Years ago, dear Christian friends of my wife and me explained why they had gotten divorced by writing, "We exhausted our spiritual resources." It was one of the strangest explanations I had ever heard, especially from two Ph.D.'s and Christian educators who knew very well that God's spiritual resources are inexhaustible. Apparently, they were unwilling to admit what had really happened and to say, "We quit trying."
More recently, another close Christian friend, a Ph.D. in New Testament studies no less, and a long-time educator, left his wife for another woman, who herself was seminary trained and a pastor, by saying to his wife, "I haven't loved you for the last seven years." What he meant, of course, was that he didn't have the same kind of feelings he once had for her. But in the Bible love is primarily a commitment, obedience to God's commands, rather than an emotion.
Just this fall, a former student and long-time pastor told me about how had "made a mistake" and cheated on his wife. In fact, he used the expression several times in our conversation. Never once did I hear the word "sin," however.
I guess in a world in which politicians "misspeak" when they lie, in which athletes "make bad choices" when they commit crimes, and prostitutes are called "sex workers," I shouldn't be so surprised.
But how about the innocuous and even heart-warming, "I fell in love"? As sweet as it sounds, it's not a biblical expression. And if you can claim you've fallen in love, then you can say you've fallen out of love, as lots of people do. In a country in which even many Christians think the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right (no, just because the American Constitution declares it so doesn't make it true), is it any wonder that people justify leaving their spouses because they just don't feel good any more?
Paul, in his famous love chapter, writes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." Notice the use of "always" a few times? And the adjectives and verbs used to characterize love don't have that much to do with emotion, except perhaps when they refer to keeping it under control.
Twice in my life, I've had friends who were in the process of divorcing their spouses who looked me straight in the face, and admitted, "I know, I'm reneging on my wedding vows." At least they were honest. So were Bill McCartney and company when they challenged us to be promise-keepers. That's what it's really all about - promise keeping.
If I can't trust someone to remain true to their word when they have made the most solemn pledge of their entire lives before God, spouse, and a Christian congregation, why should I trust them for anything else?
Now, of course, God is a God of amazing grace, wonderful forgiveness and countless fresh starts. And I have dear friends who sinned miserably with their first spouses and are having godly, inspiring second marriages.
But they repented. They called sin sin. They confessed to God and fellow humans. They prayed for forgiveness. They received godly counsel and, often, counseling. Their lives genuinely changed. The words we use for labeling concepts do matter.
Most countries and cultures in the history of the world that have practiced arranged marriages have had extremely low divorce rates. At least those couples recognized that it wasn't feelings or emotions that made or unmade marriages. They were also less likely to define love as a feeling or an emotion in the first place.
1 Corinthians 13 ends with the famous 1 Corinthians 13:13: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." If love is eternal and love is the greatest of the attributes we will share throughout eternity, maybe we'd better start paying more attention in this life to what it truly involves. Richard Walker, a former pastor of mine and founder of AMOR Ministries, working with Brazilians in the Upper Amazon basin, put it well, "Love is the giving of the very best you have on behalf of another regardless of response." - even when it's thrown back in your face. Isn't that what Jesus did with and for us?
Dr. Craig L. Blomberg is a distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado. His books include Interpreting the Parables, Neither Poverty nor Riches, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel, commentaries on Matthew and 1 Corinthians, Making Sense of the New Testament: 3 Crucial Questions and Preaching the Parables.