Romantic Love in the Bible
Valentine’s Day brings to mind chocolates, flowers, and couples indulging in public displays of affection and making others feel a little bit awkward. In some quarters, it has also become rather commercialised. In Malaysia, some allege that it is Christian in origin.
But does Christianity actually have anything to do with Valentine’s day? Based on my understanding, the day is named after a man who was a priest or a bishop about 1800 years ago. The legend goes that whilst under house arrest, he healed the judge’s blind daughter, leading to the judge’s whole household being saved!
Sadly, he was later re-arrested and condemned to death. Before his execution on the 14th of February 269 A.D., he wrote a letter to the judge’s daughter, signing off, “From your Valentine”, which is how the martyrdom of St. Valentine is tenuously related to the hearts and kisses of the celebration today.
Old Testament and Ruth
What, then, does the Bible say about “romantic love”? Well, in the Old Testament, they didn’t do romance quite like how we do it today. Marriages were usually arranged, such as when Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac (Genesis 24:1-67). Sometimes, they were economic transactions, such as when Jacob worked seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage (Genesis 29: 14-30).
Perhaps one of the most romantic Bible stories is that of Ruth, who followed her mother-in-law Naomi back to Bethlehem (Ruth 1:1-22). In a world where men were the breadwinners, the two widows struggled to sustain themselves. In the end, however, she married Boaz, their kinsman-redeemer – one who, in ancient Israel’s social security system, was responsible to marry his relative’s widow and redeem his property (Ruth 4:1-12).
But even in this “romance”, there was no dating or dancing. Boaz was simply kind and protective towards Ruth when she went to glean grain (Ruth 2:2-19). Then, on Naomi’s advice, Ruth asked him to “spread the corner of his garment” over her, basically proposing marriage (Ruth 3:1-18).
There is a powerful declaration of love in this narrative (Ruth 1:16-17). However, it was not an expression of romantic love between Ruth and Boaz, the couple; but an expression of Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, daughter-in-law to mother-in-law.
Solomon’s Song of Songs
“Romance” in the Bible, however, would be incomplete without considering the Song of Songs. This is a love poem so explicit in its descriptions of physical love that orthodox Jews forbade men below 30 years old to read it.
It depicts the courtship between a maiden and the King (Song 1:4,12). They meet, they part, they pine, and they praise one another. Sprinkled in the stanzas of the Song are insights: That love should be spontaneous and uncoerced (Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4); that little things, like anger, jealousy, and resentment, need to be recognised and dealt with before they cause relationships to break down (Song 2:15); and that true love is unquenchable and incorruptible (Song 8:6-7).
In conclusion, while Valentine’s Day is being celebrated by many, it does not have any direct connection with Christianity. However, the romantic love which it celebrates is a good gift from God, meant to be enjoyed within the boundaries set by God’s law – the formation of a life-long commitment between one man and one woman.
In that context, this powerful force that draws lovers together points us beyond itself, to a love which is not only “as strong as death” (Song 8:6) but is stronger than death and has overcome it. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). So, let’s celebrate His love for us!
About the Author
Kiew Sieh Jin is a member of Taman Ujong Methodist Church, where he serves as a lay preacher, worship leader, and Captain of the Boys’ Brigade. He is happily married to Chen May and has two often endearing, sometimes naughty, but always beloved children.
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