Recovering a Christian Perspective on Valentine's Day
With February around the corner, many people have Valentine’s Day on their mind. Some people are euphoric with the opportunity to spoil one’s spouse or significant other with flowers, chocolates, and an evening where many — in some ways — can paint the town red. Others groan at the gratuitous costs and the potential of being #foreveralone on this nonsensical holiday.
The celebration of love is an intriguing one in today’s society. Love is a very weighted term meaning many things to many people, both in definition and in practice. This is a day with a long history and much potential, but only if we stop being lied to about the truth of this holiday. It is a day rooted in Christian marriage, yet it has deviated far from this Christian institution. Let’s take a look.
There has been a lot of lore around the origins of the day in which we either commemorate St. Valentine or idolize infatuation. The most common of these brings us back to the Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. During his short yet successful reign as emperor (268-270 AD), he passed an edict banning marriage. Though some are quick to pin this as a religious indictment, it was more a military maneuver. In a report on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s webpage, they too clarified that Emperor Claudius thought that a single man would fight better than a married man, which is why he passed the edict. However, people continued to marry.
Marriage was very different in the polygamous society which was the Roman Empire, but as people kept converting to Christianity, they too conformed to the monogamous Christian way of marriage. A Roman priest known as Valentine was the one to officiate these marriages in the name of God. Emperor Claudius found out, had him arrested, flogged and martyred. Martyrdom for marriage. Death for the sake of love. That is the meaning we take out of this day: love. But a deeper meaning comes from recognizing St. Valentine’s obedience to the law of God and the Christian tradition.
What: obedience to the law of God? That seems to be a wishful claim to make from this story. But when one does the dirty work to dig into Scriptures we realize that love is equivocal to obedience. The Christian claim of “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8) and if you love [God], you will keep His commandments (Jn. 14:28) is far different from society’s definition of love. You see, we all have been lied to, being told that infatuation is the same as love. That if you love someone, you will always agree with them. But most detrimental of all, that love is selfish.
Now no one would admit that love is selfish outright. It is more evident in the way we phrase things: “I need to find my soulmate”, you need to find the person who “compliments you”, the one who “fulfills you”. You see, we are all selfish, and we are all sinful. So as long as we are selfish, we cannot love. And as long as you are sinful, you cannot obey God. Love must not be divorced from God. God is love. We need God in order to love and we cannot love if we do not follow God. Here we can recover meaning in Valentine’s Day. We can commemorate a day (and everyday) to love and to marriage just as St. Valentine did.
In order to do so, we need to know the true version of love. As stated above, love is rooted in the very character of God and manifested in obedience to God. That is where the epic of love found in 1 Corinthians 13 gains its true weight, as Michael Emmanuel taught us at a recent HotSpot. It is true that “love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[ it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
This is only true as far as these traits are bound in lawful obedience to God, and it is lawful obedience to God that brings about the Kingdom of God here on earth. The true prayer of love is the prayer that Jesus himself taught us to pray: your kingdom come, your love be done.
We have a polemical issue at hand. We can idolize infatuation, or we can worship God. We can reclaim Valentine’s Day to make it more than a day devoted to romantic rendezvous. We can show the world the true likeness of God by showing them the true likeness of love. So before you say “I love you” to that special someone, be sure to first say “I love you” to the One who teaches us to love.