If you were a male believer around the time of Moses and Joshua, your job was to fight. As the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were sometimes chastised for their cowardice and lethargy and their refusal to go into battle: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (Joshua 18:3). For a long time, “go into battle” was the rallying cry from God.
Jesus came with a new challenge – a far more difficult one. Someone once asked him to name the single greatest commandment, and Jesus replied with two (Matthew 22:34-40). It isn’t enough to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you really want to please God, Jesus said, you must also learn to love others.
Marriage can be the gym in which our capacity to experience and express God’s love gets strengthened and further developed. To get there, we must realize that human love and divine love aren’t two separate oceans, but rather one body of water with many tributaries.
We show our love for God, in part, by loving our spouses well. We can never love somebody “too much.” Our typical problem is that we love God too little. The answer is not to dim our love for any particular human, but to learn to expand our heart’s response to our Divine Joy.
Marriage creates a climate where this love gets put to the greatest test. The problem is that love must be acquired. Katherine Ann Porter writes, “love must be learned, and learned again and again; there is no end to it. Hate needs no instruction, but waits only to be provoked.”
Love is not a natural response that gushes out of us unbidden. Infatuation sometimes does that – at the beginning of a relationship, at least – but hate is always ready to naturally spring forth, like the “Old Faithful” geyser at Yellowstone National Park. Christian love, on the other hand, must be chased after, aspired to, and practiced. It is hewn out of the daily experiences of routine tasks, practical service, and common conversation. Today, we have the opportunity to do what matters most – grow in our ability to love.