“Love never fails” is such a tidy phrase; but is it true?
We post often about how love never gives up, how marriage has “no plan B”, and as long as you stick together you can make it through anything. We’re strong proponents of fighting hard for your spouse, and loving especially when times get hard.
But what if you’re divorced or heading toward one? What if you feel helpless, as if love is failing you and you can’t do anything about it?
Depending on where you are in life and marriage, trite phrases like these will either inspire you, or they’ll make you feel defeated. They can make you question yourself. They can make you question love itself. They may even make you question God.
Love shouldn’t fail… agree?
We believe God designed marriage to glorify Him, illustrate his love, and to promote human flourishing. Whether or not you acknowledge the same, you likely believe wholeheartedly that marriage is “until death”.
No bride stares at her perfect white dress on the morning of her wedding and thinks, “This is the day I marry the man of my dreams and we start our lives together… at least until our love fails.”
Our desire for an exclusive, monogamous, life-long union is innately human – we’re hard-wired for it. This is where the tension arises: we all agree that love should’t fail, but reality doesn’t always comply.
Some feel powerless because their spouse has left, had an affair, or is completely disengaged from the relationship.
In other cases, a husband or wife has made mistakes themselves and lost their spouse’s trust with little hope of gaining it back.
For those who have been divorced, are headed toward it, or are recovering from it, love has failed, hasn’t it? Does love fail?
How we think about and answer this question is critical, whether you’re dealing with divorce or not.
Does love fail?
The idea that love never fails is indeed a biblical one:
“[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
(1 Corinthians 13:7-8a)
“Love never fails” is an unmistakeable statement we must trust, but what do we do when reality seems otherwise?
We must emotionally and mentally reconcile this concept with reality if we’re to have a fuller faith in and understanding of God. How can love “never fail” only part of the time?
Well, it can’t….
Divorce statistics lead us to believe it can: with 50% of marriages ending in divorce, it’s likely divorce is part of your life in one way or another; either through friends, family, or personal experience.
Everyone asks this question in some fashion: “If love never fails, why is the divorce rate so high?” Or perhaps the more relevant question is, “Why does the Christian divorce rate match that of non-believers if christians emphasize a biblical understanding and practice of true love?” (Note: I’m not actually convinced this statistic is true for Christ following couples, albeit a popular sentiment).
The simple answer is that people aren’t perfect. Another less simple answer is that we don’t always act out of true, godly, biblical love. We’re selfish; and in our selfishness, we sin. Sin hurts us and those around us.
Sin destroys. Sin causes injustice. Sin causes divorce. Sin breaks marriages.
Many husbands and wives reach out to us daily for help. The overwhelming majority of them are at their wits’ end, dealing with a disengaged spouse or one who continually hurts them. Many are fighting hard for their marriage, only to come up short because their spouse has already given up.
Does this mean love has failed? I don’t think so.
Love can’t fail, so why do marriages?
This is not an empirical study, but rather a general observation I’ve gathered over the years and talking with couples. Here are some prevalent reasons we’ve observed why marriages fail:
1: Love costs more than ever imagined
Many enter marriage with a romanticized notion of love: love must feel like love to be actual love. We must understand that love is truly love when it’s shown aside from feeling. Emotions come and go, but true love is not for the faint of heart.
Love is love. Feelings are feelings. We’re happy when the two cross paths. Marriage is the covenant to follow the love path relentlessly, regardless where the feelings path leads.
Love costs us everything. EVERYTHING. That’s what love is, that’s the love God shows us in Christ, and that’s the kind of love we’re buying into when we say “I do”.
When one or both people in a marriage fail to count the cost of lifetime covenantal love, they’re often surprised when expectation and reality collide.
2: Unrepentant sin destroys, leaving a shattered marriage in it’s wake
Unfaithfulness, adultery, not forgiving, and abandonment (be it physically, emotionally, or mentally) are a few prominent causes of broken marriage. Unrepentant sin, regardless of it’s form, destroys.
When I see spouses dealing with sin appropriately, they’re human, and God’s grace is bountiful to restore. When I see one spouse dealing with the sin while the other remains callous, I get concerned.
We must admit we’re sick to get help from a physician. In the same way, the Gospel is good news only in light of the bad news – we’re sinful people desperately in need of saving. When we repent of our sin, we literally say to God, “I’m sick, cure me.” The good news is that He does. (See Mark 2:17, Romans 3:21-26, and propitiation.)
3: Pride hardens hearts, making reconciliation impossible
Selfishness is at the root of pride, and unchecked selfishness can make your heart harder and harder as it calcifies from the outside in. Pride is the most potent poison in marriage. Love, however, is the opposite of selfishness and pride.
Here are two quotes from C.S. Lewis which contrast pride and love nicely:
“Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love or contentment or even common sense.”
“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”
Pride is the arch enemy of love. Pride seeks the self, love seeks the other.
It’s impossible for love to fail: it’s semantics
You’ve probably gathered, but I’m building the case for love. Love not only doesn’t fail, it can’t fail. Why? The biggest reason love can’t fail is because it’s a verb, not a noun. Love is an action, not a thing.
An action cannot fail in itself, only the one performing that action. For instance, you wouldn’t say “jump fails”. It doesn’t make sense. Someone must actually jump in order to determine the effort was a failure or a success. Jump is an action, the person performing the action either succeeds or fails at the action.
This is evident in the scripture above where we establish that “love never fails”. Paul is writing to the Corinthians regarding the behavior and actions of love. This final statement is his end-cap on the characteristics of love in action. Marriage is the lifelong journey of learning how to love like Christ.
Since we’re prone to missing love’s mark, it’s important to look to Christ for the purest example of love.
God’s love doesn’t fail because He doesn’t fail
This post could go on for days, so I’ll attempt to wrap it up here. Our hope is sure when our hope is in Christ (Hebrews 11:1). When we fail, we must look to Christ. This is why pride is so toxic for marriage (and any aspect of our lives). Pride insists that we don’t fail. Pride insists that we don’t need some other outside source of help. Pride leans into itself instead of Christ.
When we recognize ourselves as imperfect and Christ as perfect, our hope is sure. He has paid the price for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), he will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and regardless of our circumstances, he will work everything out for his ultimate glory (Romans 8:28).
In short, though we may fail, God does not. And the love of an unfailing God does in fact, never fail.
Question: How has God proven to you that he never fails?
Please comment below with your story.
Header image by Jeff Marsh.
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