Category Archives: Personal & Longform

What is God’s Purpose for Romance?

By Chris Matthews

My first experience with the mysterious power of romance came in the sixth grade. There was a girl in my grade who had gone mostly unnoticed by me in previous years. But suddenly and without warning, she began to have a dramatically different effect on me. Close physical proximity caused unexplained physical reactions: sweaty palms, a racing pulse, and an almost complete incapacity of speech. There were also emotional effects. I was excited at the prospect of her presence, anxious and terrified when she was present, and saddened when I expected her to be present and she was not. It went on for more than two years. It had shocking effects on my life. It filled my thoughts and daydreams and it impacted what I wore, who I wanted as friends, where I wanted to be, even what music I enjoyed. All the while, I had little to no relationship with the object of my romantic obsession and just a superficial knowledge of what she was really like.

Almost every post-pubescent human being can recount their own experience with the mysterious power of the romantic impulse. It is something distinct from physical or sexual attraction, fueled by emotion instead of libido. Philosophers and psychologists have labored to explain the origin and purpose of the romantic impulse. In Plato’s Symposium, six Athenian philosophers discuss it while praising the deity Eros. Aristophanes proposes that humans are descended from beings with spherical torsos that were split in two by the gods, and the romantic impulse is a desire to return to the original form. Socrates proposes that the romantic impulse must be a result of a lack of being, specifically the lack of beauty. For much of the 20th century, the Oedipal theories of Sigmund Freud dominated thought about the source of both romantic and sexual impulses among psychologists. Other psychologists, such as René Girard, argued against Freudian theories, proposing the source of the romantic impulse is instead rivalry and jealousy as individuals observe attraction between others. There have also been more utilitarian explanations for romance. Arthur Schopenhauer tracks the romantic impulse to simply the will-to-live impulse that leads to a desire to produce attractive progeny. Still others, such as former Yale professor Robert Sternberg, see the romantic impulse as merely a basic combination of “liking” and the sexual impulse.

As made explicitly clear in the example of Aristophanes, any theory about the origin and purpose of the romantic impulse is highly dependent on one’s understanding of the origin and purpose of human beings as a whole. If human beings are the product of chance, unguided natural processes and there exists no real purpose for human existence other than survival, then the theories of Freud and Girard might seem the most convincing. If each human being establishes their own sense of purpose from their own perspectives and heritage, then the discussion of universal meaning or purpose for the romantic impulse is precluded. In which case the utilitarian and simplistic perspectives of Schopenhauer or Sternberg might be all there is to say. However, if human beings are the purposeful creation of God, then the purpose of the romantic impulse must find its genesis in God’s larger purpose for human beings.

In the book of Genesis, God creates man and woman in His own image. He charges them to be fruitful and multiply, filling, subduing and ruling over the earth. This charge, commonly called the cultural mandate, and this intended state of being in the image of God, combine to establish a basic purpose for human existence – that is to reflect the true nature of God while carrying out the cultural mandate. God’s purpose for human existence cannot be reduced to merely a function, filling and ruling over the earth. The manner in which that function is conducted must display the true expression of God. The purpose also cannot be reduced to just a proper state of being, being in the image of God. That proper state of being must find its expression through the proper function of humanity, filling and ruling over the earth.

If human beings are the purposeful creation of God, everything in human experience can only be rightly understood, and therefore rightly used and enjoyed, when grounded in an understanding of the purpose of God for humanity— which is displaying His glory through fulfilling His mandate. The romantic impulse is no exception. As part of common human experience, the romantic impulse must somehow aid in both knowing and displaying God through fulfilling the cultural mandate. So, how does it do that? First and most obviously, the romantic impulse serves as one of the motivating forces towards a union that produces children when it is directed at its proper object, a person of the opposite sex. Because we live in a world marred by the effects of every person failing to live according to God’s purpose, the romantic impulse is not always directed at its proper object. Producing children is a necessary part of humanity fulfilling the cultural mandate. Our romantic impulse, as our sexual impulses, move us towards that action.

However, if it were only rooted in motivating human reproduction, the romantic impulse would seem superfluous since the sexual impulse would seem a sufficient motivator. The unique purpose for the romantic impulse can only be discovered by also considering how the relationship between a man and woman displays God’s nature or glory. When God created man, He said that it was not good for the man to be alone and the search began for a suitable helper for him in fulfilling His purpose. The search ended through God making the woman who was taken from the man, equally made in God’s image, but made in a distinct way to be a proper compliment to the man in fulfilling God’s purpose. The man and woman were designed to come together, reforming as one whole, the two becoming one flesh in the covenant relationship of marriage.

This unity of two distinct persons serves to display the true nature of God in ways that individual human beings cannot. One way is through marriage as a one flesh union of two distinct persons which reflects the triune nature of God who is also a unity of distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Though a man and a woman can produce children outside marriage, it will not function to reflect the unity of distinct persons in the Trinity without the context of a permanent one flesh union. Marriage also uniquely displays God’s love for human beings. In the complete surrender of themselves to each other and the selfless consideration of the good of the other ahead of their own, a married couple enact a dramatization of the sacrificial love of God for His people that led Him to send His own Son, Jesus Christ, to lay down His life for them. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul identifies this display of God’s loving pursuit of human beings who would become His through covenant relationship as the raison d’être for marriage. The mystery, now revealed through Jesus, is that marriage has always been about displaying Jesus Christ and his love for His bride, the church.

In light of the centrality of marriage in fulfilling God’s purpose for humanity, the romantic impulse provides something that the sexual impulse does not. The sexual impulse seeks sexual fulfillment, but the romantic impulse seeks a person. It serves a unique role in drawing together a man and a woman as distinct persons in a way that sexual desire does not. In some instances, the romantic impulse can even serve to keep the sexual impulse in check, discouraging the pursuit of sexual fulfillment in ways that would disregard the romantic object.

In God’s design, romance always serves marriage, both in drawing human beings towards marriage and as a part of marital satisfaction. For romance is not just an impulse, but also a satisfying reward. If romance ever ceases to serve marriage and becomes an end in itself, its connection to God’s purpose for humanity is severed. It is then likely to become a destructive power instead of an impetus towards meaningful existence. Romance is a useful motivator when used to serve its proper end, but it is a terrible guide. Orphaned from its higher purpose, it becomes mere sentimentality that will never display God’s nature and inspire sacrificial love instead of the pursuit of self-interest.

Twenty years after my first experience with romance, I had my last. There was another girl who began to produce similar emotional and life-altering effects on my life. This time I was caught less unaware and overcame fear to pursue a relationship with her. More importantly, I had learned the proper purpose for these powerful feelings. They were intended to motivate me towards sacrificial love in the covenant of marriage. They were not to be trusted as a guide or pursued for self-fulfillment through indulgent sentimentality or unrequited pining. They were to inspire me to love another so sacrificially, so completely, and so permanently that it would display the greatness of God’s own love for His people and to surrender my own rights so completely to her that we would seem one unified whole. I pursued that girl with those purposes as my goal and romance found its proper end in my life, a marriage that hopes to display God and His love in a world where He is hidden.

Taken from Fall 2013 issue of Logos, Love, Sex, & Christianity

Decompression: Thoughts on Homesickness

By Pedro Enamorado, Class of ’17

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Isaiah 43:2 (KJV)

We weren’t designed to live under water. We have no gills or fins, and most of us have a measly lung capacity. And yet, so many love it. It calls to us, and we dream of shorelines and waterfalls and streams of rushing water. If we are serious, however, in wanting to experience the waters in the fullest sense, we must dive into them. Bright pink coral, sweetly orange and pink fish, all surrounded by shades of blue-green waters, await adventurous humans who enter that world. The deeper one goes, the more pressure pushes against one’s body. The diver forgets the world above, breathing into his mask and letting wonder overtake the senses. But it cannot last forever, and the deeper one goes, the more likely one will need to make decompression stops to make sure nitrogen does not enter the body and cause serious damage. There is a cost to traveling between the worlds, and we cannot forget that time and change require processing.

Being home from Yale is wonderful, but it’s also painful. The three-hour flight to Miami is surreal and odd—I am going to a different world. There is no steady transition to ease me back into this new variation of my old life. Variation, that is, because I no longer have my old room, I do not think the same ways, and my house has changed in furniture, colors, and in number of bedrooms. The home I left behind could not be forever. And anxiety and restlessness interrupt moments of peace and joy while I try to be present. In the middle of a funny Spanish soap opera, as I rest on my mom’s shoulder with my dad and brother on the same couch, my mind will snap back to Yale. I get homesick and sick of home simultaneously when I realize that my life will change forever. I will not see my dearest friends regularly once I walk down the aisle and take my diploma. I will not see the little brothers that I mentor and teach at Trinity Baptist’s youth group. I will not sing with my a cappella group Living Water, or worship at YFA’s weekly meetings. Yale is not forever, and I must accept that that is also good.

But I am still home as both a guest and a son. I kiss my aunt and grandpa good morning, and I wake up to my two-year old cousin’s giggles. I hear Spanish every day and drink coffee and eat flour tortillas, and I return to a church where people shout hallelujah and faint with religious affection. These are familiar things that haven’t changed since I came to Yale. But the pressures of Yale that I leave behind are also worth considering. The buzz of satisfaction while working that turns into the odd gnawing in my psyche when I have idle hands. Accidentally skipping lunch because of paper writing or meetings, and the need to be present in and out of time are gone when I’m home. Finally, there is the subtle, dark grey fog of coming to terms with imperfection, of being inadequate, of wanting to do more and be more, and of falling in love with my rhythms and achievements. Where is God in our hearts when the nitrogen of self-reliance creeps to poison? Where is the Cross when we try to atone for our errors and earn praise from ourselves and others? Christ’s merits are forgotten in that daze, under the push and pull of those waters we face, and we take for granted His permanence. There is danger in the beauty of this place.

This May, I will leave behind Yale’s blue ocean. I will return to it only as a guest and never again be immersed in the undergraduate experience as I was these past few years. I never got better at decompressing when I got home, and I imagine I’ll be there for at least a summer before I settle into a new job. But God has made it clear to me that He alone will stay the same when everything passes away. My parent’s home will never be mine again the way it was pre-Yale. Yale and New Haven will never be home again as it was pre-graduation. The pangs of longing and homesickness will not go away because I was baptized into a new life and nothing else can truly be life or home. Nothing, save the sublime and satisfying goodness of God’s steady hand. I am known; I am loved; I am appreciated in Christ. I can cast off my vain striving and be free from fear of uncertainty and disappointment. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

To My Black Friends: You are Victorious. Even in Death.

By Jessica Lee, BC Class of ’20

O Death, where, is your victory?

O Death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! –1 Corinthians 15:55-56

Dear Friends,

My heart tears in agony when I hear about the deaths that have occurred unjustly in the hands of a police officer in Tulsa and Charlotte. My soul is angered by the fact that such discrimination and racial inequality exists in today’s society.

Tonight, I write this letter to you, not presenting my case on this issue, but admitting that I don’t have much to offer of myself. No words, no amount of sympathy, no number of hugs will ever be enough to heal or mend even a fraction of your wounds.

But I want to offer you something that is not of this world. In some sense, I have the answer to this seemingly never-ending issue.

It’s found in a person, who risked his life to break all sorts of barriers in society, who in the name of love, declared complete justice over our sins through his death. He challenged authority, broke laws, and discredited tradition to bring hope and truth to this broken world. He faced persecution and rejection all his life, and eventually he died a tragic death.

His name is Jesus.

He stood up for the minorities; he walked alongside those who were hurt; he marched with the oppressed. He was betrayed and in the end, the very people he trusted most crucified him. But here is where you and I can find strength and power. In three days, Jesus resurrected back to life! He defeated inequality, injustice, and destroyed differences through his death. He won the war over sin and death for us.

In this, I hope you find some sort of comfort. You are not suffering alone. The Creator of the universe came down as a Creation born of flesh and was wounded and broken to win the battle for you on this earth. He shares in your deepest sorrows and sympathizes in your frustration. He sees every tear that falls from your eyes, and he weeps with you and for you. This world may tell you that you have no place here and in one sense, it’s true. Your home is on the other side of Heaven, and your identity and hope is always found in Christ. But in another sense, Christ came to bring Heaven to earth. His church is a home here on earth to love you and mourn with you. We are here to cry with you in your afflictions, and we are here to fight with you when you are lacking strength. I hope you find rest in these truths, friends.

You are loved. So deeply.

And you are victorious. Even in death.

Never forget that.

Love,

Jess