...Baby don't hurt me...
Sorry, couldn't resist.
It seems like the most foundational thing I can address in this series is what 'love' is. Here, dump the ocean in this hole, said the little boy to St. Augustine.
I am not equipped to discuss 'Christian love' in a general sense. But hopefully I can clearly demarcate what 'love' means to a Christian relationship or marriage. To start, however (briefly), Christians believe that God is love. Not to sound like Bill Clinton, but that word 'is' is integral to what I just said. Because God is love, all manifestations of real love in this world are imitations of or reflections of Him and of His love for us. So what are some qualities of Godly-love?
1. Real Love is Sacrificial--If God is love and Christ is God, then the sacrifice of the Cross
tells us that love is integrally sacrificial, and has as its end the good
of the other. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they committed an infinite offense because they offended an infinite God (if you offend a King, your offense has more weight than if you offend a Mayor, which has more weight than if you just offend your mailman). As finite creatures, we couldn't begin to make up for an offense that reached beyond our existence. God could have just written us all off as a bad job, (which would have been infinitely just) but instead, because of His love for us, He offered us Christ. He sacrificed Christ, His own Son. That's like the victim of a violent crime offering themselves in place of the perpetrator on Death Row. There is no sense to be made of such an action unless you read it in terms of sacrificial love.
Whoa now. We're talking about life and death sacrifice here. You're telling me that kind of love is/has to be present in a marriage? Yep. Which sorta brings us to the next quality of love.
2. Real Love is Faithful--Ok, so God is love, and God as the Father sacrificed His Son out of love, while Christ as God sacrificed His life. Within moments of Adam and Eve's sin, God promised them a Savior. When mankind continued to offend Him, again, and again, and...again... (you get the picture), He did not rescind His promise. Being God, and knowing all that was, is, and will be, He also knows that we are going to continue to offend Him, even after He has offered His own life in exchange for our salvation. And yet He never has, does, or will break His promise. When God committed His life, He meant it. Real love, as a reflection of God's love, is faithful when it promises itself to its beloved. God did not decide, halfway through the billionth time the Israelites strayed, that He was no longer 'fulfilled' by His beloved, or no longer 'happy', and therefore packed up half of the earth and went on His way. Because He is infinitely perfect, He never once 'needed' the love of humankind, and never looked for what we could do for Him as a reason to give or withhold His love. He promised His life and His love, and He gave and continues to give it.
3. Real Love is Personal--One thing that I think is sadly missing from the understanding of God today, even by Christians, is how personally God loves us. When this concept first really sunk in for me, it blew my mind. Watch the movie The Passion of the Christ and every single ounce of the suffering you see Christ endure, think to yourself 'He was thinking of me as if there were no other person alive.' St. Augustine tells us as much: "God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to
love." This makes the love story of the Cross better than any Pride and Prejudice or Romeo and Juliet. Why? Because this one is about you. If your boyfriend or husband came to you, ladies, and said "I love you so much that, in order to secure your happiness for the rest of forever, I'm going to suffer the worst torture and death imaginable," what would you say? That's not like what God says to us; that is what He says and what He did. Similarly, real love in a relationship is personal. It adapts to the needs of the individual, all the while having as its only goal the eternal happiness (i.e., salvation) of that person.
4. Real Love is an Act of the Will--In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve experienced their emotions through the total control of their wills. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ exemplified that this harmony between emotion and will that they had possessed was a Godlike quality: He did not pray 'Thy feelings be done' but 'Thy Will'. And we've already discussed that God's offering of His own Son was an act of love. So Christ here is showing us yet another facet of Godly-love: it isn't about emotions. It's a commitment of the will.
I was going to immediately start translating these
qualities into Christian marriage, but I'm going to hold off. Each one
deserves its own post. Hopefully I can also encapsulate some common
critiques as I address each one as well (like Sarah Over The Moon's
accusation that the Christian marriage dynamic requires such
self-sacrifice and submission that it fosters, nay engenders, abuse).
This list of qualities is by no means exhaustive, but I think it's a start, and encompasses some of the more complex traits.