More than Chemistry

October 19, 2018

Two people fall in love. They find they have “chemistry.” Italian researchers have found that this “chemistry” is more than a metaphor. They studied 58 people who had recently fallen madly in love. These scientists from the University of Pavia found that the powerful emotions of new love are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF). Compared to a control group of singles and people in long term relationships, the newly in love had far higher levels of NGF.

But after one year, the couples who have stayed together find their levels of NGF dropping down to the same level as singles and couples in a long-term relationship. This chemistry may be important to bonding two people together, but this emotional high does not last. Although researchers can now point to a particular molecule, the wise have always known this truth from human experience.

Since the Bible teaches us to make a “till-death-do-us-part” commitment in marriage, we realize that such a commitment means going beyond the emotional high of new love. Marriage takes work. Couples must learn how to communicate. They must also learn how to resolve conflict. They must meet one another’s needs. Emotional ups and downs should be expected. The birth of children and living with teenagers often impacts marital satisfaction. Bills, illnesses, repairs, and crises are the stuff of life with which all of us must cope. The promise of “for better or for worse” should never be entered into lightly. Yet the vows speak of the reality of life.

The person who contemplates going beyond the boundaries of his or her marriage also needs to hear this warning. The emotional high will be short lived, but the consequences will last a life time and maybe even an eternity. God’s ways are truly what is best for us and our children.

Emotions can and do change. Researchers have found that couples who have a drop of feeling in love can change the direction of their relationship. If they begin to do again some of the things of courtship—they communicate, solve problems, and meet needs, then the feelings of love can return. It takes time. In fact, doing the right things must come first. The emotions will lag behind. The difference is caused by an initial lack of trust. Will this person disappoint me again? But as the couple works at the relationship, trust is rebuilt, and the relationship restored. Actually, it won’t be quite the way it was. Researchers have found that it can actually be better.

“Till death do us part” is God’s plan for marriage. The powerful emotions of falling in love are a part of the way God has made us. Yet, we all need to be reminded that marriage takes work. It must be more than chemistry.


How Much Do I Love?

April 28, 2017

The setting was well-to-do. Simon, the Pharisee, had invited Jesus to dine with him (Luke 7:36-50). This is a banquet setting with the meal served on a low table with mats or couches surrounding it. The guests reclined at table with their legs extended behind them.

Into such a formal occasion comes a woman who cries at the end of Jesus’ couch. Would you notice a woman crying in a banquet hall? Surely all eyes were upon her. This is no silent weeping. As Frederick Danker notes about the word used, “‘express grief or sorrow aloud’ (not a silent dropping of tears or weeping…).* She “rains down” tears upon Jesus’ feet. Not just moist eyes, but the kind of crying we usually describe as uncontrolled. And she dries Jesus’ feet with her hair, and she anoints Jesus’ feet with a fragrant ointment. Not only can you not notice the crying, but the aroma of ointment sweeps through the room.

Simon thinks to himself, “If he really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him.” With condescension Simon manages to hit two people with one mental stone.

Jesus tells Simon a story that lays bare Simon’s own heart. A money lender has two debtors. One owes 500 day’s wages and another 50, but the money lender forgives both debts because neither had the ability to repay what was owed. So Jesus has a question for Simon, “Which of them will love him more.” We can hear the reluctance in Simon’s “I suppose,” but his answer was correct: “the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”

If people felt uncomfortable by such unusual proceedings, the discomfort level is raised by Jesus’ pointed comparison. Simon didn’t give Jesus water with which to wash his feet, a customary kiss of greeting, or oil for his head. This would have been typical hospitality in the ancient world. The woman had washed Jesus’ feet with tears, kissed them, and anointed them with fragrant oil.

As I mentally enter this scene, two thoughts strike me. First, Jesus came to save sinners not just the Simon type of sinners, people who have it together morally and have a good reputation. But he came to save those like the sinful woman whose reputation for being quite undone preceded her. I need to remember that encountering Jesus can transform lives.

Second, Simon doesn’t understand the depth of his own need for grace. How can any of us love little when we grasp the ugliness of sin. All sins, even the ones done by “respectable people,” nailed Jesus to the cross! If I begin to grasp the depth of God’s love, my response in return should be gratitude and love, and that love should motivate me to follow Jesus wherever he leads me. The challenge of the story is: how much do I love?

*S.v. κλαίω, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testatment, p. 201.


Speak A Good Word

October 11, 2013

One communication researcher did a study on people’s ability to identify another’s emotional moods from facial expression, body posture, and tone of voice. Not surprisingly, these non-verbal forms of communication actually do communicate. People can accurately identify emotional moods without words at a rate higher than chance would explain. Further, some people are better at reading emotions than others. Women did a better job than men in this particular study.

But one interesting fact from the study confirms the wisdom of Solomon: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5, ESV).

The researcher divided the moods into four categories—pleasurable or distressing, active or passive. The easiest emotions for test subjects to spot were the active/distressing ones such as fear, anger, and disgust. Test subjects almost always identified them correctly. But when the moods were passive/pleasurable such as feelings of love, admiration, and satisfaction the test subjects often missed them. The subjects either confused emotions with one another, or half the time, labeled them as boredom or dislike. The researcher noted:

The implications are obvious: if two people like each other but never give voice to their affection, there’s a good chance at least one of them will miss it. Yet if one party is temporarily upset by the other, it will come through loud and clear, even without a word spoken. Remedy: if you feel positive toward someone—say it!1

We may communicate even when we are not saying a word, but effective communication of the good feelings we have towards others need the added touch of the spoken word.

____________________

1Em Griffin, Making Friends (& Making Them Count) (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), pp. 88-89.


The Perfect Bond

July 8, 2011

Paul wants us to live out the implications of our baptism. We have been raised with Christ at our baptism, and we have died and had our life hidden with Christ in God (see Colossians 3:1-3 compare to Romans 6:1-4). We now have a new identity as chosen, holy, and beloved (3:12). The implication of our baptism is that we should be putting on virtues (Colossians 3:12-14). Paul gives a list.

  • Compassion (heart of mercy ESV) is the ability to feel for another. To be touched by someone’s circumstances.
  • Kindness is the quality of being helpful or beneficial to one another.
  • Humility is the opposite of being arrogant or proud. It takes humility to admit mistakes and weaknesses. It takes humility to listen to God’s word and see the corrections that we should make. The humble person is willing to serve and willing to reach out to all kinds of people.
  • Gentleness is the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s own self-importance. It expresses itself as courtesy and considerateness. Its opposite is harshness.
  • Patience is remaining tranquil while awaiting an outcome or being able to bear up under provocation. It is a reminder that Christian can have bad times, which need endurance. It is also a reminder that just because we are Christians doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t occasionally provoke one another. God is still shaving off our rough edges.
  • Bearing with one another (I like to say it as putting up with one another). We are not in heaven yet. The church on earth is not perfect. Renewal though real does not make people perfect in this life. We must have patience with one another as we work through problems.
  • Forgiving each other. We will all make mistakes. We will sin. We may at times even wound one another. But we are called to forgive one another, because God forgives us.

The crowning virtue in this passage (Colossians 3:12-14) is love. Love is the quality that puts another first and does the best for another. Literally the passage reads, “love, which is the bond of perfection.” The NIV relates it to the virtues of this passage: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” In this reading, love is the crowning virtue that holds all of these other virtues together. Love sums up and encompasses every other virtue. Love binds these virtues together. To treat with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness is to love. After all, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10, ESV).

But the ambiguity of what Paul says could also apply love as the bond that holds people together too. I suspect that both thoughts are true. Love sums up the other virtues, and love is the glue that holds people together in unity. Love is truly the perfect bond.