My ideas concerning love and marriage were strongly shaped by my Jesuit upbringing, such that I view marriage as a sacramental institution, given by God as a “visible sign of invisible grace.” (To clarify, I no longer subscribe to the Roman Catholic principle of sacraments as channels of *salvific* grace, but I do retain some aspects of the “sacramental principle,” which holds that nodal areas of life and creation can be signs of God’s grace in ways real and symbolic.)
There is a tension between a romantic relationship and the worship of God — a constant danger of romance turning into idolatry, as the believer’s priorities can easily be overtaken by the selfish lusts and desires of love. It is part of the curse of our fallenness, that classic boy-girl love can be at odds with our relationship to God. Marriage, then, is given as a means by which God redeems our romantic relationship by turning it from an inward-looking selfishness to a life-consuming act of symbolism — the union of man and woman illustrating to the world the love of God for his people. It is something that goes beyond a casual or superficial “dating” relationship: marriage carries the binding weight of a covenant, man and woman agreeing to give to each other, for eternity, the fullness of each other’s lives. In the same way, our covenant with God in faith is a giving of our lives to him, because he as Christ the Son has given his life for us. Hence Paul’s admonition in Ephesians regarding marital submission as likened to the relations between God and his church.
I love Amy. There are many reasons I can give for this love: the many years we have spent together, her remarkable artistic sensitivity to detail and beauty, her intelligence and warmth and physical attractiveness, her subtle sense of whimsical humor, the selfless willingness with which she helps carry the burdens of my life. And yet, if she were to change, or if I were to meet someone else who shared these attributes, I would still love Amy, and I would try to adapt to her changes, as I know she would adapt to mine. To love her is not to love her qualities so much as to love her herself, and continue loving her no matter what.
To apply the covenantal symbolism, God does not love his people because they are advantageous to him or because of their good works. Rather, he loves those whom he has foreordained to salvation and called to himself. He loves whom he chooses, and sees beyond sin and blemish. Likewise, Amy is whom I love because she is whom I choose. And because I am certain of whom I have chosen, I believe it is the right time to commit wholly; why hold back any longer, when Christ did not hold back when it came time to redeem his people?
(Of course, the likeness has limits: I do not see myself as omnipotent savior to her sinful humanity. We are partners in our fallenness, and as part of our love we choose to be partners in being signs of God’s redemption.)