Archives For Valentine’s Day

Two Kinds of Love

Mark Beuving —  February 13, 2013 — 2 Comments
Soren Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard made an interesting distinction between two types of love.

First, there is preferential love. As the name suggests, this kind of love is based on preference. Preferential love is the love we feel towards those we find attractive. It’s the love we feel for those who care for us and love us. It is love towards the lovable.

Obviously, this is a great kind of love to have. We love God because he is lovable (1 John 4:19). We love our friends, family, and lovers. To refrain from loving someone simply because they are lovable would be ridiculous.

Our culture rightly prizes this kind of love. This is the love that most of our songs and movies glorify. There is often a hedonistic and even lustful bent to this kind of love, but the point is, preferential love is directed toward those to whom we feel attraction for whatever reason.

But Kierkegaard contrasts preferential love with what he calls commanded love. This is love of the will. It is love that is directed toward anyone and perhaps everyone. Commanded love looks at a person, and even when there is no attraction or affection, it genuinely wishes that person well.

Obviously, commanded love is the more difficult of the two. Preferential love comes and goes, but commanded love rests on no circumstance. There is no reason why commanded love cannot be directed toward both our dearest friends and our bitterest enemies. If preference and lovability are not determining factors, we may choose to direct the love that wills another’s well-being toward any person at all.

Kierkegaard ties commanded love to one of the biblical words for love—agape. It is an unconditional, un-circumstantial kind of love. Commanded love—agape love—is the kind of love that God showed when he died for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8).

Heart in the SandThe point is not to rid ourselves of preferential love. We couldn’t even if we tried. Rather, the point is to command love for every person we encounter. Kierkegaard exhorts us to love our neighbor. By neighbor, he does not necessarily mean the near-person, like our next-door neighbor. Instead, he means the next-person, as in the next person to cross our path. If we will love the next person with commanded love, then we are not differentiating between people based on our tastes and feelings. We are instead loving people as people, valuing them as those made in the image of God and therefore as worthy objects of our love.

A good gauge of how well you are loving your friends and family is how well you are loving your enemies. You have no preferential love for your enemies, or for the outcasts of society. If you find yourself loving them—genuinely wishing them well—then you love them with commanded love. And if you find no commanded love for your enemies, then your love for your friends is likely nothing more than preferential love, subject to change with the whims of your feelings.

As our culture celebrates love this Valentine’s Day, ask yourself which type of love you will be celebrating.

A couple from TLC’s show “The Virgin Diaries” sharing butterfly kisses.

I doubt I’ll surprise anyone by saying that Christians are bad at dating. We all feel it in our bones and see it at every church function. Christians tend to be awkward when interacting with members of the opposite sex. Much of this is simply a human problem and not a specifically Christian problem. But our Christian culture places weird pressures and expectations on us, so we end up with some unique manifestations of awkwardness in dating.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to explore some of this awkwardness. No, I don’t have any “moves” to pass on. And no, I don’t think that I’m less awkward than anyone else. But I would like to debunk a few myths about dating and the road to marriage that have become as engrained in Christian culture as evangelistic bumper stickers.

Here is a myth that most of the church has embraced, but that remains a myth nonetheless: “I need to get married.” Do you? Why?

I’m not surprised that Christians feel this way. Marriage, of course, is a great and beautiful thing, and I have been incredibly blessed in my marriage. I’m a huge fan of marriage. But should every Christian be married? I don’t see how we can possibly say or even suggest that this should be the case. Is it possible to be a godly Christian and not married? Jesus obviously thought so. So did Paul. In fact, read 1 Corinthians 7 if you’re tempted to believe that marriage is inherently better than singleness. Paul seems to be making the opposite case: remain single unless God specifically calls you to be married.

I have heard many young people (guys more than girls) appeal to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:9 that it is better to marry than to burn with passion. “I have these lust issues, so I need to get married. Paul says so.” But believe it or not, marriage doesn’t magically cure lust. If lust is in your heart, then changing your external situation (having a spouse to have sex with) is not going to fix you. That lust is in your heart and will find new and more inventive ways to manifest itself. You may spend your honeymoon lust-free (probably you’ll just be venting your lust with your new spouse), but only gaining self-control through the power of the Spirit will change the desires in a person’s heart.

No, Paul seems to be talking about a person who is called to be married and who tries to deny that calling by trying to live single for the rest of their lives. In other words, Paul isn’t saying that you should get married as soon as you feel lust. Instead, if you are the kind of person that God has called to marriage (and this implies that there is another kind of person as well), then don’t run from God on this issue.

At every wedding you attend, you will hear the pastor read Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.” For many, this is an affirmation that singleness is bad, so everyone ought to end up married. Adam was an unmarried man in the garden, God looked at him and decided that being unmarried was bad, so He solved the problem by creating a wife and getting Adam married. But I don’t believe that this is the point of Genesis 2:18. When God looked at the one human being He had created, He decided that human beings shouldn’t live in isolation. So He created another human being so that Adam could live in community. Eve was a wife, to be sure, but she was also another human being. If Genesis 2:18 means that singleness is bad, then Paul was mistaken in 1 Corinthians 7.

Let me just re-affirm that I like marriage. I think it is a good thing. But we all know that good things can easily become idols. Rather than assuming that you have to be married, why not leave that up to God? Here is the attitude I would recommend: “My goal is to glorify God as long as I’m single, and if God decides at some point to give me a spouse, then I’ll glorify Him in marriage.”

I think that much of the awkwardness surrounding dating in Christian culture stems from fact that every single Christian feels pressured to shop for a godly spouse. Let’s stop the pressure. Let’s play it cool, trusting God’s unfolding plan more than our own assumptions. Let’s not misuse the people God placed in our lives by constantly assessing their marriageability. Let’s love God and love people and allow Him to move us into the marriage arena in His time and on His terms if that’s what He wants to do with us.

Tomorrow I will try to sort through the awkward language we use for dating (e.g., courting, dating, boyfriend/girlfriend).