Romance is a wonderful thing. The long talks, smiles, interlocked hands and purposeless walks—all of these things make us feel alive. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been single for years or married for 60, we can all relate to Tom in 500 Days of Summer when he dances through the streets to "You Make My Dreams" because he won Summer’s heart. Feelings can carry us to the top of the world.
The problem is, feelings fade. I heard a friend recently admit that he has fallen hard for dozens of girls only to break up with them after dating for a few months because the butterflies stopped flying. And this is the way our culture works: We date people until they stop giving us what we want.
Although I’m sure I could write a great deal about the problem of mistaking emotional romance for love, that is not what this column is about. I’m writing this because I have seen many people (including myself) act as though following Christ is like being in a petty high school relationship. When things get difficult, complicated, confusing or unfulfilling, we walk away.
Most of the time, this is really subtle. It’s leaving a church because the worship music doesn’t give you goosebumps, or neglecting prayer because you don’t feel God’s arms tangibly hugging you like you once did. The problem is, Jesus did not come to sprinkle feel-good emotions on us like a Valentine love affair. He came to lead us into the Kingdom of God, and following Him there can be tough.
I once attended a Bible study where a girl openly complained, “Jesus and I are in a fight.” Instantly, everyone’s eyes in the room turned to her. She proceeded, “He hasn’t answered any of my prayers for weeks, and I’m beginning to feel like He is ignoring me.” We all sympathized with her and understood her angst. Although most of us would not put it in these terms, we all feel frustrated when God does not fulfill our emotional desires. Taking a step back, however, I realize this complaint (a very common one) trivializes Christ’s lordship and makes Him seem more like a romantic companion who must return all of our phone calls than the God of our lives.
Of course, when examining the Gospels, we see that Jesus has extravagant, eternal love for His followers. At the last supper, He tells His disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9). Here, Christ confesses His deep, heart-felt affection for the disciples, yet in the same conversation He warns them that He will soon go away, leaving them to endure persecution without His physical presence. In other words, they must abide in his love because soon they will be tempted to forget it.
We do ourselves a huge disservice to view Christ’s love through the lens our culture’s definition of the word. Hollywood says love only exists when our whimsical, emotional needs are met. God says love always exists because of what Christ did for us. He demonstrated the highest form of love possible, sacrificing His own life for the sake of ours on the cross. In Romans 8, Paul reflects, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” In this way, we can know in the deepest parts of who we are that God loves us, even if we feel alone or ignored in the present.
As John Piper asks, “Do you feel loved by God because you believe He makes much of you, or because you believe He frees you and empowers you to enjoy making much of Him?”
I will be the first to admit I struggle in my faith. I often feel unsatisfied and turn to accomplishments, approval, possessions and physical intimacy to get my fix of fulfillment. I once even decided to “take a break” from prayer for months while I dated a girl in an attempt to fill my soul. But I have to assume this emptiness was felt by Abraham when he waited 25 years for God’s promise, or by Joseph when his brothers left him for dead, or by Paul when his ship wrecked, and yet they still abided in God’s love.
Even when we can’t feel Christ’s presence and our hearts long to run in a hundred different directions, we can still offer devotion, knowing that God rewards those who seek Him. His love is much greater, deeper and more enduring than Hollywood romance. It makes us feel the greatest joy and passion, yet it also sustains us when we don’t. So the answer is no: Jesus will not be your Valentine. He will be much more than that. He will be a helper, a healer, a savior and a king, our Lord to worship and our God to love.