I’ve been wrestling lately with romantic loneliness, more so than usual, and in my pondering on the subject, I’ve been inspired to address briefly a common misconception on both sides of the theist and atheist divide.
Many Christians believe that their loved ones and unions are God-intended, and some take this to quite disturbing extremes. A common complaint in Christian dating is that one person is convinced that God has told them the other is their intended partner–yet somehow God failed to tell the other person this, much to that person’s shock and consternation. One thing I personally have wrestled with is why God has not pushed anybody my way. After all, I’ve been praying for a romantic relationship almost every night for over a year, and been yearning for it for years before that.
I have become convinced that the answer lies in a common conclusion of several theologians: that humankind is granted free will, because only by being free can they truly love. Since love must be free to truly be love, then humans can’t love God without being free. What’s often left out of such theological analysis is that, by the same token, humans can’t love other humans without it being freely given.
Now, one objection I can see immediately to this is that Christ claims that the root of all commandments are to “love God” and “love thy neighbour as thyself”. Note though that the fact that God has to issue such commandments in the first place means that He cannot force such love. It is encouraged because it is the way to human flourishing, and we are certainly to do “love as action” as much as possible. Then too, God’s commandments are often ideals to strive towards, not absolute proscriptions. God promises He will guide and strengthen us in pursuit of those ideals, but it is ultimately something that must happen freely.
The conclusion of this train of thought is thus that, when it comes to romantic relationships, God can not force one human to love another. He can, and I believe does, guide people toward each other, bring people together for manifold purposes, but in the end God cannot force love to emerge.
And this is where we run into a common misconception on both sides of the theological divide. The problem being that one attribute of God, in common Christian doctrine, is omnipotence. Omnipotence is often brought up in the classic Problem of Evil. Now, I’ve had some thoughts on this for some time now, but I was glad in reading The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis that he devotes an entire chapter (Chapter 2) to omnipotence. If anybody wishes a full treatment of it, I highly encourage reading that chapter, but I shall try to cover the basics here The complaint in the classic Problem of Evil is that if God is omnipotent he could have created a world without evil; that claim is often brought up by atheists as well in regard to love: if God is omnipotent he could have created a world where people were only capable of love. The claims are two sides of the same coin.
The answer C.S. Lewis provides so well in The Problem of Pain, and which I was pondering even before reading that book, is that there is a distinction to be drawn between things that are relatively impossible and things which are intrinsically impossible. Things that are relatively impossible we have numerous examples of: it is impossible for most fish to survive on land, but humans and many other animals can; it is impossible for humans to fly unaided, but most birds can. Christians postulate that the difference between all of creation and God in terms of possibility is several orders of magnitude–in other words, God can do everything that is intrinsically possible. Yet even God can’t do anything that is intrinsically impossible. As C.S. Lewis states, you can attribute miracles to God, but you can’t attribute nonsense, and anything that is intrinsically impossible is a non-entity.
Of course, discretion must be used, given our limited understanding, as to what is intrinsically impossible, and what is only relatively impossible. One common complaint of atheists is that God interacting with the physical world should leave traces that can be detected and measured. Now, of course, one answer to that is that God likely does leave traces that can be detected and measured but since many are reluctant to attribute such traces to the Divine then other explanations are made; or perhaps, God interacts so regularly that such traces are mis-attributed to nature, rather than divine intervention. Let’s say though, for sake of argument that atheists are right and there are no traces at all–I would say that if God is all He claims to be, and all we are told He is, then the ability to affect the physical world without leaving a physical trace would be something well within His capabilities.
Love and goodness though, are intrinsically impossible to be forced. Imagine a world where everyone had no choice, They would be only automatons. They would not be capable of loving because all they could ever do is follow blindly. They would also not be capable of goodness–because goodness is more than obedience, or so Scripture tells us. Scripture is quite clear that God’s will is not for blind obedience and empty ritual, but for full partnership, maintaining an individual identity, with mutual love defining and guiding the partnership.
So, I do not believe God can force a human to love another, anymore than God can force a human to love Him. Yet God can guide and strengthen, and push and nudge a variety of factors that can bring people together. I must trust that that will be enough, and that God will guide and strengthen me in pursuit of romantic love.