I found out on a radio show today that Valentine’s day elicits the most text messages sent from a drunken person to some lost loved one. It’s a day known for both brave acts of chivalry and embarrassing events of sentimentality. Let’s reflect a little, however, about what the culture is trying to communicate and rhetoric that often comes with it.
Love is often communicated as the end point of all things. The reception and bestowal of which consummates the meaning of human existence. There is much truth to this statement, but lest we become deceived, we must make a distinction between a non-Christian view of love from a Christian view of the same.
The rhetoric of secularism to Christianity is that we are often unreasonable, bigoted, or unloving – who would ever want to be seen as someone who is against such likeable notions like love, or reason? We’ve got to ask what the rhetorician means by those words.
Often what they will mean by love is an expression of self-gratification grounded in an emotional high, best achieved by physical intimacy in the form of sex. This is, of course, the definition that is functional in the debate of the legitimacy of same sex marriage and the like. Love is seen to simply be an expression of an emotion, the sanctioning of a physical act. The implications are manifold. Our partners are thus seen not as someone we ought to serve but someone who fulfills my wants and needs – and the moment we begin to detect a sign of dissatisfaction on our part we interpret that as signal that something in the relationship has gone awry. We often treat relationships and the beloved the way we treat mere objects – the moment they fail to gratify you, perhaps it’s a sign to move on to something new.
Hence the sentimentality that often comes with valentine’s day. The divorce rates are not getting lower, and the more pornography we watch the more meaningless we feel and become. We are so entrenched in a radical consumerism that we start treating our partners the same way we treat an Iphone. The newer, we often think, will always be better. Because love is defined by those emotional highs people will attempt to replicate a nostalgic moment in a long lost past, and when we fail to realize those emotions, again, we see that as a sign that it is time to move on to something new. But, of course, those feelings won’t last – and I’m not sure we would want it to – who could sustain the highs of a honeymoon for a life time? Only when we see and accept that our emotions are fickle, and are often misdirected and deceived, can we settle down to a different kind of satisfaction – a stability grounded in a Spirit-wrought commitment for the good of the other – a desire to serve the other as Christ loved the church – a relationship that sees physical intimacy as a gift and not as a foundation – and that meaning is not found in a physical relationship with another human but in the pursuit of Christ and His glory. Indeed, if we are to pursue a relational commitment with another person, that itself must be seen as a means for the further pursuit of Christ.
The man I heard about on the radio sent 53 drunken texts to his ex-girlfriend, who is apparently now married to another man. He fails to understand that it is not a wife that will ultimately satisfy his deepest longings. Neither is singleness a curse to be repudiated. In fact, many married couples would tell you that life gets harder because of their marriage. Seeing a relationship as the ultimate end for our lives will only set us up for an inevitable disappointment. In the last day, there will be no more marriage. In the last day, marriage would have served it’s purpose. It’s purpose is, at its core, to reflect Christ’s love for His church. Love is a commitment for the other person’s good, and that other person’s good is Christ. Marriage, therefore, is a sacred act for the end of holiness and a theater that displays analogically God’s self-sacrificial love. All the joys of marriage will pale in comparison to the joy that we may receive when we behold the face of Christ in the last day, no longer with sin to defile our being.
Valentine’s day, from the Christian perspective, is ultimately trivial. Sure, it can be used as an opportunity to plan something special for a loved one. Sure, it can be used to celebrate a particular commitment. But it may also feed into that lie that something finite is the answer to our deepest longings, or that a nostalgic moment in the past was the high point of your life. Our emotions are unreliable, and should never thus be used as a barometer for legitimacy.
Yet this is only because we are still sinners. Human emotion is in itself good, as the Psalms and the many affections of Christ depict. Sin has caused us to take emotional pleasure in grievous deeds and sin has caused us to hate that which God ultimately loves. Holiness thus becomes a burden, and sin seen to be pleasure and gratification. But there will come a time where our emotional lives will be fully perfected. Where we will not be grieved by the fact that we have chosen to commit to another person, but we will be grieved by even the thought of grieving over that commitment. Where we will be more satisfied at looking at the sunrise from the window of an airplane over the empty blockbuster we had seen in that flight. There will come a point where the tears that are shed are no longer shed for trivial matters like losing a valentine but for the tragedies that come from human sin. Until that day, however, our point of reference must come solely from something entirely outside of us: in God’s Word, through which we see everything else.