Yet, love cannot be commanded. If you pick up a small child and shake him harshly and demand that he love you, he may eventually pretend love to avoid further abuse, but he will not really love you. A man cannot hold a gun to a woman’s head and command real love. Love cannot be forced, love is altogether unable to be touched by such demands. In the face of coercion love remains effortlessly defiant.
One of my favorite movies is “The Princess Bride.” Buttercup, the bride, has submitted to an obligatory loveless marriage to Prince Humperdinck in an ill-considered scheme to save her beloved Westley from harm. As the wedding approaches, she has a dream in which an old unpleasant woman shrieks at her,
The Ancient Booer: Boo. Boo. Boo.
Buttercup: Why do you do this?
The Ancient Booer: Because you had love in your hands, and you gave it up.
Buttercup: But they would have killed Westley if I hadn’t done it.
The Ancient Booer: Your true love lives. And you marry another. True Love saved her in the Fire Swamp, and she treated it like garbage. And that’s what she is, the Queen of Refuse. So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo. Boo. Rubbish. Filth. Slime. Muck. Boo. Boo. Boo.
Like Buttercup, we have a great lover who saved us and has promised to come for us. We may not see Him now, but we are asked to trust Him. Yet, we treated His love like garbage, like it was nothing. We settled for less than true love. We walk with the voice of the Ancient Booer in our ears, accusing us of settling for misery for no good reason. We had romance in our hands, knowing that our true love lives, and we give it up for nothing but petty fears and useless obligations and secret shames. Truly our great sin is not stealing or adultery or anger or false oaths – our sin is that we gave up true love. We have fallen short – not of our obligations, but of glory (Romans 3:23). We have made a thousand decisions from fear of the futile manipulations of others, which have led us down the path to a dungeon of loveless obligations. We wake up and go about settling for small unsatisfying pleasures knowing full well that we were made for a greater fate, a fate born not just for adventure, but for true affection. However, just as in the movie, our great lover persists in His devotion to us, and our failure to trust Him is not the end of the story.
It has been widely taught that in Christ we are to hold our desires suspect, we are in fact to sacrifice our desire to the greater good. We are to die to ourselves, to take up our cross daily. In fact, just as Christ endured the cross “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2), we are called to forsake our lesser obligations for a greater love. Scripture teaches that our heart, our inner desire, our love, is all-important:
“Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23
“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” Romans 6:17
In fact, the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole being. Yet, love cannot be commanded. If you pick up a small child and shake him harshly and demand that he love you, he may eventually pretend love to avoid further abuse, but he will not really love you. A man cannot hold a gun to a woman’s head and command real love. Love cannot be forced, love is altogether unable to be touched by such demands. In the face of coercion love remains effortlessly defiant. It is not without truth that we are said to “fall” into love; we cannot by pure reason or moral fortitude force our way into love. Romance with our Creator is not born of coercion, but of grace. It is His kindness which leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)