In a post on Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog, Courtney Reissig wrote “Why Jesus Isn’t Your Boyfriend: A Critique of Dating God.” I’ve seen discussions on this trend before, and it is always fascinating to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, it seems that many people have adopted this romantic idea of Jesus as a way to cope with singleness or expectations for marriage. Secondly, I think it reflects how our theology has changed because of the culture we live in.
The post I read addressed the author’s experience at her Christian college. Many of the girls there would claim Jesus as their “boyfriend,” even going so far as weekly “dates” with Him:
I once had a girl tell me she could not hang out on a Friday night because she had a “date” with God. In our churches, many of our praise and worship songs border on the “love song” language, leading many girls to equate those warm and fuzzy feelings that come with attraction with Jesus. This is a dangerous place to be. Not only is it an incomplete picture of who our Christ is, it also sends the message that the girls (and women) who are truly devoted to Jesus equate contentment in him with a romantic relationship with him.
The author also pointed out that this is an odd description that really only fits women — most guys aren’t clamoring to understand God as someone who holds their hand. (But then again, I suppose we have a guys’ version of this too with things like Wild at Heart and other warrior-images.)
The author isn’t unique — I’ve heard the boyfriend talk, and I’ve listened to worship music that makes knowing God sound much more like a modern-day dating relationship than a relationship between an all-knowing, all-powerful Creator and a sinful human.
Biblically, I think we can look at this a couple of ways. Like James mentioned in his post “Fall Head Over Heels,” we do see romantic images of God and His people throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, God basically marries Israel when they covenant together in Exodus 19. He speaks of loving her, of Israel as His bride, of the divorce they experienced when she cheated on Him by worshipping other gods. The New Testament continues this language by speaking of the church as the bride of Christ. Revelation includes the marriage supper of the Lamb. Romantic imagery is not the problem — it is biblical.
However, where I get a bit wary of this language when I hear it today is that we’ve very much turned the idea of dating Jesus into something that reflects our culture. Jesus never would have heard of dating — there was no such thing as a “boyfriend.” “Falling in love” was not in the language of the Ancient Near East, and neither were candlelight dinners. (Actually, wait. They were. No electricity. Lots of candlelight.) The other thing, which Reissig addressed in her post, is the individualistic nature that our “dating Jesus” can take on. The world of the Bible is very corporate — God married a nation — and that is how the biblical writers would’ve understood it. Because our culture is much more individualistic, we tend to view God that way, which can sometimes draw us closer to trivializing who He is and what He has done.
Marriage to Jesus while waiting for a husband can often trivialize our Savior in a way that makes him more like a sweet boyfriend who takes us out on dates, rather than the God-man who paid for our sin on the cross. Jesus did not accomplish redemption to marry us individually. He died for the church corporate, of which we are apart. His death accomplished something much greater than simply meeting our deep-seated desires for a significant other.
Overall, I think it’s just something we need to be aware of and thoughtful about when we talk about the Lord and who He is. He has invited us into a personal relationship with Him, and He loves us so much. We can know Him and spend time with Him, and feel the peace, love and joy that He offers. But, our relationship with God is not just comparable to the warm fuzzies you get when you’re on a date or, for the guys, the warrior-God who thinks church is too girly. We are invited to know a God who created the entire world, who puts rulers in place, who knows the number of hairs on our heads, and who sent His Son to die a gruesome death for us.
I’m not saying that we cannot understand God in romantic ways — marriage is a beautiful thing that is supposed to reflect the Lord and His love. Our God is big, and He has many dimensions to His great character. We can understand Him as creator, Father, husband, friend, shepherd, shade, rock, and on and on. The challenge, then, is to make sure that we’re understanding God according to His Word and His truth.
What do you think of the “Jesus as my boyfriend” or the “Braveheart-warrior God” trends?
Copyright 2012 Denise Morris Snyder. All rights reserved.