Those who emphasize the necessity of commitment in marriage to the exclusion of feelings doubtless do so from pure motives. They look around them and see people basing their decisions on emotions. These people, they observe, know nothing but what feels good. They say, "God wants me happy," and so make decisions based on fleeting feelings that they think will make them happy but which actually make them more miserable.
Good people in our indulgent and feeling-based society have reacted to this detrimental way of thinking. But in their desire to emphasize the need for character and commitment in decision making and relationships -- especially as regards marriage--- some of them deplete love of its emotional element altogether. This may help to counterbalance some people who run entirely on feelings, but it isn't true. It is an overreaction that makes nonsense of the English language and wreaks havoc on common sense.
Sober Christians have known all along that feelings can be either an ally or an enemy. They never should be given the primary focus in decision making (See Feelings). Nonetheless, they still play a role in Christian life---and certainly in marriage. Marriage is primarily a commitment, but no one willingly enters into that commitment without feelings of love. If the feelings fade, the commitment stands, of course. And the feelings--fickle things that the are--may or may not return. For centuries, the feelings properly belonging to marriage have always been called love. But now we are being told that feelings are not a part of love at all.
The teachers of this doctrine imply that if we read I Corinthians 13, we will see clearly that love has nothing whatsoever to do with feelings. They have neglected to consider at least three points:
1. Scripture deals primarily with sin and righteousness, not feelings. Emotion always takes a back seat to doing what is right in the eyes of God. That, however does not mean that feeling is not a major part of love.
2. I Corinthians 13 is not the only passage in the Scriptures on love.
3. I Corinthians 13 tells us what love does. It does not define love or tell us what kind of force it is. It just shows us what that force accomplishes.
I know by experience that love---the feeling of love---works the kind of things that I Corinthians 13 tells us it does. Who has not felt it? When you feel love for someone, it is easy to "think no evil" of them. It comes naturally to be kind and patient, to "bear all things, believe all things, hope all things." On the other hand, ill-will is lynx-eyed. It is difficult not to get puffed up and envious towards someone for whom you have little love. When you don't feel love, it is hard work to show it. (Nonetheless, in many instances we must do so, and we can call upon the love of God to help us.)
In my head I know my children, like everyone, have their faults, but for the most part, in my heart of hearts, I really believe they are pretty nearly perfect. I can't be objective about them. Love gets in the way. Don't most parents feel much the same way about their own children? This isn't a conscious choice, just the outflow of love that cannot be helped.
Even when the evil of wayward children stares them in the face and parents cannot close their eyes to it anymore, they are inclined to blame someone else for it as long as they can. When that fails, they still bear long with their children. They do exactly what I Corinthians 13 tells us they will do if they love them. Do they do this without feeling anything? When his rebellious son died, David cried, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" Love made him cry in agony with an intense and heart-breaking feeling that everyone around him could recognize as love.
If feeling is a part of parental love (and it is), why not marital love? God made us emotional creatures. Marriage is intended by Him as an expression of our best and holiest emotions. The emotional element in love poses no challenge to the need for commitment. People who find themselves in a marriage without the feelings that belong to it certainly have an obligation to maintain their commitment. That goes without question if you believe the Bible. (See Reasons for Divorce) The Scriptures make it plain that there is no such thing as an honorable divorce. In every divorce there is at least one guilty party, if not two. Marriage, like motherhood, is a lifelong commitment. You don't get out of it, even if you got into it by mistake. Whether you lost your first love or you never had any in the first place because you believed the doctrine that love is not a feeling, once the commitment is made, it is sealed.
Though we believe that marriage is a commitment, can't we also believe that there is an emotion called love? To take all the feeling out of love robs humanity of its noblest emotions and makes a robotical existence the ideal. This isn't the intention, I'm sure, but if you say "love has nothing whatsoever to do with emotions," look closely at the words and consider their ramifications. In an attempt to pull people out of the muddy and polluting waters of one ditch, you are using a rope that will land them in the dry abyss of a mechanical existence on the other side---an existence that is very difficult to maintain and is likely to drive people to jumping back into the murky slop you tried to get them out of. A healthy and scriptural understanding of love and commitment will not do that. The high ground has both. And where natural affection is not sufficient to maintain the supply of either one, the Lord Jesus provides a well of living water. He has an infinite supply of love from which anyone can draw who calls upon His name.
Let us "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (I Thessalonians 5:21.)