I am not currently dating anyone and I have never been married, yet I already know that the I love my future wife very, very much. “How can that possibly be?” you might ask, “How can you love someone you don’t even know.” It’s true that I haven’t met my wife yet. I don’t know what she looks like, what her name is, what her likes and dislikes are, where she’s from, or anything else about her. So how can I love her? The answer is simple: because love is a choice and not a feeling. If love is a choice and not an emotion, then I can certainly choose to have a deep love of my wife despite not yet knowing her.
One of the primary reasons I think relationships don’t last is because of people mistakenly thinking a feeling (i.e infatuation) is what love is. So when the feeling is no longer there, they say they’ve “fallen out of love”. In reality, they haven’t fallen out of “love”, the infatuation merely wore off. It’s inevitable that infatuation will wear off. If you’re counting on infatuation lasting forever, then you might as well be single for the rest of your life because no relationship you enter into is going to have that. I’ve been very blessed to learn this ahead of time by those much older and wiser than I am so I can be spared the mistake so many young people are making. Frank Turek is one of those people I have to thank.
But does The Bible support this? What Does The Bible say about love? Is it a feeling or a choice? Well, lets turn to one of the most famous passages on love; 1 Corinthians 13.
“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. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
This passage is a description of not just love, but perfect love. In fact, I have said in another blog post that this is like a short bio of God, given that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). If God is love, and “love is patient, kind, does not envy, etc.” then it follows logically that “God is patient, God is kind, God does not envy, etc.” However, go up and read the passage again very carefully. I want you to notice something. There isn’t much talk of warm, fuzzy feelings in this passage.
Kindness is not a feeling. Kindness is an action. If I buy you a house, it doesn’t matter how I feel about you, my action was a kindness towards you. My choice to buy you a house was just that: a choice. You can have very bitter feelings towards someone and will yourself to do something nice for them. Kindness does not have to be associated with feelings.
What about patience? Well, that might seem like an emotion, but in reality, patience itself is an action. I might be irritated that someone is taking a long time in doing something they said they were going to do for me, but I can choose to not to express my agitation. I can conceal it, and say “Take your time. There’s no hurry.”. An impatient person would say “What is taking you so long? Get on with it already!” I may be experiencing a feeling of impatience, but I can still express the action of patience. A friend and I may both be waiting on another friend to pick us up to take us to dinner, and I may say “What is taking him so long? He should have been here 20 minutes ago! This is going to screw up my whole schedule.” while my friend next to me may be experiencing the same emotion but keeps his impatient emotion to himself. So, although we’re both feeling the same emotion, I choose to express impatience while he chooses to express patience. When my future wife takes a long time in the bathroom getting ready, I may be irritated at that, but what will I express? Patience or impatience? The choice is up to me.
“It keeps no record of wrongs”. This is also a choice. You may incidentally remember wrongs done to you, but the one who loves will try to forget them. The one who loves will not purposefully keep a list so that he can keep throwing the misdeeds up in the misdeed doer’s face. I have been wronged by some of the people in my life, and while I can remember that I was wrong, I can’t remember very many of the specific wrongs (except when something triggers a memory). I’m trying not to keep a record.
“It does not dishonor others”. Is dishonoring others a feeling? Surely not.
“It does not boast” — regardless of what your emotional state is, you can choose not to brag about things.
“It is not self-seeking” — another action that’s not a feeling. You can choose to seek the good of others instead of your own good.
The only things resembling emotions in this passage would be the parts that say “It is not easily angered” and “rejoices in the truth”. Now, these are emotions. So this would seem to contradict my claim that love is a choice and not a feeling. But I don’t think it contradicts that at all. I don’t think love itself is a feeling, but I do think love can invoke feelings and can be associated with feelings. Love is a choice, I said. That is true. Love is not a feeling, that’s true, but I never said it can or always is completely divorced from feelings.
Now, what do I mean by that? I mean that by choosing to be loving over an extended period of time, you change your brain and cause yourself to start feeling certain things. Warm fuzzy feelings are not love, but they can be the effects of love. I’ve heard Christians testify to this happening when loving their enemies, in obedience to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:38-45. They chose to do acts of kindness for them while gritting their teeth and nausea stewing in their stomachs at first, but over time, their teeth grit down less and nausea became less severe. Over time, their feelings of bitterness vanished. I have heard of Christians whose acts of love lead their enemies to Christ, and they actually turned their enemies into their friends, and feelings of fondness began to blossom.
It’s like the opposite of someone who does evil with a guilty conscience but the more he does the act, the less guilty he feels. He sheers his conscience. Well, the same is true of good acts. Even if you have a hard time doing them at first, the more you do it the easier it will get.
When Jesus told us to love our enemies, he didn’t expect us to have warm fuzzy feelings towards them. But He never said feelings couldn’t blossom over time. Feelings can be the effects of love, just as smoke is the effect of fire. However, the smoke is not the fire. In Jesus’ sermon, Jesus describes many actions but not one emotion. Jesus says “When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other one also” He says “When someone sues you and takes your tunic, give him your cloak as well”, He says “if someone forces you to go one mile go with him two.” All of these are actions that require only the volition to accomplish. Doing these actions may invoke feelings, but you don’t need any feelings before you’re able to accomplish them.
God expects us to be loving towards everyone, but whether any emotions come to fruition as the effects of those choices is neither here nor there to whether or not you can obey God’s command to “love your neighbor” (Mark 12:31), “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44), and “love your wife” (Colossians 3:19).
“I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.” – Forrest Gump