“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16, ESV)
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, ESV)
I’ve written a bit recently about love and choice, specifically in the context of finding romance and marriage. My contention is that “The One” is a myth prior to marriage. You can read more about that here. Love is expressed by powerful and free people who make choices. “The One” is determined by choosing and being chosen in return, not by fate or the sovereign determinate will of God. God’s sovereign will is for you to choose and be chosen. Once this choice is made and covenant is established, that person is now “The One”. That person becomes your soul mate once you have mated them in covenant resulting from choice.
Response to this way of thinking has been a mixed bag to say the least. Many have responded positively with thanks and relief. Others have responded more negatively, with concern and disagreement. It’s been interesting to me because, in most cases, both responses have represented an appeal to romance. To some, the idea of choosing and being chosen is the essence of romance. To others, this is the most unromantic concept they’ve ever heard. To some, romance is about active choosing. To some, romance is about a more passive process of “falling” in love, finding your soul mate, finding “The One” person you are destined to be with forever.
It seems we must think about how we think about romance.
But I think there is a deeper, more fundamental issue. What is the human will? How does it function. It seems to me that those who cling to the romantic notion of “falling in love” as preferable to the more active process of choosing to love, prefer this because of a specific way they tend to think about choice itself.
By God’s design, humans are three part beings. We are spirit, soul and body. Our spirit is the deepest part of who we are, enabling us to perceive and interact with heavenly reality. Our body is the physical part of our being, enabling us to perceive and interact with earthly reality. Our soul is connected to both spirit and body and is designed to respond to both heaven and earth, via spirit and body.
Our soul is itself made of three parts: mind, emotion and will. These faculties are both material and non-material. They are material in that their existence and function are intricately intertwined with the physiology of our brain. They are more than mere matter in that they are connected via our spirit to spiritual reality and in that they will continue once our body fails. Our mind represents our capacity to think, to reason, to imagine, to intuit. Our emotions give us the capacity to feel, to affect and be affected, to know acceptance or rejection, to know safety or danger in a relational context. Our will gives us the ability to choose, to prefer, to desire, to exclude.
I think many whose negative reaction to my contention that love finds expression through active choice rather than passive surrender to fate have a very particular way of thinking about will and choice. This way of thinking tends to isolate the human will distinct from the other components of human existence. “I choose to love you” is heard merely as a dry exercise of volition without affection, without desire. Somehow it is still seen as connected to reason yet disconnected from all else, as thought we are saying “I choose to love you because it’s logical to do so or because it is moral to do so.” I choose you comes to mean that you are a wise choice. How unromantic.
If we think of the will as independent of emotion, distinct from bodily attraction, independent of imagination and intuition, then the exercise of will connected to “love” does truly become an unromantic notion. But this is not how I think of the will at all. My will is the God given capacity I have to act, to initiate, to self direct and self govern. But there is a context within which I am designed to do these things. Apart from this context, I become robotic. Unromantic. By this I mean “less than ideal.” Ideally, my will functions in a manner deeply integrated with every component of God’s design. Deeply connected to my imagination, intuition and intellect; fully integrated with my desire and affection; fully interactive with my sexuality and attraction, my will enables me to give expression to all of these aspects of who I am.
When I say “I love you” to Nancy, I very much mean by this that “I choose you.” This is not an expression of obligation. Oh I guess it is on some rudimentary level. The bonds of covenant do, in fact, obligate me. But if I’m directed only by that obligation then our connection is less than it should or could be. There are guard rails on the highway for a reason, but I shouldn’t rely on them to direct me. Nor is “I love you” an expression of dry will, of volition void of emotion, desire or imagination. I am not a robot making some logical choice based on options and variables. No – “I love you” means this: I am a man full of imagination, intuition, and intellect; full of affection, longing for acceptance, willing to risk rejection; capable of deep desire and attraction – and I have set you apart in order to give you the deepest level of access to all that I am, in order to offer you the fullness of what it means for me to be me. I have chosen you as the object of the full expression of my identity-spirit, body and soul. I choose you and reject all others. I choose you means “I love you.” It means, essentially, given all that I am and all that you are, you are the one I want and I want no other.
Now that, in my humble opinion, is romantic. I’m not with you because fate chose. I’m with you because I chose; and because you chose me in return. You let me know you and when I knew you I chose you. I risked letting you know me and your response was to choose me back.
Chosen romance is sustainable romance. If our romance is dependent upon fate in its origin then it’s dependent upon fate in its continuation. If we “fell” into love we can fall out of it. But if our romance is the result of knowing and being known, risking rejection and being chosen, knowing and choosing, then it’s a romance we can build every day.