This week we celebrated yet another commercialized day which has somewhat dubious historic roots.
The most amorous of the legends of Valentine’s Day has him as a third century priest who defied Emperor Claudius II’s ban on marriage for young men up to a certain age (due to his belief that single men made better soldiers). Because Valentine continued to perform these marriages he was put to death, making him a martyr in the cause of love.
Another legend has Valentine bravely helping persecuted Christians escape from brutal Roman prisons, only to be incarcerated himself. Behind bars he falls in love with a young lady (possibly the jailor’s daughter) who visited him. Before his execution he would sign a note to her “From your Valentine,” an expression still used today.
Even the choice of date is equivocated, however. Some believe it commemorates the date on which Valentine died, while others point out its proximity to the pagan fertility festival Lupercalia, the observance of which was banned by Pope Gelasius — the same Pope that declared Feb. 14 Valentine’s Day.
Regardless of what happened more than 1,500 years ago, it is axiomatic that love grows with expression — so relationships are always strengthened by spending time to show our love for one another. More than the chocolates and flowers and cards, Valentine’s Day affords us a reminder of how important it is to let our spouses and loved ones know how important they are to us. Don’t be like the husband who, in a counseling session, defended his lack of affection to his wife. “I told you I loved you when I married you. If anything changes I’ll let you know.”
But perhaps Valentine’s Day also gives us opportunity to ponder the nature of love itself. While the biblical worldview is becoming less and less common, the Scriptures in fact teach that because of man’s fall, our hearts are naturally and pervasively selfish. That is to say that even the good that we do is inherently tainted with wrong motives we have for doing it (see Matthew 6:1). Love itself, which should be the purest of our expressions, is too often an exercise in trying to get something for ourselves. We all want love — to be loved more precisely — but too often aren’t aware that what we ultimately need is relationship with the God whose best description is simply “love.” (I John 4:8)
Whether you’re a believer, an agnostic, an atheist or just haven’t ever thought about it, you were created in the image of God for relationship with him (Genesis 1:26-27; Revelation 4:11). The wise man says in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that God has put “eternity in their hearts,” an insatiable need for an eternal relationship with an immortal God. Too many of us have sought the completion that only this can bring in transitory and finite ways. Money, position, fame or even the love of others can never take the place of the love of God in our hearts.
What is it about God’s love that satisfies when others fall short? The answer to that question could possibly fill many of these columns without exhaustion, but we can consider a few brief thoughts here.
God knows everything about me and still loves me. Hebrews 4:13 tells us that “there is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” David exclaimed, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; you understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” (Psalm 139:1-4) Having no secrets means having no fear of rejection should those secrets be made known.
Nothing we or others do can change his mind about us. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ... Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)
God loved us first and is relentlessly pursuing us. “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
God’s love is unselfish. Paul describes this divine love with the specific Greek word "agape" which is a love seeking nothing in return. Unfortunately we don’t have the various words for love in English, so its meaning isn’t as apparent. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
So whether your Valentine’s Day brought warm thoughts or memories, or was more painfully felt in harmony with its other unofficial title, “Singles’ Awareness Day,” the good news is that God’s love is drawing you, and his love is what each of us really need.
And his love is the same every day of the year!
Chester Clark III is pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dalton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on the third Friday of the month.