What our wedding vows suggest about how God relates to us.
Something surprising happens in a wedding ceremony. The bride and groom, after great preparation and full of love for each other, step forward to be united in marriage. And at the climax of that ceremony, they put conditions on their love for each other.
These conditions are exchanged as vows. These vows take the unconditional love of the bride and the groom and make it practical. How will the bride and groom love each other? For better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health. These promises—though often broken in our age—reveal that true love is as practical as it is emotional. The love between the bride and groom is not unconditional, but there are conditions about how love will be expressed between them.
The pastor who married my wife and I told us: “You married each other because of your love. Now you must love each other because you are married.” The time for emotional love was passed. The hard work of love had now begun. It was something we had to do.
But can love really be promised? Can we be commanded to love? Isn’t obligatory love the antithesis of unconditional love? Shouldn’t love be without expectations, without strings attached, without any requirement of reciprocity or—as it were—commandments? After all, we often see God offering us this unconditional love, a love that offers us everything, death for our life. This unconditional love, we often think, calls for faith in response—our faith in God’s love.
But this view of God’s unconditional love is really just sentimental love writ large, a view of God’s love that inspires faith in God’s love, perhaps more than it inspires faith in God himself.