In honor of Valentine’s week here is the first in a series of excerpts from a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien to his son. The paternal counsel is a rarity: decidedly counter-cultural but not, I suspect, counter-intuitive. Tolkien’s depiction of the innate differences between the sexes rings true to me but I’d be interested in hearing what the rest of you think.
A man’s dealings with women can be purely physical (they cannot really, of course: but I mean he can refuse to take other things into account, to the great damage of his soul (and body) and theirs); or ‘friendly’; or he can be a ‘lover’ (engaging and blending all his affections and powers of mind and body in a complex emotion powerfully coloured and energized by ‘sex’).
This is a fallen world. The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been ‘going to the bad’ all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the ‘hard spirit of concupiscence’ has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell.
We will leave aside the ‘immoral’ results. These you desire not to be dragged into. To renunciation you have no call. ‘Friendship’ then? In this fallen world the ‘friendship’ that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman. The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones.
This ‘friendship’ has often been tried: one side or the other nearly always fails. Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a ‘friendship’ quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by falling in love.
But a young man does not really (as a rule) want ‘friendship’, even if he says he does. There are plenty of young men (as a rule). He wants love: innocent, and yet irresponsible perhaps. Allas! Allas! that ever love was sinne! as Chaucer says. Then if he is a Christian and is aware that there is such a thing as sin, he wants to know what to do about it.
-The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, No. 43 ‘From a letter to Michael Tolkien, 6-8 Mar 1941’
Husbands take note:
… “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,” the Son says (Jn 15:9). And therein lies the very goodness of the gospel: as the Father is the lover and the Son the beloved, so Christ becomes the lover and the church the beloved. That means that Christ loves the church first and foremost: his love is not a response, given only when the church loves him; his love comes first, and we only love him because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).
That dynamic is also to be replicated in marriages, husbands being the heads of their wives, loving them as Christ the Head loves his bride, the church. He is the lover, she is the beloved. Like the church, then, wives are not left to earn the love of their husbands; they can enjoy it as something lavished on them freely, unconditionally, and maximally. For eternity, the Father so loves the Son that he excites the Son’s eternal love in response; Christ so loves the church that he excites our love in response; the husband so loves his wife that he excites her love to love him back. Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of this God.
Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith
Listening to a pastor preach from 1John 4:7-21 which has a lot to do with love–how God is love, why we should love one another, how love is displayed, etc. Naturally, the pastor had to make some preliminary comments on the nature of love and in so doing attempted to correct our faulty conception of love. The faulty conception of love, it was explained, depicts love as feelings, excitement, romance, and (I inferred) pretty much anything that is tied to the emotions.
In a round about way the pastor was espousing the “love is a choice not a feeling” mantra that I’ve heard dozens of times in sermons ranging from loving your spouse to loving your neighbor. But is the mantra true to the revelation of love in Scripture? I don’t think so.
I understand the sentiment behind “love is a choice.” At a time when divorce is rampant and commitment to anything or anyone is determined by which side of the bed we wake up on, we should be reminded that love is not so fickle as feeling. But rock-solid fidelity and temperamental passion are not mutually exclusive. Love does consist of desire & delight:
1. God’s love for His people is anything but passionless (Hos 11:8; Zeph 3:17; Mat 9:36).
2. True love for God will involve our affections (Psa 16:11; 1Pet 1:8-9).
3. Christian love for one another is not without emotion (Rom 12:15; Phil 2:1).
4. Marital love is intended, in part, to be a fulfillment of desire (see Song of Solomon).
In short, Christian love is both decision and delight. If God has joined these elements together let’s not tear them apart.