s just no competition between them. In order for a competition to exist, I would have to shift Jesus Christ away from the God/Deity department in my head, and move Him across to the other part with the beings who won’t clean the toilet after themselves and who look funny naked. Maybe your head doesn’t work like that, but I suspect it does, and I happen to think loving Jesus and James Patterson with the same part of you is going to mess you up big time.
Jesus is not your boyfriend, and – male or female – I don’t think you should try to fall in love with Him. If you don’t have a part of you that can feel loved without needing to be pashed, pined over or pursued, you need to do some work on that. We were made to worship God, but worship is not what the world has taught us it is. It’s not appropriate to love God like a celebrity, a pop star, or that unattainable sex-god you drooled over at high school. Gods love is pure, and unlike romantic love, wants nothing from you. It cannot disappoint you. Your brother, friend and saviour Jesus Christ has transcended all that gushy, pop-star stuff, and what He has to offer you is vastly more interesting than anything you can think up, even in the most vivid imagination.
The final word, from the best known scripture on love.
“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13