Some Valentine's Day Thoughts on Love and Resurrection

It is difficult, sometimes, to be a single person with a deep sense of your own failings and sin who hopes to be in a relationship at some point. What I mean by that is this: you can work very hard at making sure that your relationship goals and conceptions are healthy and realistic; you can do your best to cultivate healthy patterns of life that produce redemptive responses in various situations; you can hope and pray that the things you're doing are preparing you to be the kind of person who can maintain a healthy and long-lasting relationship when it comes. But no matter how much you grow in this area - at least, this is how it feels to me, given my mistakes - no matter how much progress you make, it's hard to get away from the nagging worry that somehow you've completely blown it, that it will never really be possible for you to have the kind of joyful and healthy relationship that it seems like others are finding all the time.

Normally, in an entry like this, I would take a sort of long and meandering track before coming home to the final point in the last couple of paragraphs; but I think it is important for me to affirm right here that I believe this is a lie. I believe that this is a lie no matter how much it might feel like it is not a lie. But knowing something is true doesn't always translate into feeling it, and lots of times I don't feel it, and maybe you don't either. So I want to talk about that.

Christians affirm that the Bible is authoritative. That means various things; one thing it means is that the Bible, in some sense, tells us the truth about what is real and what is not real. Obviously there are some things that the Bible isn't explicitly concerned with teaching, like the history of Islam or quantum physics or how to cook paella, and we want to be careful to listen to what the Bible intends to teach before trying to make the texts say what we want them to say. But since we affirm that the Bible is God's word - it comes, through human authors and in some sense, from him - we affirm that it is true and that it teaches us how to discern what is true and what is false, so that we can live differently on the basis of that wisdom.

You can see this pattern of contrast between falsehood and reality at work everywhere in the Bible, Genesis to Revelation. One of my favorite places to see this, though, is in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul talks about the importance of the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. (I promise that this has something to do with love. Bear with me for a few paragraphs.)

In verses 1-11 Paul starts talking about the resurrection; he locates it at the center of the message he passed on to the Corinthian church, and even lists people that Jesus appeared to. He affirms that this is the true message - "this is the way we preach and this is the way you believed" (v. 11). Then, in the next set of verses (12-19), the reason why he brought this up becomes apparent: there are some in the Corinthian church who were teaching that there is no resurrection of the dead. In other words, there were some people teaching a version of reality in which dead people don't come back to life at all.

So Paul starts making a list of consequences if that is in fact the truth about reality (that dead people aren't raised). First and foremost, if that's true, then even Jesus wasn't raised from the dead, in which case he has been preaching nonsense and the Corinthian church's faith is empty; also, they have told lies about God, since they testified that it was God himself who raised Jesus from the dead; and, ultimately, the believers only have hope for this life (death is the end of everything), and so "we should be pitied more than anyone" (v. 19).

The next section, though, turns a corner: "But now Christ has been raised from the dead" (v. 20). In other words: We know that we live in a world in which dead people do, in fact, come back to life; why do we know this? Because Jesus himself has been raised from the dead. And then Paul begins talking about the consequences of this version of reality - in other words, because it is true that Jesus has been raised from the dead, here are other things that are true. There are many beautiful things he talks about; I recommend reading this chapter for yourself a couple of times if you're not very familiar with it. My favorite verse is v. 26: "The last enemy to be eliminated is death." In other words: Because of what Christ accomplished, everything that has been decaying God's creation is going to be undone, even death; this is how Paul can elsewhere confidently declare that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

Now here's what this has to do with love. All of us are affected by sin; all of our inclinations and emotions and habits participate, to some extent, in death. In Christ, though, this has been overcome; the Bible tells us that the true version of reality is one in which dead things can be resurrected, since Jesus was resurrected. So even now, as we still find ourselves in "this age," we - those of us who trust and follow Jesus - are new creations. This is something that is true no matter how we feel about it. 

This means that our love, too, has been redeemed and recreated and resurrected. Our love is no longer doomed to be subject to death. No matter how halting and broken and fragile we find our love to be now, death doesn't rule it anymore, because we are in Christ; and this means that not only have we been forgiven, but that in grace we find the resources to actually grow, to allow death less and less influence over our patterns and over our love. We have no obligation to walk around feeling guilty for or dwelling on past mistakes.

Above all, the truth that this is a world in which dead things are raised to life because Jesus has been raised to life helps recenter our sense of self-identity and self-worth. We don't judge those things by whether or not we're in a relationship, or whether or not we think we've got a good chance of finding and being in one. We are encouraged and challenged to focus on other things, to recognize that the world is a place of beauty and hope, and that as we participate in that we will find joy - no matter what happens relationship-wise.

This doesn't mean we won't feel lonely sometimes, or even often. But we don't need to fall victim to the temptation to measure ourselves by our loneliness. Loneliness is, after all, a small thing when compared to the reality of resurrection. It doesn't always feel that way, but it is the truth; and the more you and I put the truth of resurrection at the center of our lives - the more we live from the realization that this is in fact a world in which dead things can be raised to life - the more we will find joy in the midst of the questions and the loneliness. We will, in short, see more and more of the face of God. I can't think of a more appropriate focus for Valentine's Day.