How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s (1806-1861) poem gives the marriage identity and the sacrificial lover’s identity. Their exclusive relationship reflects the divine-human relationship.
As evidenced in the first chapter, God, as the sacrificial lover’s identity, loves relentlessly by pursuing his precious people. Then, Adam mirrors the lover’s emotion in pursuing and rejoicing over his wife. These foundational metaphors encourage covenant marriages to adopt a similar identity.
A spouse in a covenant marriage seeks to be the sacrificial lover in identity in how they love the other. This covenant demeanor motivates their love, respect, and interpersonal connections to touch the depth, breadth, and height that human love can reach. Yet, the core aspect of love comes from God, not just from our inner reach. For God so loved the world, he gave… encompasses the motivation of love. A lover gives sacrificially. Looking back to creation, we see the biblical Creator gives his image to his beloved creation – Adam and Eve and then when they sin, he provides a covering for their nakedness.
God’s Intent or Browning’s
Likewise, by the hand of the divine surgeon, God personally takes a portion of Adam’s inner self to form Eve—the divine hints at the future principle of giving of self to develop the lover. As the poet said, I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight for the ends of being and ideal grace. Browning’s love comes from within herself to love. Yet deeper still, our love comes from God, who divinely creates us to connect.
Browning’s poem above, written before her marriage to Robert Browning, describes a love that led to an exclusive life-long commitment. However, the lover’s identity in a play or a poem often places this person outside of a marital relationship or idolizes falling in love more than staying in love after marriage. The idea counters this perspective when the Bible talks of husbands loving their wives. A biblical lover is a sacrificial, exclusive, covenant-bound spouse. The marriage definition: A covenant marriage portrays a sacred bond between one man and one woman in God’s presence, with a public declaration establishing a new sacrificial, permanent, relational oneness based on unconditional promises.
Each spouse’s new sacrificial permanent identity is the exclusive lover for one’s beloved spouse. This exclusive lover contrasts with an unrestricted enthusiast who lusts and wanders so that, at any moment, he will find an object of his desires and pursue it. The ancient, inspired paradigm in a covenant marriage promotes the sacrificial lover as the spouse’s primary identity. The foremost thoughts do not start with one’s roles, rights, or marriage positions. Still, this paradigm continually instills a new motivation to love and live differently from what the world promotes – approaching roles and rights in this light.
The Sacrificial Lover’s Identity
A sacrificial lover looks first at how to please one’s beloved—a constant willingness to seek the benefit of the other. Without dying to self and clothing oneself with Christ’s love, the ability to love sacrificially proves impossible. Colossians 3:14 says, “And above all these [previous principles of forgiving and compassion] put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Each spouse adopts a cloak of self-sacrificing in their behavior by seeking harmony.
These ideas are found in my book, Defining Marriage: Sketching the Difference between Covenant and Contract.