‘My sin was to love her.’
As I read those sad words in a semi-trashy historical romance novel the other day, I felt moved to tell the fictitious Roman Catholic priest, ‘Love is never a sin.’
And it occurred to me that – aside from the somewhat iffy practice of talking to non-existent people from previous centuries – I might be mistaken.
While real Love comes from God, and is therefore mutually exclusive with sin, we use the L-word to describe a great many feelings – some of which may not be all that divine, when it comes right down to it.
‘I love chicken wings’ or ‘I love this TV show’ are obvious examples of love that’s certainly different than the love we’re supposed to feel for our spouses, children and the rest of humanity, of course.
But what about other, seemingly genuine, uses of that word?
If a man ‘falls’ in romantic love with someone he’s not ‘supposed to,’ like someone else’s wife, or someone who’s not his wife – or someone who’s too old or too young for him – does that love come from God?
Never having been in that circumstance, I’m tempted to take the easy way out, and simply dismiss examples of this kind of ‘love’ as false love – lust, attraction, infatuation or escapism or something else of the sort. But I’m not so presumptuous as to declare unequivocally that love in all of these scenarios falls into such neat-and-tidy categories.
Sometimes – but probably less often than we think – it must be genuine love. It’s simply inconceivable to me that so many people could be that distressingly out of touch with their own hearts.
And yet, if all genuine love comes from God, how can a genuine love violate the spirit or the letter of God’s teachings?
If you look at love as a mere emotion, you can rationalize a pretty easy answer to this question. Emotions – anger, happiness, love or hate – are neither good nor bad in themselves; it’s what we do and don’t do with them that constitutes sin or righteousness.
But we’re told again and again – in Scripture and in life – that love is much more than an emotion. It’s a choice or a series of choices, it’s an action or a series of actions (often including, but hopefully not limited to, sex). It’s a lifestyle, it’s an outlook, a reason for being, a Weltanschauung (my dad will be proud of me for using that word, and for inviting you to look it up if you don’t know what it means). It’s romance and it’s bromance. Love fits all of these descriptions, and many others, too.
I’m tempted to leap quickly to the one-word, many-meanings explanation, but I think that’s a cop-out. I don’t think God’s version (the Real version) of Love is compartmentalized in this way. For Him, I think the L-word has only one meaning, and it’s all-encompassing and all-defining. And He wants the same to be true for us – to as great an extent as it can be, in our frail, crude, fleshy forms.
In that context, it seems overly simplistic, and therefore somewhat inadequate, to say that ‘forbidden’ romantic love is only a sin if it’s put into tangible, earthly action.
So getting back to my original question, did my fictitious Catholic priest indeed sin when he loved that woman (with his heart, I mean – not his body)? I still have no idea.
But I’m sure grateful that for me, the question is only hypothetical. My prayers go out to any of you who are wrestling with this issue for real.
Peace be with you.