When Love Is Bad

When Love Is Bad

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The rise and fall of King Solomon is one of Scripture's great tragedies. Solomon had it all, and for a while he used his gifts wisely and well. But he began the practice of "marriage alliance" (first cited in 1 Kings 3:1) — political marriages with many prominent women from other nations. And the marriages weren't strictly political: Over time, they changed Solomon's heart for the worse. 

"Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, 'You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.' Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods" (1 Kings 11:1-8).

Polygamy never ends well, as Scripture shows us whenever it treats the subject at any length. But as wrong as that is, it isn't Solomon's great sin here. That sin is idolatry, and it's vastly magnified by his divinely appointed royal office as leader of God's people. We're not told how many of those people were also turned toward idolatry, but when the king leads, many of the people generally follow. At any rate, Solomon's sins would lead God to raise up vicious foreign adversaries against him, and would tear apart the kingdom — which had reached its highest peak of worldly power and glory — during his son's reign.

Why did Solomon do it? The answer's in the text: He did it all for love.

When I saw the word "love" last time I read the verses, I wondered briefly whether it could be a euphemism for "lust," considering the sheer number of women involved. So I consulted with pastors and confirmed that the Hebrew is accurately translated. This is not merely sexual attraction, but emotional attachment. He cared about these women. His heart was engaged with them. And because of that, his heart turned away from the Lord to follow evil pagan deities.

Which just goes to show something which should be obvious, yet which hardly anyone ever says: Love can be bad.

That's a heretical statement in our feelings-obsessed culture. "Love" is one of those magic words that can justify pretty much anything. It's the ultimate argument-stopper. "People in love should be together." "Their relationship can't be wrong if they're in love." "All that matters is how they feel about each other." You hear things like that all the time. Many Christians seem helpless to respond — maybe, in part, because they too have been absorbed into the same culture.

But there are truths that need to be spoken. One is that the feeling of romantic love is not necessarily ennobling. Sometimes it's the opposite. Loving the wrong person, or in the wrong way, or to the wrong extent (yes, there is such a thing as too much) can be destructive to the true good that God intends for us. Love can be perverse, adulterous, incestuous, idolatrous. It can go wrong in as many ways as man himself has gone wrong since the fall. The human heart can't be trusted and must never be exalted.

There's another truth, however, that's more encouraging. Romantic love, even at its best — in the form that does follow God's design — is never the highest good. There's something better.

There are several different types of love, but the highest is the selfless, sacrificial agape love epitomized by Christ on the cross. It's significant that the most famous verses about love, from 1 Corinthians 13 — love is patient, love is kind — describe not romantic love but agape love. We hear those verses often at weddings to remind us that romantic feelings aren't enough. We need the kind of love that isn't based on feelings at all. We need the kind that's based in His character, full of grace and truth. That's the love that will never lead our hearts astray.

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  • --"...or to the wrong extent (yes, there is such a thing as too much) can be destructive to the true good that God intends for us. "

    Too much love! Never heard of it. Unless you are referring to a situation in which one is giving preference to their spouse over their relationship with God (In which case, the problem is not too much love but idolizing their partner), then I will disagree with you on that point. However, I do appreciate the general message in your article and I like how you conclude by referring to agape love. I believe that if we make agape our primary aim, then whatever other form of love we may speak of cannot be bad for us as it will be "conformed" to the ultimate type of love.

  • --reading the comment I just posted, I realize how what I have said is conflicting. Having an idol means loving something or someone else more than you love God - so I see your point Matt :-)

  • --I have known a few couples who were totally "in love." I have even seen situations in the church involving a guy and a gal together, holding hands, caressing each other, and just making a nauseating show of affection. It does not surprise me even the slightest when, after they have been married for a couple years, they get divorced, because I often think that they should not have been together in the first place. Sometimes I kick myself for not saying something before they tied the knot, but I never see it as my place to do so. Love can be superficial and see nothing but the outside, living exclusively in the moment and just for the good times. If a man and a woman can only see some superficial fairy tale romance, then they definitely should not be together.

  • --If Solomon had genuinely loved those women in the sense of desiring what was best for THEM, he would not have married them. He would not have brought them into a relationship in which he, as husband, could not give them his personal care and attention. Whatever his desire for them was, it was not for their best.......

    Another example is Jacob and Rachel. If, when Jacob had realised that he had been tricked, he had been satisfied with one wife, he would have avoided a huge amount of familial strife and sin...... And the ancestor of Jesus, Judah, would still have been born.

    People tend to romanticise mama-boy Jacob's desire for the headstrong, rebellious, tomboyish Rachel..... But many a man has experienced the desire for a woman that he cannot legitimately have.  

  • --lol, I just recently saw an anime movie that kind of dealt with this very idea, although not to the full spiritual level that you mention.  The whole theme of the film seemed to be "love is a double-edged Sword".  The main character loved someone so much that she was willing to put herself through any pain and harship and even sacrifice her own life in order to protect that person and make them happy.  But she loved them so much that she was also willing to sacrifice anyone else, or even *everyone* else in order to make only the person she loved safe and happy.  Even if it would go against the wishes of that person.   And by the end of the film thats exactly what she did, making a decision that changed the entire world for the worse, just to save the one she loved, even though they didn't *want* to be saved.

    I think a lot of people though would make the argument that something like that isn't "real love" to begin with, just like some people would say that pre-marital or extra-marital sex isn't real love.  So maybe its not that "sometimes love can be bad" but rather "sometimes we call something "love" that isn't really real love".  Like what Peter mentioned.  

  • --Very insightful post!, Matt. I call the idea that romantic love is the highest love the 2nd of The Five Sex Lies. I'd love your thoughts on a post I wrote on the topic: students.faithoncampus.com/the-five-sex-lies-part-2.

    As for this post, I will definitely be sharing with the Future Marriage University community at www.facebook.com/FMUniversity.

  • --MJ@FMU, fine post. Particularly this part:

    "Who has time for friends when your truest need is for a lover?

    This sex lie alone will undermine the overall success of your dating life, and can even sabotage your marriage before your wedding day."

    Among many good points, "it’s a lot of pressure to put on one relationship" resonates with me because I often use almost the same words: I like to warn against "putting more pressure on a relationship than it's meant to bear." If one person, even your spouse, is "everything to me," "my world," "my life," etc.,, then I'm not doing her any favors.  I'm setting both of us up for destruction.

  • --I wonder how much of it Solomon learned from his father. We know David had concubines, and had no trouble justifying his relationship with Bathsheba and consequent killing of her husband (though he did accept his rebuke and repent.) For all we know perhaps Solomon believed love looked like that. Too bad he couldn't have taken a cue from his sister Tamar as well. That whole family was full of love run amok.

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