In the third century AD, Claudius II ruled the Roman Empire. He was a military genius, very successful on the battlefield. He was also cold-hearted near to the point of inhumanity. Claudius became convinced that single men make better warriors because they are not distracted by love. Love, he believed, would cloud the mind and hinder clear thinking. So he issued a decree that young men serving in the military could not marry.
A Christian bishop in the empire believed Claudius’s decree against human love was not only cruel but also a denial of a greater Law from a God who is Himself love. The bishop decided at the risk of his own life to defy the emperor’s orders and marry Roman soldiers. He traveled around the Roman Empire marrying young men and women in secret. Hundreds of other couples would travel for days and weeks to come to him for the marriage blessing.
For more than two years the bishop followed his conscience, and for more than two years Claudius lost many of his “clear thinking” soldiers to the heartache, pangs of grief, and ecstatic highs that accompany love. Eventually the buzz of the bishop’s underground activities increased in volume until he was caught, arrested, and put on trial. When he refused to annul the “illegal marriages,” to promise to comply with the emperor’s law, and to recant his position that his disobedience to Rome was obedience to God, he was burned at the stake. The fire was started with Christian marriage licenses. And so on February 14, around the year 270 AD, Valentine was martyred.
But it was too late. Claudius could not stop the young men and women from falling in love, nor could he stop Christian pastors from believing that marriage is a gift from God for all men and women who love one another. A heart’s love triumphs over an emperor’s “clear thinking;” it cannot be stifled to promote a level head.
Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying that true love is wholly composed of emotion and that reason is love’s antithesis. The greatest passions are those which are not merely experienced in the heart, but also in the mind. Sure, the desire of one person for another can lead people to do some fanatical things, but their minds have not checked out. They know precisely why they behave as they do. They are in love. Suggesting that love and reason are incompatible is as ridiculous as believing that any law can stop people from falling love. At the end of the day love will not be hushed, squelched, or snuffed out.
This is because love is from God. Certainly in our culture the idea of “love” is abused and perverted, degraded into lust and selfish gratification of our most base desires. But love IS from God. I believe the experience of love between a man and woman qualifies as what theologians call a “common grace,” an undeserved gift of God given to all humanity. Consider the words of King Solomon in his marriage song:
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.
(Song of Solomon 8:6-7)
Relationships that display real and true love—like aged grandparents that have been married 60 years, happy parents that have been married for 37, or devoted friends that refuse to allow the pettiness of this world to come between them—are gifts from God that teach us something of divine love. I am so blessed to be connected to so many of these kinds of relationships, to receive and give this kind of love.
Let’s be thankful today for a God whose love for us burns with such fury that He is Himself a Consuming Fire. God’s love defies human reason, confounding the wisdom of this world and appearing as foolish to many. Why would Jesus die on the cross in my place, for me, a sinner? Love. When the Law says I deserve death, the gospel proclaims, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
If you know that love of God in Christ that is shed abroad in our hearts by his Spirit (Romans 5:5) and have that gift of love in your soul for others, fan the flames that cannot be quenched by mighty torrents or rightly traded for gold.