by Dave Hintz
Consider the following lyrics from a modern praise song:
But You calm this frail man
With the touch of Your hand
In a way that only a lover can
I call out Your name
Oh my lover, my friend
And You whisper “I'm yours”
-From “Like only a Lover Can”
In using the imagery of a lover’s tender touch and whispered words, the author of this song is attempting to convey his intimacy with God. To the author, God is more than a Father; He is a lover. This theme has become increasingly prevalent in modern Christianity.
“Romance Theology” was popularized by the bestseller The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge. Relating the passionate romance of Song of Solomon to God’s designs for us they write, as we “look into [God’s] eyes, we realize that this is the kind of passion he feels for us and desires from us in return—an intimacy much more sensuous, much more erotic than sex itself” (p. 161). Such words about our God should give us pause and cause us to ask, “Does God desire to be worshipped with romantic love?”
In building his case for this way of viewing God, Eldredge argues that the use of mere Father-Child terminology is inadequate:
“There is something missing even in the best parent-child relationship. Friendship levels the playing field in a way family never can, at least not until the kids have grown and left the house. Friendship opens a level of communion that a five-year-old doesn’t know with his mother and father. And “friends” are what he calls us.
But there is a still is still a high and deep level of intimacy and partnership awaiting us at the top of this metaphorical ascent. We are lovers.” (Sacred Romance p.96)
I appreciate what Romance theologians are attempting to do. Many of them work in the field of counseling, and constantly deal with people who have a skewed view of God as One who can only be addressed through King James English, organs and musty hymnals. These people view God as the stern and distant Father, who richly provides for us but offers little in the way of warmth and closeness. Thus, in an effort to make God seem more accessible, Romance theologians reduce Him to the level of our friend, our life partner, our lover.
But what does God think of this new portrayal of Himself? His Scriptures make clear that this is not the way He wants to be viewed. The Bible does not allow for such a relationship for several reasons:
1. God does want to be your friend. Yes, you read that right. He wants you to be His friend. A careful look at John 15:14 shows that Jesus did not have the modern version of friendship in mind when He said, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” In fact, throughout this section of Scripture Jesus made it clear that the disciples had been granted the privilege of being elevated from slaves to friends (vs. 15).
Harold Hohner sheds some light on this passage as he describes what it means to be a friend of Caesar – an official designation given to the emperor’s most trusted friends:
- A “Friend” was chosen by his emperor to be his close advisor who knows him intimately. For instance, in one record we find that a friend would open the emperor’s mail and screen it.
- A “Friend” could be sent anywhere in the world as Caesar’s emissary and act on his behalf.
- Once the emperor died, the person remained a friend to Caesar as they become loyal to the next emperor.
- Betrayal of the emperor would mean political doom and possible death.
Christ affords the disciples the same privilege of being His friend. They will serve as His intimate emissaries whose heartfelt affection will lead to lifelong obedience. Friendship with God does not mean that we can surprise Him with practical jokes, give Him bear hugs, or go rafting together on the River of Life. Contrary to Curtis and Eldredge, friendship with God does not “level the playing field.” Rather, “Friend of Christ” is to be understood as a privileged position bestowed upon us when we obey His commandments.
2. You are not the bride of Christ; we are the bride of Christ. You can relax, men; God does not want you to get in touch with your feminine side. The Scriptures frequently use the imagery of the bride and groom to teach about God’s covenant fidelity to His people (e.g. Jer. 31:32). When the nation of Israel strays, they grieve the heart of God. When they commit idolatry, God views it as adultery (Ex. 23:37). Nonetheless, God stands by like a faithful Husband loving an unlovable wife. Further, in the New Testament we learn that the Church is the “Bride of Christ.” In other words, God will demonstrate this same faithfulness towards His Church, sacrificially loving her (Eph. 5:25), sanctifying her (Eph. 5:26-27), and returning for her (Rev. 19:7-10). The matrimonial imagery is a powerful metaphor meant to convey God’s faithfulness to the Church. Romance theologians take things too far when they claim that it provides a template for how an individual relates to Christ. God is not “wild about you;” He is “wild” about His Church – and not in a Song of Solomon1 sort of way.
3. Don’t count on snuggling with Jesus. During the Last Supper, John—the disciple whom Jesus loved—reclined on the bosom of Christ. Reading of such an intimate encounter prompts Romance theologians to ask, why shouldn’t we all strive to have a cuddly encounter with Christ? A few responses are in order: 1) This was the normal practice of the day. Instead of sitting in chairs around the table like we do in our culture, men in biblical times reclined upon their left elbows with their feet angled away from the table. Thus, John would recline on Jesus’ bosom, and the disciple on the other side would recline upon John. The mention of John’s position suggests a place of honor, not sentimental affection. 2) We have to examine how John related to the glorified Christ. At the beginning of Revelation, John describes his encounter with the risen Lord, no longer a cloaked in mere humanity but radiating brilliant glory. John does not greet Him like a familiar friend or embrace Him like a long-departed lover; rather he “fell at His feet like a dead man” (Rev. 1:17). We should note that Jesus didn’t leave John on the ground, but told him not to be afraid. God is still approachable, but we must realize that we cannot approach Him any which we choose.
Jesus Himself gave us instructions for how to approach the throne of grace. When He taught the disciples (and, peripherally, us) to pray, He gave them the esteemed honor of addressing Him as Father (Matt. 6:9), a radical departure from the over-reverence of the Pharisees. Further, the Spirit of God allows us to address the Father with the tender term “Abba,” or “Daddy” (Rom. 8:15). In other words, we are to see Him as the Father who tenderly cares for, defends, grows, delights in, and disciplines His children.
How sad it is, that for many today, this privilege of sonship seems inadequate. Our culture, so saturated with the worship of romantic love, greatly devalues the father-son relationship. Yet for Christians to follow this trend and reduce God to the level of a lover is to wipe away the reverence so beautifully guarded by the image God has given us of Himself as our Father. It obscures His chastening and pruning hands which so lovingly conform us to His image. And finally, Romance Theology erodes the very soul of godliness: the fear of the Lord; that reverential awe reserved only for our omnipotent Maker.