Love Cannot Be Forced

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I had a very strange thought standing in my kitchen the other day. It was Lent, and I was hungry but I was fasting. In that moment when I wanted food, I said, “This is for love of you, Jesus.” Then all of a sudden this gratitude for free will washed over me. I still recall what that felt like because it was so unusual.

In that moment I was still hungry, but I was also so thankful that God gave me free will so I could choose to love him. If God had made us slaves to his will, we would never have been free to love. We would simply do as we are told like robots (or Siri, or Alexa). But, as I made that small sacrifice for Jesus in my kitchen, it felt like true love. It felt the way it does when I do something for my husband even when I don’t want to, simply because I love him.

In The Beginning….

I often wondered why God put that blasted tree in the Garden of Eden only to tempt Adam and Eve with it. You can eat of any tree but the one in the center with the juicy, desirable fruit and the sneaky serpent. Why, in heavens name, create a tree only to tell man to avoid it?!?

At first, it seems like a cruel test where you could imagine God hiding behind another tree, just waiting to see if Adam and Eve trip up. Isn’t that the image a lot of people have of God these days? Looking down from heaven judging you, waiting for you to mess up. “See, I knew you couldn’t resist,” you might imagine him saying.

But yet, God is love, and so He had to offer the choice. Most of all, God wanted Adam and Eve to freely choose to love him and trust him. Not that he wanted them to sin, but he had to let them choose if he really wanted their love. 

There is no such thing as love without freedom,” Mary Healy wrote in her book Men and Women are from Eden. Sometimes we forget that God’s whole plan is to bring us into relationship with Him. It’s why our prayers are so important to him, even though He knows everything. His love for us compels him to include our active participation in his plans. Love requires sacrifice, trust, and respect for free will. Love cannot be forced.

Implications For Today….

If love cannot be forced with God, then it cannot be forced with each other, either. There is much discussion in the news right now about sexual consent, with a string of powerful men accused of using their influence to coerce women into sexual acts. Famous men are claiming they thought there was consent, but because of their power or status, women felt like they had no choice.

The ambiguity in these encounters is disconcerting. The whole concept of “sexual freedom” paradoxically takes freedom away. When it comes to one-night stands, or even short-term romances, can you really give consent to someone you do not know? Hookups are always a use of the other person – the direct opposite of love – because you cannot love someone intimately that you do not know intimately.

Marriage, on the other hand, protects the true meaning of love. In marriage you are free to love because you have made a commitment to each other with your words and sealed it with your bodies. Only then can you be naked without shame by revealing your whole self to your spouse and knowing they love all of you permanently and exclusively – the good and the bad. “To love is to reveal your soul,”  wrote Robert Schuller.

Just like with God, love is a choice. Sexuality is supposed to be the expression of love, not of force or power. It is a language of love, and true love cannot be forced.

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