[From Noel] I saw an interview with Tim Keller where he was talking about his book The Meaning of Marriage. He explained that marriage is based on the idea of a covenant, and not on the idea of a contract. Covenant love is not based on what the receiver has done to deserve covenant love. It is based on the character of the lover. Covenant is a promise made between two people that is unconditional. I promise to love Julie not because she loves me back but just because I love her. If she loves me in return in the same selfless way it creates a beautiful testimony of the way God loves. It is, in fact, a little miniature picture of the Kingdom of God. Two people that covenant love each other no matter what is a pencil sketch of the love that God has for us. The interviewer asked Keller, “don’t we need a new word for this? If nobody knows what ‘covenant love’ is, do we need to find a 21st century equivalent for it?” Keller replied, “we don’t know what the word ‘covenant’ means but we all know covenant love when we see it.”
Covenant love is part of God’s divine economy, an economy of abundance. How much love does the lover have for his beloved? All of it! An infinite amount. There is an abundance of love in a covenant relationship.
Contract love is part of the world’s economy, an economy of scarcity. The boundaries are set. They might even be generous, but they are limited, harsh and sharp. Contracts are bitter and breakable. They fail to satisfy the longings of our heart because it know better. Our hearts were made for covenant love and they shrivel up and dry out when soaked in anything less.
That is why covenant love is so beautiful. That is also why it is so rare. It is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we are able to love like that. People are inherently selfish. Of my own accord, I am unable to love someone else like that. I can try to love Julie, but deep down I know I have ulterior motives. I love her because of what she can do for me. I express my affection in ways that I know are likely to make her love me back. It is only through the active work of the Holy Spirit that I can actually love someone unconditionally. This is how marriages can survive terrible mistakes. Spouses can forgive because they trust God to make it possible to forgive. When you see a couple celebrating 30, 40, or 50 years of marriage you are witnessing a little bit of a miracle. God’s Spirit has come to live in the midst of two people and has made it possible for them to forgive each other. It is nothing short of miraculous. Normally people are not able to love like that.
Our culture doesn’t know what covenant means but it sure likes it when it sees it. In songs, TV shows and movies, we love stories of selfless love. It stirs our heart and brings a tear to our eyes. We know it when we see it: a no matter what, never ending kind of love is a beautiful thing to behold.
Song writers often write about covenant love. Whether they are Christian or not, they testify to the kind of love we hunger for. A wise man once said, “All truth is God’s truth” so I am grateful when I hear “secular” music singing better than it knows. Serena Ryder (Canadian content eh?) sounds like she is talking about God when she sings,
Your love is like an ocean that always takes me home.
Whispering wind is blowing, telling me I’m not alone.
Your love is like a river that I am floating down.
I’ve never been a swimmer, but I know that I’ll never drown.
The current grows stronger under different shades of blue
I’ve fallen in your water, forget everything I knew.
Oh what I wouldn’t do, Oh what I wouldn’t do.
It is a great mistake to assume that “Christian musicians” are the only ones who can speak truth. God uses all kinds of messengers to speak his truth. We just need ears to hear it.