Something is wrong when I can sing a worship song to God and then to my wife with little variation. Because, when I look at my wife, “my heart turns violently inside of my chest,” and I am compelled to say…

“I’m madly in love with you”
“You are more beautiful than anyone ever”
“There has never ever been anyone like you”
“I want to hear your voice, I want to know you more”
“I want to touch you, I want to see your face”
“I’m desperate for you; I’m lost without you”

Is Jesus our cosmic boyfriend? These are all lyrics from actual worship songs, but they also give me some good material to romance my wife. Is this ok? Is our love for God an amped up version of the romantic love we have for our spouses (or girlfriends/boyfriends)?

Despite the sense we get from our worship songs, the answer is “No.”

While the Bible does draw an analogy between Christ’s love for us and a husband’s love for his wife (Eph 5:22-25), it’s the self-giving sacrifice of Christ that defines and dictates the selfless, unconditional love that a husband should have for his wife (Eph 5:25). But this is quite different from emotionally driven, conditionally compelled, romantic love that lurks behind the idea of falling madly in love with your boyfriend. God doesn’t romance us, and we don’t romance God. God hasn’t fallen in love with us—he was compelled out of a relentless desire to love the unlovable, and he therefore died for us. And we don’t fall in love with God. Neither the phrase nor the concept is used in the Bible. We respond to his grace by picking up our cross and dying with him.

Despite the popularity of the phrase, the Bible never talks about us “falling in love with God,” and I would highly recommend never using it again. The phrase “falling in love with” comes from the Elizabethan view of romance, which is foreign to the Bible. It refers to a highly emotionally and thoroughly conditional feeling toward someone else, usually based on attraction and the way they make you feel. Just Google the phrase “falling in love” and you’ll get some pretty sappy definitions that I certainly wouldn’t want to transfer to my posture toward God, and neither would Isaiah (Isa. 6). Even when spouses are commanded to love each other (Eph 5:25 and others), it has to do with a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love that’s governed by the cross and not by how the other person makes you feel.

Saying you “fall in love with God” is taking a 19th century concept and reading it back into the Bible. And it’s subtly dangerous, since it reads a conditional understanding of love back into the biblical concept of unconditional love. So let’s stick to theologically rich concept of biblical, agape love when speaking of God.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Preston,

    While I agree with you in principle, I would ask for clarification on this:

    Would you say there is or is not room for an emotional response to God? (I do not think the content of your post would exclude this…but wanted clarification)

    • Yes, of course there’s room for an emotional response to God. We are whole people, so we should separate our emotion from reason. The point I was trying to get across was that the concept of “falling in love” is wrong headed because it conveys a wrong view of love, not because it involves emotions. Nevertheless, I still think that there is some difference (though perhaps some overlap) between the emotion wrapped up in our love for our spouses and the emotions that accompany our love for God.

      • Continuing the discussion…

        I suppose the base question is, where did we get the capacity and “nature” to have love sick tendencies if not from the original image of God? It seems edgy to say love sick tendencies are curses or results of fallenness, or inflamed evil tremors.

        By implication then, if the capacity and nature for love sickness come from God’s original image we were imprinted with, can we not use them upon him?

        So as a reordering, perhaps we should say it is better to maintain reverence in love sickness toward God?
        ?

        It is Hosea 11:8,9 that has Yahweh saying, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel… my heart is turned over within Me, All my compassions are kindled.”

        • Matt,

          Thanks for your response and helpful thoughts. As always, you push us to think harder and more critically about the issue.

          A few things, though, to point out.

          One, you’re not really interacting directly with my post or comments. You said that “It seems edgy to say love sick tendencies are curses or results of fallenness, or inflamed evil tremors” but I didn’t say this. The main point I was making was that the phrase “falling in love,” to quote myself, “refers to a highly emotionally and thoroughly conditional feeling toward someone else, usually based on attraction and the way they make you feel.” Peruse the definitions of “falling in love,” and this is what you’ll get. And this does seem to capture what young couples mean when they “fall in love.” I honestly think it’s dangerous when we read this back into our love for God or God’s love for us. We wonder why so many Christians question if they are really saved the second they don’t feel, well, in love with God anymore. Then this spills over into their view of marriage and church leaders are having to clean up the mess through counseling, etc., when they “fall out of love” with their spouse. This is a subtle danger–kind of like calling a building/service “the church” as per Mark’s post a few weeks ago.

          Second, in no way do I say that emotions are bad or that God doesn’t have emotions toward us. Hos 11 is a beautiful text that says unambiguously: God has emotions, a passionate desire for us. However, I don’t think it proves that God “falls in love with us.” The context, as you know, is a paternal one. God is the compassionate, loving Father who has a relentless, unconditional commitment to His son, Israel (Hos 11:1, 10). It’s the divine Father’s love for his son Israel (and ultimately His Son, Jesus; Matt 2). The best parallel we find on earth, then, is the love that I have for my children, a love that certainly causes my heart to turn and my compassion to be kindled. But I’m not falling in love with them in the 19th century Elizabethan sense.

          Third, the logic in your first two paragraphs is slightly flawed. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to run:

          A. We bear God’s image
          B. We have love sick tendencies
          C. Therefore, God has love sick tendencies

          But between A and B, we need to remember one important feature that potentially interrupts the logic–SIN. Just because we experience, say, a “falling in love,” does not in itself mean that God goes through the same thing. Maybe, but maybe not, since it could be our sin nature that has skewed divine love.

          Call it what you will–love sickness, falling in love–any type of love that is governed by emotions, controlled by attraction, and based upon conditions (which is what these popular phrases convey) falls short of the unique, counter-intuitive, unconditional love of the divine.

  2. Great post, my friend. While our music needs to communicate and facilitate our emotional bond with and response to God, romantic language in worship music is a serious problem. I’m glad to see many current songwriters moving beyond that now.

    And the graphic on this post is one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in a long time. I want to ask where you found such a thing, but I’m afraid you’ll tell me…

  3. Quick question!

    So your strictly talking about using “love” in an Elizabethan-strictly context? Because I fully agree that its much more, its unconditional agape love. But is it alright to use the phrase “fall in love” when you actually mean genuine agape love?

    For instance when I pray, “God, I want to fall in love with you. Madly in love with you.” I’m saying that I want to have a relentless, constant Kingdom first-seeking, full blown Jesus centered heart. That still sound isn’t it?

    And I look back on chapter 9 of Crazy Love by Chan that’s titled “when you’re in love.” I always that was legit as heck.

    I don’t know. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Good question, Jim. If this is what you mean by the phrase “falling in love,” then I guess I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with it. But in all things, I always think it’s better to echo the biblical language back to God in our expression of devotion. So since the Bible doesn’t use a phrase like “falling in love,” and since the phrase does have a lot of baggage with it, it wouldn’t be my phrase of choice. The Psalms are replete with emotionally charged language (e.g. Psalm 63, among others) that could provide you with language better suited for responding to God.

      That’s my two cents, anyway.

  4. Preston,

    This is an interesting one, because you’re right… we shouldn’t use romantic language to speak about God. He doesn’t woo us like a boyfriend tries to put his best foot forward for a girlfriend; he loves based upon His own choosing, because there was nothing in us that was lovable based upon His holiness standards.

    However, songs like “How He Loves” or “In the Secret” (especially the chorus, as well as both song lyrics you quoted from above), can be seen in a different light. “How He Loves” can be an incredible reminder of the jealousy of God and the fact that he still loves us in the midst of our idolatry, and as the church sings that, can be reminded of their desperate need of God’s saving, unconditional, faithful love towards faithless people. As well, the “In the Secret” chorus can be seen as a passionate plea to God that our desire is to have a deeper intimacy with God – but “intimacy” has to be defined as well… we can’t just use the same idea of intimacy with God as intimacy with a spouse, and unfortunately people can land there because of laziness in defining the terms used, or using our present day understandings of intimacy and applying that towards a relationship with God.

    But… the next time I hear the following song sung, I’m walking out… I don’t care if I’m in the front row… I’m gone.

    “Your love is extravagant
    Your friendship, it is intimate
    I feel like moving to the rhythm of Your grace
    Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
    Your love is extravagant”

    Sounds like someone should be talking to Jezebel or the lady in Proverbs 5, not Jesus.

  5. Steve,

    Thanks for weighing in. I appreciate your thoughts, especially since you are a worship leader! I will say that I actually like “How He loves us” except for the line I quoted above, and the part about the wet sloppy kiss in the song. While I appreciate your reader response method of making the song mean something that you want–something that is more biblically accurate–I would still say that the language of the song lends itself to be taken in the wrong way. Why not sing songs that don’t invite confusion? And maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see a huge difference between the songs I quoted and the one you abhor. And where in the Bible do we long to reach out and touch Jesus? I say this to my wife all the time, but I don’t honestly feel the same desire for Jesus. After I reach out and touch Him, then what? Where do I touch Him? And why? I guess theological precision is in the eye of the beholder… 🙂

    • Preston,

      Honestly, one thing that isn’t taken into account on this post is the understanding of an artist. In our day and age, an artist is one who wants to be seen as unique and creative, and thus writes unique and creative worship songs that PURPOSELY doesn’t use direct language, because it leaves room for the reader response approach I took. Most artists want people to have the reader response approach, because in our age of relativism, no one wants to be TOLD what we should sing or believe through the songs, we want to FIND it ourselves.

      That leaves us with one of two options: first – train musicians theologically. From what I’ve run into, you are either good in one of two camps. If you’re awesome theologically as a worship team member, than you suck creatively, and vice versa, if you are incredible creatively, most likely you can’t find Genesis 1:1 if your life was on the line. Musicians must be theologically trained, as well as creative, and unfortunately most of the modern worship artists today aren’t trained theologically; hence the reason for such poorly handled songs theologically.

      The response that I took is because I’m theologically trained, so I don’t wig out when I hear those songs being sung. I do wig out when the untrained, the young spiritually, receive such incredible “intimacy” from the songs, and then when I tell them that most aren’t biblical, they get pissed.

      You’re right – theological precision is in the eye of the beholder – yet what modern worship music needs isn’t a lack of creativity, but an increase in theology.

      Seems like there are mainly two guys in the worship scene right now doing a lot for creativity blended with theology – Aaron Keyes and Michael Bleecker. Check out their stuff.

  6. Preston, I am somewhat frustrated with the direction of modern worship. I grew up in the Jesus movement where much of the worship music was Scripture set to music. I believe our worship has to direct our attention to who God is and what he has done. It is legitimate to have music that echoes the psalms in declaring our intention to worship (bless the Lord, o my soul, I will declare your greatness), but it seems like worship needs to move beyond what I am doing to who God is.

  7. Preston,

    I agree with you that the phrase, “falling in love” is incredibly inaccurate. Whenever we try to overlay our earthly situations on heavenly situations we wind up missing something (i.e. the way we view our earthly father has some effect on how we view The Father). I think we do much better translating the other direction. The way I read Ephesians 5, there needs to be a pretty close correlation between the love you have in your relationship with God and the one you have with your wife. Unfortunatly we get it backwards. How amazing would it be if all husbands loved their wives like Christ loves His Bride, and all wives submitted to their husbands like the Church submits (at least how it supposed to) to Christ. Instead, we try to love God the way we naturally love other people.

    I don’t have too much against the lyrics you qouted. I love reason and logic as much as the next guy, but we can not divorce the emotional aspect from our relationship with God. Maybe we have very different interpretations of the lyrics, but I love Him madly. To me, He is more beautiful than anything he created. There certainly hasn’t been anyone like Him, nor will there ever be anyone else like Him. Because there is no one like Him, I want to know Him more. I seek His voice… I think all Christians should. I would have nothing of consequence if not for Him. Without the cross we would be lost…

    I believe we are supposed to love others and God as passionately as He loves us (of course, we fall very short of that ideal). I don’t think we are supposed to give everyone we meet a ‘wet sloppy kiss’, so I can share your dislike of that line.

    I should mention that I am not married, so maybe I think I know everything when I know nothing.

    Matt

    • Thanks for dropping in, Matt. Just to clarify, I didn’t say that emotions are bad or even inferior to logic and reason. So we’re actually on the same page when you said: “I love reason and logic as much as the next guy, but we can not divorce the emotional aspect from our relationship with God.” I never advocated divorcing emotions from logic. Again, it’s not emotions as emotions that are bad; it’s emotions that convey inaccurate notions about our relationship with God that I”m arguing against. And I do think, with you, that falling madly in love with God does not accurately reflect what the Bible says about the shape and tone of our relationship with King Jesus.

  8. God desires an intimate relationship with all of his children, however I don’t think he desires a romantic relationship with his children. I think we often can have the idea that a romantic love is the highest love we can experience on many different levels. But God’s love is so much more than a cheap emotional romance that we experience here on the earth. God’s love encompasses all that we are (including our emotions, not just a love that is based on how good love feels.

    I also feel like these songs can get us super pumped up and emotional, which isn’t a bad thing, but at times I feel like our emotions can either exaggerate our true feelings or even sometimes cause us to ignore what is going on. I feel like our worship should be exclaiming God’s glory and all that he has done, not about how good God makes us feel and how much we love Him in response. We should of course be exclaiming our love for the Lord, but I think we are missing the mark when we see our love with Christ as a romance. God’s love is deeper and bigger than anything we will ever know, and I think it is an injustice to label or refer God’s boundless love to a romance, which is heavily based on emotions and feelings. God’s love is so much more than that.

    Honestly I don’t think we are sinning and being damned to hell for singing these songs. I just think the lyrics can be so cheesy and distracting at times, and I feel it has become a trend in a lot of worship songs within the last few years. I’m just getting tired of it…let’s worship God for who he is.

  9. OK so, seeing Jesus as my boyfriend is bad. But what about God is my husband? (Isaiah 54:5) Not trying to quote things out of context here but I do believe that’s one of the basic messages of Hosea as well – Israel as God’s adulterous wife.

    Maybe this is a misinterpretation because it’s based on a potentially faulty premise that we can take OT passages which refer to Israel and read them as if they’re about the church? I often do this and am definitely open to being corrected on this.

    As a (single) woman, though, I do pray things like “Lord, help me to be the wife of but one husband” – meaning I want to be faithful to the Lord over and above all things and to resist the temptation of all forms of idolotry. Is this poor language choice?

    Maybe the problem is not with romantic love, per se, but with our cultures perception of romance? e.g. all the problems Preston pointed out with the phrase “falling in love.”

    • Malek,
      Thanks for dropping in. To clarify, I’m not denying the husband/wife metaphor, only the modern idea of “falling in love” to convey that. Even in passages where God is our “husband,” the romantic modern day “falling in love” feelings don’t convey this. The typical metaphor that captures God’s emotional feelings toward us are paternal, not marital. So again, I wouldn’t tell my daughter that I’m falling in love with her, and neither does God. I think your last paragraph is important.

  10. Thank you Preston.

    It’s refreshing to read posts like this. I can’t tell you how fed up I am with most contemporary watered-down, emotionally-hyped worship songs. And I also say this as someone who has been a worship leader. It’s amazing to see how much Christian music has changed through the years. It became an industry bent on marketability. Once I submitted an original worship song to be reviewed by a well known Christian artist. Although he liked the song, he encouraged me to remove a lot of the Biblical content. Can I also mention that these songs are “all about me” and individualistic. There is a worship song that says “it’s just you and me here now” or something like that. I can’t sing it because it’s not true. I haven’t gathered together with God’s people to escape away from everyone into individualistic praise. So don’t turn the lights off … it’s not a concert and I don’t mind seeing my brother next to me. Paul says in Ephesians to “sing to one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” … a concept that seems completely lost.

  11. Thanks for this post, Preston. This is my first time visiting your blog.

    I have to say that as a woman I can’t help but continue to wonder a little over your thoughts. You seem to seek to know God with a pure heart, but to me, I don’t know… a little something about your conclusion seems sad to me. I hear you say that God mainly sees us as Father not husband, but who is to say that for sure? As a woman, esp. one that married a little later in life, it meant a great deal to me that I could see God as husband. Not in a lustful way, but in the sense that he had authority over me, provided for me, protected me and pursued me. I can’t help but wonder how much of the resistance to see God as our Husband or ‘Lover of our soul’ is rooted in the invisible culture that we call gender. Is that why it was easier for me to see God as husband? Because I am a woman? I don’t know. I feel it is a blessing to be able to see God this way, and if it is indeed a sin (which I know you are not calling it) then I pray for God’s wisdom in that. But the thought comes to mind of CS Lewis’ words: “in relation to God we are all female.”
    I look forward to your thoughts.

  12. Sorry, stumbled across this blog and felt compelled to comment.
    To be fair to the John Mark McMillan song, the first time I heard the lines “sloppy wet kiss” I immediately imagined a little kid kissing a parent the way they do–not well. 🙂 It’s the kind of kiss where you’re just so glad to see the person, and it’s messy. It reminded me of the incarnation and the willingness of God to enter into our sloppy wet mess of a world. Call me crazy. I don’t think I thought of anything romantic. There’s reader response for you. 😉

    Also, “heart turns violently inside of my chest” could refer to any strong emotion. Like when you realize you’ve deeply hurt someone you love…anyone.

    Lastly, father to child may be the primary metaphor to describe us and God in the New Testament, but I doubt that’s true of the old. as far as familial relationships, the most frequent is husband and wife. Thinking of God as father wasn’t much of a concept until the NT.
    So I’m totally with you that Jesus is not our emo boyfriend, but I do believe that the “sacred romance” is a facet in the diamond of our relationship with God (including God-worshipper, King-subject, Master-slave, Father-child, Commander-soldier, Brother-younger sibling, Teacher-student,Vine-branch). It probably is way over-emphasized now, but maybe because the pendulum had swung to far away from it.