December’s Edge (2010)

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R.D. Ackerman (2010)


Am I Married to Christ, Or Am I Having an “Affair”?

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“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” ~G.K. Chesterson

The above comment raises interesting questions. It easily brings up the meaning of what Christ intended when the Church was described as His Bride in a number of Biblical references. Psalms 19:5; Matthew 9:15 & 25:1; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29; Revelations 21:9.

This loving and sanctified relationship is best described at Ephesians 5:25-33. The description of the ‘marital relationship’ between Christ and His Church is not a mere theory, but is an objective description of what is expected of the person who loves the source of their Faith, and the relationship between these two ‘betrothed.’

The term ‘love affair’ almost doesn’t fit. It is almost tawdry, except to the extent that the author desired to think of religion as sanctified and one of solid covenant as opposed to an affair of sorts.

Moreover, the Chesterson quote introduces a vagueness and unnecessary subjectivity into the relationship between Man and God. It invites the error of unmet expectations into a relationship that is otherwise made clear by historical fact and by Biblical covenant.

In simpler terms, God does not always come through and give me the attention I want, or perceive myself to need, on any given day — nor should I expect Him to, for He teaches and disciplines me according to my actual needs and the covenant we made with each other. Sometimes, the relationship requires that I simply give my life up to Him and “repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42.

Considering myself to be in a “love affair” with Him will certainly not guide me in any truly objective way. The daily expectations of my wife or I can change as our moods change, life circumstances change, and in light of other external factors. Human love affairs are hardly consistent or predictable. What I can expect from God is that he will abide in the covenants made with me through the specific Words he chose to speak to all of us through the Bible. John 1:1-14.

If I do not believe in the covenant, I should not be in the relationship, much in the same way that those who are not willing to stick to their marital vows should not be married and bring judgment upon themselves for such failures. Matthew 5:31-32. But, that I should believe, I am required to bring my ship back to the safe harbor of His Love, Word and Compassion for me, as I would with my marriage and the love that it holds for me.

How can one please God if we do not know what to expect from him? Are His set of expectations merely “theory”? No, he expects us to keep his sayings/commandments and live by them much in the same way couples live out their vows. John 14:15-24.

When viewed from a humanistic stance, the expectation that one’s religion might be viewed as a “love affair” carries with it all of the potential for self interest as a governing force, the expectation of certain results, errors, false perception, and unmet expectations as with most “love affairs.” My love of, and servitude to, Christ must be submissive and humble. As I learn from my submission to His Church, I also learn patience, commitment and humility in my own human affairs. Ephesians 6:5-9. Acts 20:19; Colossians 2:18-23.

In fact, it is no secret that marriages, love affairs, and the entry into any covenant must be based on trust, honor, dignity and like factors. Conversely, such relations require much work, are not always perfect because of the people involved (regardless of the strength of the words of any covenant made between them), and relationships require an element of daily tolerance and forgiveness in order to work.

One of the other thoughts that comes to mind is one which relates to the definition of marriage and love. For me anyway, the purpose of marriage is so that the couple might become one flesh and so that they might put forth future generations. Often, we look to our parents, or at least want to look at prior generations, to learn about what makes for a good relationship. Perhaps this is why we were given the Commandment to honor our parents. Exodus 20:12; Matthew 15:1-6. Indeed, we look for the “things that made it work” for our relatives and friends who have been married for decades. Psalm 45:16-17. Much the same can be said for religion.

Would I look for a community of believers that had stayed together consistently for 2000 years, or would I want one that is unproven or shown to have splintered since its inception? I think that the building blocks for a marriage ought to be based on the objective history of what has kept other marriages together — regardless of whatever cultural, environmental, or financial challenges there were in those relationships.

Religion faces many of these same challenges and how the Faith responds to the challenges will either be honorable or dishonorable. The quality or reliability of the response, on the other hand, can only be looked at on a larger historical level. We often ask ourselves, “Did the couple last?” or we say, “Wow, that couple really made it. What a great marriage. They’ve been through a lot and still love each other.” What of us who have not forgotten the true love that we have for the Faith we had as children? What of that love that is rediscovered, but tempered with years of experience and life before coming back to the beloved?

As with all marriages, there are ups and downs and some of these peaks, separations of time, troughs, and plateaus last for varying periods of time. The issue then becomes more of a matter of assessing whether the “family” survived the challenges and made the most of them over the length of the relationship. As with marriage, the ability to maintain the relationship depends on my willingness to go back to the vows/commitment/covenant that I made in the first place, because I know that the words are objective and lasting — regardless of my own faults in keeping to the words at times.

Or, if I want to look for good or bad examples of relationships, what shall I say of the persons who continually switch love affairs or who are always trying to change their spouses? Is this not what Luther did? He didn’t love the spouse he married (i.e., the Catholic Church). Simply stated, Luther left his beloved for another. See generally, 2 Corinthians 11:1-2.

In a very strong sense, Luther seized upon the weaknesses of a long marriage and, instead of counseling and reforming, chose to be a home-wrecker of sorts. Such efforts were egged on by the likes of Zwingli and Calvin as well. Instead of looking to save the marriage, they tried to find new wives for Christ. Instead of reminding the cheaters (the religious leaders of the Catholic Church), of their vows, the “Reformers” focused on the destruction of the 1500-year-old marriage which had survived many an attack before Luther.

Luther, in a spiritual form of domestic violence, forcefully redefined his covenant and put in motion a view of the “love relationship” between Man and God that splintered, caused division, led to war, and resulted in a complete lack of unity between literally hundreds if not thousands of denominations. Prior to his “love affair” there was a solid bond among believers, and the unity had survived for more than 1500 years, not including the 3500-4000 years of lasting covenants between God and the People of Israel. These relationships and the example they set were not merely theoretical, they were confirmed by the annals of history and the happiness, sorrows, and challenges of the persons who lived in the relationships that form the basis even for our Faith today.

These things being said, it cannot be forgotten that couples need time alone, they often need time to heal spiritual wounds, they need time to reform their relationship so as to bring it into conformity with their original vows. Is a “date-night” not the time for ‘rekindling the fire’ and creating and enjoying memories as to why we love each other in the first place? Can these things not be said about the Church as well? God wants ‘date nights’ with us as well — it’s called prayer. Reform, however, cannot be confused with changing one’s vows. The vows remain the same, but are renewed through peace, reformation, and time.

The Chesterson quote also raises the question: What about the folks who find out that they fell in love, and found out the person/religion wasn’t what they thought they found? What if the beloved is dishonest? What if one spouse matures and the other remain stagnant? What about the spouse who suffers from a disease that inhibit the relationship? No true vow of marriage allows for its breaking through any of these ‘reasons.’ The strength of the relationship can only be defined by the willingness of those in it to remain true to themselves and to the relationship formed through their unique identities, overall purpose, and their complimentary reflections upon each other.

Isn’t Romanticism an ideal (i.e., theoretical)? To be loved, one must have all of the qualities necessary to be capable of being loved. For some, this is a history of honor, a definitive covenant, consistency, loyalty, appearance, accountability, depth, satisfaction, trust, and other such factors. These factors aren’t theoretical — either they exist as a matter of fact or not. Christ’s words and the history of His people are not theoretical. These Words tell us of what He expects of us for so long as we shall love each other, just as my vows tell me what I have promised my wife and she to me.