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Love as Commitment

Everyone loves the popular biblical verse from 1 Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

That’s the apostle Paul speaking in his first letter to the Corinthians. But, I think that love is also just commitment.

But as I have been reading through the Old Testament and musing on real life scenarios, there are plenty of alternative dimensions to love that this popularly quoted New Testament passage seems to be missing. “Always patient, always kind, always hopeful and faithful” seems to be so… genteel, so soft and warm and fuzzy, like it should be framed next to fair-haired, lamb-holding Jesus in baby blue. Surely there are characteristics or qualities to love that move beyond these niceties. As I reflect on my Asian American identity, I feel like my parents expressed love in many different additional ways: “always providential,” “always corrective,” “never disingenuous.” As I reflect on God revealed to the Hebrews through Old Testament narrative, I see him expressing love as steadfast presence, unwavering law, and at times, staunchly practical (if slightly begrudging) forms of gift—manna, quail, water, land. We know that the God of the Israelites was a God of covenant. And if God himself is love, then his covenant must also be his expression of love.

I’m in Deuteronomy right now. From Genesis through Deuteronomy, I have seen God express his love through freeing the Israelites from bondage, promising to lead them to Canaan, providing for them in the dessert, and relenting time and time again from destruction when it comes to the Israelites’ repeated disobedience. In these scenarios, I see God’s love less as “patient,” “kind,” or “not easily angered,” and more of “I am furious with you and would easily destroy you, yet I remember my commitment to you and choose to honor my commitment instead.” I read the stories of the Israelites wandering in the dessert and God still choosing to provide: “though you scoff at me and dishonor me and take me for granted, still I will choose to be merciful and acquiesce to your requests for meat and water.”

I see a direct parallel to some of the ways I have been experiencing love as commitment in my own life.

Family is a clear example. You can love your family at the same time that you are furious, annoyed, or plain disappointed with them. Biblical language can be a bit lofty sometimes: “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” is a bit high-reaching when it comes to family. I sometimes can’t last fifteen minutes without becoming angered or annoyed with my parents. And yet, I know that I love them. Paul says that “love never fails,” but I fail my parents plenty of times. It is God’s love that never fails. My love? Well, let’s just say that for better or for worse, I am stuck with my family, and so I choose to honor that commitment. It is a natural covenant that has existed ever since I was born.

Romantic relationship, and a Christian understanding of marriage, is also huge on seeing love as covenant or commitment. Read the traditional wedding vows: “I take ___ to be my lawfully wedded ___, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish… till death do us part.” To love someone is to care for them even when they are sick, unable to love you back, or very much “for worse.” To love is to choose to honor a commitment made public before witnesses and before God. It is hard, frustrating, even excruciating at times.

For myself, I’ve been wrestling with a season where I feel like even community—church family, or friends—can feel like an obligation or a burden. It’s not exactly life-giving for myself to attend some church functions such as small group, being extremely introverted and also limited on social energy nowadays. And yet, I choose to attend because it’s a demonstration of commitment. I can contribute to other people’s experience of our time together even if I myself would rather be alone than to be at a small group time. Maybe I don’t want to spend my Saturday helping someone move or leading an activity for the youth. But I still do, because ultimately in the long run, I want to love the community, and sometimes loving the community means simply honoring a commitment as much as you are able to.

If I were in God’s shoes, I would be 100% frustrated with myself and tempted to give up. Just how many times on a daily basis do I take God’s love and grace for granted? How often do I ignore God until some disaster comes up and only then am I suddenly desperate for help or keen on praying? Yet God is faithful. God is loving. God keeps his promises to me that if all else fades, and I have nothing else left in this world… his love alone remains. His care for my person and being is not dependent on any benefit or advantage I bring to him. That’s commitment. That’s covenant. The West idealizes romantic love as a love characterized by passion, deep feelings, or extreme attraction. The love demonstrated by Yahweh in the bible is almost none of those. It is staunchly practical at times (providing quail to eat), sometimes in the form of judgment and law, sometimes just pure commitment to seeing the Israelites get to the promised land, despite many sins and rebellion.

Question: where else do you see love as commitment in your life?

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