Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Crushin' on Jesus

There is a lot of language in evangelical spirituality about being "in love" with Jesus.  I just finished a good book about cultivating a more radical love for God based on humility and obedience but toward the end, it veered off into this romantic view of spiritual devotion.

The idea is that because God is more important to us than any human relationship, we should feel the same kind of emotional attachment to Him that we feel in our intense relationships.  Since the most intense emotional connection we feel is the rush of feelings associated with being "in love," then it supposedly follows that if we are really seeking to "love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul," as Jesus commanded, then we will have those same kinds of feelings, at the same intensity, that we have in the early stages of infatuation.

Not only have most of us read this idea in books and listened to it in overwrought, manipulative sermons (I remember quite a few from youth camp), we even sing the words, "Jesus, I am so in love with you," in one popular worship chorus.  This isn't a new idea, either.  The beloved Victorian-era hymn "In the Garden" captures these overtones as well and there's a reason why it is rarely cited by men as their favorite hymn but often by women.

I don't want to say that we shouldn't explore the themes of Jesus as Bridegroom or Jesus as Lover, since these are clearly biblical metaphors.  But practically speaking, I think that this way of thinking sets up unrealistic expectations for Christians who are sincerely trying to follow Jesus but don't feel what they think they are supposed to feel.  That leads to unnecessary guilt, for one thing, and disappointment in their own spiritual lives.  It also leads to a unique style of musical worship which strives to manufacture a kind of low-level ecstasy mimicking infatuation.  These effects, among others, are having an impact in the modern evangelical church.

It doesn't work, unfortunately, because the "in love" feelings are actually the result of a biochemical cocktail made up of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine and serotonin and create a slightly manic, highly anxious form of minor mental illness.  Couples struggle when they learn that this state of infatuation can't be maintained in a marriage, especially when they have come to define it as "love."  And Christians feel guilty and inadequate when they can't maintain it in their spiritual lives, and they wonder what's wrong with them and whether God will judge them for being "lukewarm."

I'd rather see Christians (and couples, too, for that matter) strive for the kind of love that people exhibit in happy, longterm committed relationships.  The kind of warm affection that comes from positive regard, fondness, forgiveness and grace and allows us build a solid relationship over time . . . the kind of love that sometimes feels overpowering and intense but mostly feels like being "home" . . . the sacrificial love that seeks the good of the other person even when it costs something . . . that's the kind of love for God that I wish we would aspire to.


Crystal said...

LOVE!!!! I just in "awe" of how you put thoughts into words. I love what you said here and agree!!!

pb said...

Thank you - could have been written solely for me.

Electric Monk said...

Outstanding post. I've often struggled with the idea of being "in love" with Jesus. I distinctly remember when I first met my (now) wife and the "minor mental illness" that ensued. I'm pretty sure no person could reasonably maintain that feeling for an indefinite period of time. I've always been slightly annoyed by "Jesus, I Am So In Love With You." While I understand the point trying to be made, that's a wording I would never use outside of a worship setting. We should be pursuing a long-term, comfortable love of God, not a fleeting, butterflies-in-the-stomach kind.

Janet said...

I have recently been pondering how very different following Jesus is from believing in Jesus or being in love with Jesus.

Nikki said...

I have always been disturbed by this romanticized idea of loving Jesus. I don't see any Biblical support for it, especially in the gospels. If anything, the Bible seems to teach us the danger of using feelings as our guide. Jesus said His followers would be known by their obedience to His commandments and their love for one another, not by how "in love" they are with Him.