Post Title: Is Romeo and Juliet a Love Story?
"I have something a bit different to share with you that is always timely, interesting, and challenging. For a deeper dive into this subject, I commend to you my audio seminar, In His Image: Biblical Insights Into Love, Marriage and the Family."
In biblical times, marriages were arranged. It is not my purpose to idealize that but to emphasize how biblical marriage was not based on the emotions of love. Instead, it was built on a covenant commitment that leads to love. Said another way, from a Hebraic point-of-view, love is meant to follow, not precede marriage. Love is something God wants you to grow into. It is not something he intends for you to fall into.
The biblical pattern of love (which includes romance, more on that later) has been obscured and confused by the onslaught of the modern ideal of romantic love as a starting point for relationships.
The tension between these two approaches is beautifully depicted in Fiddler on the Roof. In the story, Tevye wants to arrange marriages for his daughters, as his marriage to Golde had been. His daughters, however, see things differently; they wish to marry for love.
There is a progression among the five daughters getting increasingly caught up in the modern convention of love, which creates stress. This new way of looking at things prompts Tevya to ask his wife, Golde, "Do you love me?" She doesn't understand the question.
"For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?"
As Tevya pushes the point, she reflects,
"For twenty-five years I've lived with him
Fought with him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that's not love, what is?"
Delighted he exclaims, "Then you do love me! And, I guess, I love you too." I find that quite romantic. Don't you?
Romeo and Juliet is the quintessential expression of romantic love and how unhealthy—even neurotic, if not psychotic—it can be. Think about the way this story is understood and glamorized today. It underscores my point. Shakespeare wrote a tragedy ending in double suicide not to elevate but to expose the folly of cultural forms of romantic love.
No examples of romantic love like Romeo and Juliet exist in the Bible. That being said, there are examples of appropriate romantic love, just not of this over-idealized, unattainable variety. Here is an important point. The essence of worldly romantic love is based on an idealized notion of the other person. It is a longing and yearning that the reality of another can never entirely fulfill.
The paradox of romantic love is that it is an intense desire for intimacy. But once intimacy is entered into, romantic love is eventually quenched.
In an irony that reveals the deceptive nature of romantic love, once it is consummated, it is consumed. The real always falls short of the ideal. That is why marriages based solely on romantic love are doomed to failure. If you operate with an idealization of what love should be and who your beloved is, your expectations will be crushed when you enter into marriage. And no one, including yourself, will even understand what is happening.
Tragically, once the ideal is tarnished, romantic love looks elsewhere for another lover to romanticize. Left undiagnosed and unchecked, the unfulfilled emotional longings of romantic love make one susceptible to adultery, whether fantasized or actualized.
Romantic love is intensely powerful, especially in the young. The physical and psychological reactions are intoxicating; your glands are circulating like a tornado, your senses are on high alert, and your imagination is running free and wild. You are living in an imaginary world, one that is far superior in some respects to the real world. Yet it is a delusion.
As a basis for marriage, romantic love is doomed to frustration and failure.
We express it in language like, "This is not the person I married," "The spark is gone," or "I don't love them anymore." Psychologists tell us that this kind of romantic love is a neurotic narcissism. The truth is this, what we love is how the other person makes us feel. According to psychoanalysts, it is even more subtle than that. You are unconsciously projecting images of yourself onto another person.
Another serious problem is that the ideal of romantic love and the compulsion towards it can stem from deep inner hurts, emotional trauma, and unmet needs. I am sad to say that in our world today, this is reflected in almost all of our lives to one degree or another. Fewer and fewer grow up in homes where they witnessed healthy parents express the multiple facets of healthy love.
It should therefore come as no surprise that most young people now enter adulthood with deep emotional hurts and unrealistic expectations, leading to relationships of codependence. (For more on the type of codependency that leads to compulsive romantic love, I recommend Love Is a Choice by Drs. Minirth and Meyer.) We all have a heart that needs to be filled with love, especially during our formative years.
We need to be loved and to love. It is God's design.
In their book, the authors use the following analogy. A woman is driving her car and runs out of gas. A man pulls his car over to help. Because he is running low on petrol, neither has enough to get started again when he siphons gas from his car to hers. They both wind up stranded by the side of the road.
The emptier our love tank, the more we hope for and value the ideals of romantic love. Said another way, when our love tank is low, we look for someone or something to fill it. Biblically speaking, the root of the problem is that marriage is not addition but multiplication. One person living with brokenness joined to another person living with brokenness does not equal wholeness (½ x ½ = ¼).
I would suggest to you who follow Jesus that if you are looking to another person to fulfill you—to fill you full of identity, meaning, and love—you are engaged in a very subtle and destructive form of idolatry. You are looking to the created for what can only come from your Creator. I am not being simplistic; I am bearing witness to the truth.
The solution to all of this is to find the affirmation you need in the love of God.
In Messiah Jesus, you can come to wholeness from brokenness. And that begins with loving yourself, biblically speaking. To do that, you cannot only think of yourself in the natural; you must see yourself in the supernatural, as Christ sees you. True self-love, not the distorted versions we have discussed, is based on seeing yourself as Christ sees you. Out of that sense of self-acceptance, you can then extend love to others.
Until we have a proper sense of self-love, that which is biblical, healthy, and restorative, our capacity to freely or fully love another is diminished. If you don't see your value and self-worth, how can you affirm and see it in others? Yet that is the essence of true love.
The Bible has a radically different view of love. No surprise there. Interestingly, biblical tradition combines love and romance into the fullness of a covenant relationship. Please turn with me to Deuteronomy chapter six.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.