January 8, 2014

Desire is Not Love, pt. 2

Gary Thomas — 
photo: coolcal2111, Creative Commons

photo: coolcal2111, Creative Commons

[In the previous post, we made a distinction between desire and love. If you haven’t read that post, please go back and read it before you read this one.]

Since there is such a spiritual significance in understanding the difference between desire and love, the goal of our marriages must change accordingly. Most couples I talk to think that the goal of marriage is to keep desiring each other like they did when they were infatuated. Now, sometimes I do still desire my wife like that, but the constant goal I must really strive for is entirely different from desire. It is based in love. It is expressed by the apostle John: “If we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12)

This is a sacred marriage!

The expression of our love, the commitment of our love, brings God into our marriage, letting his love be complete in our marriage and sustain our marriage. This is more than human desire. It is, quite literally, worship (acknowledging and reveling in His excellence) and surrender (giving way to His presence).

The problem is that so many spouses ask themselves (without realizing that this is what they are asking), “How can I still desire a man who is so selfish and unfeeling and arrogant?” “How can I still desire a woman who is happy to spend my money but is so stingy with her physical affections?”

Good luck with that.

The root of these questions is the assumption that desire is the all-important commodity for a happy, fulfilling marriage.

If I can’t make myself desire a fallen person who stumbles in many ways (James 3:2), then my marriage must be over.

But that’s not the biblical goal. The biblical goal is a shared experience of God living in us and God’s love being made complete in us. I may not desire a wife who doesn’t respect me, but I can still act benevolently. I can revel in the love God pours out on me, and out of that abundance pour it out on others (“We love because He first loved us.”). I love the way Dallas Willard puts this: “The first great commandment [love of God] makes it possible to fulfill the second [love of others].”

The pursuit of a sacred marriage is the pursuit of God in marriage

—seeking to experience His love (not our desire); His presence (not our happiness); His glory (not our selfishness).

To the spiritually blind, this sounds absurd, even ridiculously so, but for those who have tasted of God’s goodness, they know that God’s love overwhelms our own desire; that His presence brings a joy that makes human “happiness” feel like a small shudder in the face of God’s earthquake; that’s God’s glory is so much more fulfilling, in every possible way, than our small-minded selfishness.

Here’s the trap sacred marriage saves us from:

If what you desire can never satisfy, you will never be satisfied, even if you obtain your desire. But if you place your hope in God’s love, “hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:3)

I can’t sustain desire; no one can. But the Bible promises me that God will sustain love because He keeps pouring it into our hearts through His Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). A marriage based on desire will be like living on a flood plain—sometimes you’ll be underwater, and sometimes it’ll be bone dry. That’s where, quite frankly, most couples exist. A marriage based on God’s love is a steady mountain stream from which you never see the source, but you also know it will never run out.

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