I pointed out a few weeks ago that the concept of courtly love has thoroughly changed how we read stories like Gen 29 in the Bible. Where the Bible describes a very raw sexual passion, we see a modern romance story. For just one example of this, see Bible.org’s 4. Never Satisfied! – The Story of Jacob and Rachel. This piece is a chapter out of a 1978 book by Dr. Richard L. Strauss originally titled Famous Couples in the Bible. Long time readers will recall Dr. Strauss as the originator of the theology of Women as responders.
When a man claims that his wife doesn’t love him anymore he is unwittingly admitting that he hasn’t loved her as he should have.
Strauss has clearly had a huge impact on modern Christian thought about marriage, which explains why his ideas are still taught by Bible.org. Strauss’ teaching on Gen 29 comes straight out of the Book of Oprah, so it isn’t surprising that it is so well loved. Strauss frames Jacob as a sensitive new age guy who wasn’t afraid to express his emotions, unlike the brutes of the 1970s:
…“Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept” (Gen. 29:11). The emotion of the moment overwhelmed him. The miracle of God’s guidance and care, the thrill of meeting his pretty cousin, the prospect of what the future would hold—all of it filled his heart so full that he wept for joy. Our culture frowns on a man expressing his emotions like this, but honestly expressing one’s feelings might promote greater emotional health and greater marital stability.
Strauss continues, warning that Jacob’s expression of 1970s emotional vulnerability might not be enough to keep this marriage together. While an emotionally vulnerable husband is essential, for a marriage to last what is needed most is true love:
It seems as though this romance was off to a blazing start. The neighborhood beauty and the new boy in town had found each other. But from the beginning we are a little dubious about the match. We know that a relationship based primarily on physical attraction rests on a shaky foundation. Hollywood has given us some good evidence for that thesis. And the marital misfortunes of the proverbial football hero and homecoming queen bear it out too. They can make their marriage succeed, but it will take a little extra effort, and they will need to make their relationship grow far beyond the physical magnetism that got it started.
But when a man is enamored of a woman, he does not want to hear those things. He is going to have her, and nothing else matters. It was only one month after Jacob arrived in Haran that Uncle Laban approached him to see if they could work out a mutually acceptable wage arrangement. The Scripture says that Jacob loved Rachel and offered to serve Laban seven years for her hand in marriage (Gen. 29:18). He had nothing to offer Laban for his daughter, so his labor was promised in lieu of a dowry. Now we are even more dubious. One month is hardly sufficient time for us to get to know someone well enough to make a lifelong commitment, and it surely is not enough time to learn whether or not we are in love. True love requires thorough knowledge. To profess to love someone we do not know intimately is merely to love our mental image of that person. And if he does not measure up to our mental image, then our so-called “love” turns to disillusionment and resentment, and sometimes to hatred.
But Jacob thought he was in love. When Rachel was near, his heart pounded faster and a wonderful feeling swept over him. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on, and he felt life without her would be worthless. That was enough for him. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her” (Gen. 29:20). That is a remarkable statement. In fact, they are about the loveliest words ever penned of a man’s feeling for a woman. Seven years is a long time to wait, and I think Jacob really did grow to love Rachel during those years. The physical attraction was still there, but he could not live in such close contact with her through a seven-year engagement period and not learn a great deal about her, both good and bad. This marriage was to see hard times, but had it not been for this long engagement and Jacob’s deepening and maturing love, it probably would not have survived at all.
This perversion crept into our theology long ago, and no one seems to have noticed. One of the criticisms about my posts on courtly love has been that I’m making too much out of an 11th century literary movement. The problem is that these ideas have so thoroughly changed our thinking that they are now just how we see the world. We don’t think courtly love changed our thinking because we think the moral teachings of courtly love come from God, from the Bible.