“Can You Help My Husband Feel Like a Bride of Christ?”

Yesterday a young woman sent me this email:

I have a question that I’ve been researching for quite a few days now, with not much success. Recently, my husband tearfully confided to me that while he trusts fully in Jesus for his salvation, he finds it hard to feel the love for God that Christians often speak about. He is a man of integrity—he is kind, compassionate, and generous. He is knowledgeable in the Bible and believes that it is the true word of God.

Is it possible for someone to be a Christian and be reverent to God, but not feel love for him? Is it just more difficult for men to connect emotionally with God? Is it easier for women to feel like a “bride of Christ” than it is a man?  I have never heard this topic touched on or talked about in any capacity.

My husband is a highly intellectual individual—a thinker. I want to be able to understand his feelings, but I can’t relate and haven’t heard this issue addressed.  I would be truly thankful if you have any ideas or know of any resources that may expound on these things.

Dear obviously earnest and good-hearted wife:

Tell your husband not to worry. I think is a problem of language, not substance. Christians use the same language as everyone around them, but oftentimes what they mean by the words they use is so different from what the rest of the world would mean by those same words that a kind of disconnect in the Christian’s mind can result. And nowhere is there a bigger difference between the way Christians and everybody else uses the language than in the way Christians talk about their “love” of Jesus.

Not long after becoming Christian I read about how a believer is meant to be the bride of Christ. My first thought was, “Oh no. I look awful in taffeta.” Then I tried to picture Jesus and me feeding each other cake at our wedding reception, and me getting it all over my veil, and everyone laughing and laughing until we all remembered that it’s wrong to be gay. (Um … I’m going to assume you know that was a joke, that I do not think it’s wrong to be gay.)

See? It’s a problem of language. We always hear how we’re supposed to be a bride of Christ. But I’m one ear-hair shave away from being Sasquatch. I’m not a bride. I’m never going to be a bride. Jesus never got down on one knee and proposed to me. He never invited me to meet his parents. Nothing like that ever happened.

I think Christians feel stress over the way their emotions don’t fully accord with the language they use when they talk about God. I can say I love Jesus, but the relationship I’ve then connected with that word is so radically unlike any other relationship with which I ever connect that word that I’ve automatically set myself into uncharted territory. As much and as readily as we talk about Jesus as if he were an actual, living, corporeal being, he’s not. We can’t actually, literally walk with Jesus. We can’t hold his hand. We can’t get into anything like a normal conversation with him. We can’t send him a letter, phone him, hug him, tousle his hair, or buy him a tie he has to pretend to like for Christmas. The relationship we have with Jesus isn’t anything like any other relationship we ever have with anyone—and yet we talk about it using the exact same words we use to talk about all of our other earthly, loving relationships.

I think this perpetual linguistic dichotomy causes Christians stress and even doubt. I think Christians hear other Christians rhapsodizing about Jesus as if he really were their husband or lover or friend, and then they, following suit, say the same things about their relationship with Jesus—and then secretly feel weird because of the disconnect between the language they’ve used and the reality of the relationship they’ve used that language to describe. I think they then fear that the disconnect they’ve sensed is an indication that they’re in some way disconnected from God. I that’s what’s happened with your husband. I think it speaks volumes about the quality of his relationship with Christ (not to mention of his relationship with you) that he would be honest enough about that perceived disconnection to share it with you.

Young husband: Fear not! You love Jesus, and Jesus loves you. Your problem is that you’re stuck, as are we all, using the only language you have to describe the one relationship in your life for which there is, in fact, no language at all.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Faith

    Perfect example of why "Jesus, I am so in love with you" songs can be so uncomfortable to sing.

    Language falls so far short of what the only true and living God deserves. Even though our human descriptions will always be awkward and faltering, he draws us with his lovingkindness, and welcomes our efforts unconditionally.

    Thanks, John.

  • http://christianranter.wordpress.com Des

    If you read the gospels, you can come away with a similar perspective of how the disciples treated Jesus when he was in human form on earth.

    You don't hear them talk in flowery language for the most part, but the view into that inner circle is like looking into a group of guys just hanging out together trying to survive.

    A great example of this is the Mt of Transfiguration. Here Jesus is showing some of the disciples his awesome glory and the first thing out of Peter's mouth is, "Hey this is cool, let's build something!", not breaking out into some kind of worship song.

  • FreetoBe

    Good answer, John. Absolutely correct. Perhaps that's why our groanings are so well understood when directed to Jesus—there are just no words.

  • Latoya

    Came back to view comments made and I just remembered something my husband said to me a couple weeks ago:

    "I think the church has made christianity to look like a woman thing. We make it seem like its all about being emotional and crying and huggy huggy, so alot of men are repelled by that because they just cant relate. I dont know if we have less men because of this or we portray this because we have mostly women. But we need to stop it"

    I was like..Wow, that is so true. Worse in the Jamaican society, where most men feel like they have to act macho so that nobody even has the slightest thought they may be gay..but thats another issue

  • Kelly

    Really good stuff here. Especially the part where I LOL'd when reading about you in taffeta and getting cake on your veil – hilarious! Thanks!

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

    Your problem is that you’re stuck, as are we all, using the only language you have to describe the one relationship in your life for which there is, in fact, no language at all.

    Amen, eh men?

    If words could communicate this relationship, the word would not have needed to become flesh. (I know, more Christian-speak… but that's what this made me think of!) Thanks John.

  • http://ww.sheppardministries.com Greta

    good stuff…loved every comment… including your overall post, John.

  • http://redemption.kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

    I think that guys are generally uncomfortable with much of the romance language used in some religious circles. The imagery of romance just doesn't seem to fit when speaking about our heavenly Father or heavenly Brother.

    I have been saying for a while now that Jesus is not my boyfriend.

  • Latoya

    Wow. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful :)

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Thanks a lot, you guys. It brings me a lot of pleasure to read what you’ve written here. The subject of this post was one that’s been on my mind for a very long while, so I was really grateful for this chance to address it so directly.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    I think there’s a whole lotta stuff that is preached in churches (esp in our western culture) that lends itself to making people neurotic. There are so many areas of life where I don’t have the have the same expression of faith that you see from worship leaders and songwriters (thank you Faith!), or other things you feel are supposed to be normal for all Christians…for a long time I wondered if there was something wrong with me. Until I was fortunate to get mature, Godly people in my life who gave me permission to relax and feel my true feelings, even if they weren’t what I was “supposed” to feel. I also learned that’s why healthy relationships with people are important…God uses them in all the areas you were talking about that we can’t truly do with Jesus–talking in person, touching, etc. Sort of as “Jesus with skin on,” to use a completely strange and somewhat creepy phrase.

    The interesting thing about God is that, while he never changes, every person is different, so every person’s relationship with God will be unique. I think you made a good point about the husband’s relationships with his wife and Christ–being strong enough to bring it up at all. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, it takes courage to admit when we feel weak, or less-than-whatever, and it takes a level of trust in a relationship for such courage. It’s a beautiful thing.

    And I agree…I’m not sure that you’d look good in taffeta either.

  • http://christianranter.wordpress.com Des

    One more comment. Youth vespers is on Friday night and my daughter is the one who usually goes. They sing songs, tell stories and get in small groups to discuss stuff. My son, who avoids it like the plague, had his winter clothes on waiting to be taken tonight to vespers. I was shocked and asked why he was going.

    They've given us a challenge. Hand out 100 bibles in an hour.

    Talk about motivated! A man given a task goes much further than feeding his soul with stuff he can't digest.

  • http://brianjwalton.wordpress.com/ brianjwalton

    As an former worship leader in a church, this is an issue I had to deal with directly. I was always wonder if what many people equated with worship was really just an emotional high created by the music and the singing, i.e. feelings of elation or excitement. Now, I don’t think this means we aren’t worshiping when we allow the music to affect us. But I do think it’s dangerous when we begin to equate worship with one specific kind of feeling to a specific kind of music. I had a friend who never sang because he couldn’t “get into” the worship like most everyone else did. It’s a hard thing and I’m still not sure what we can do about it.

    This man seems to have a similar problem, and I think you’re right calling it a problem of language. Our language is our best way of explaining our spiritual experiences, but unfortunately that also tends to create boxes for our experiences.

    Thanks for the words, John.

  • http://www.yvettenietzen.com Yvette

    This was the best explanation I have ever heard regarding this subject. Blessing on you for the widsom used in this post.

  • http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Christine

    John, amazing, touching, lost for words, spoke to my heart directly. Thank you

  • Jessica

    I'm the wife who wrote in with this question. I just wanted to say that I've really enjoyed reading all of your comments! When I first wrote in with this question, I really didn't think many people would be able to relate. Maybe that was because I'd NEVER before heard it spoken about. When my husband told me that he doesn't feel the love for God that Christians speak about, I was perplexed. Actually, I was also quite nervous that his relationship with God was flawed or possibly not even existent. Looking back, I am sad that I was so close-minded and judgmental.

    Anyway, for my husband, I think the issue was the commonality of Christians equating their love for God with the same love in earthly relationships. Like John said, we cannot literally walk and talk with Jesus. We can't go grab a latte with him and chat about politics. Its impossible to "bond" with God in the same way we would bond with family or friends. Let me share with you a verse I read while researching this topic. "You are my friends if you do what I command." – John 15:14 For me, that verse has revolutionized my whole idea of what it is to be connected with and love God. What it means to be a friend of Jesus.

    I would love to continue this dialogue – I've already learned and received more perspective from reading your comments. If you guys have any additional comments or questions, that would be amazing!

  • Lynn

    Hi Jessica,

    I agree with what John has aptly expressed here. Here is another thought that came to my mind.

    One can read many of the Psalms and see how David and other men "felt" toward God. Many of these writers displayed 'reverence, trust and thankfulness' toward God which I believe was their way of showing love toward God. If your husband reveres the Lord, trusts Him and is thankful to Him, then we might conclude that this is "his" way of loving God too. Maybe by dwelling on one or more of these, your husband might discover this for himself.

    Here are 4 scripture references as examples…

    Reverencing God/Considering His greatness:

    1 Samuel 12:24 NIV

    But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.

    Trusting God:

    Psalm 27 NIV

    Of David.

    The LORD is my light and my salvation—

    whom shall I fear?

    The LORD is the stronghold of my life—

    of whom shall I be afraid?

    When evil men advance against me

    to devour my flesh,

    when my enemies and my foes attack me,

    they will stumble and fall.

    Though an army besiege me,

    my heart will not fear;

    though war break out against me,

    even then will I be confident.

    One thing I ask of the LORD,

    this is what I seek:

    that I may dwell in the house of the LORD

    all the days of my life,

    to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD

    and to seek him in his temple.

    For in the day of trouble

    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

    he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle

    and set me high upon a rock.

    Then my head will be exalted

    above the enemies who surround me;

    at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;

    I will sing and make music to the LORD.

    Hear my voice when I call, O LORD;

    be merciful to me and answer me.

    My heart says of you, "Seek his face!"

    Your face, LORD, I will seek.

    Do not hide your face from me,

    do not turn your servant away in anger;

    you have been my helper.

    Do not reject me or forsake me,

    O God my Savior.

    Though my father and mother forsake me,

    the LORD will receive me.

    Teach me your way, O LORD;

    lead me in a straight path

    because of my oppressors.

    Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,

    for false witnesses rise up against me,

    breathing out violence.

    I am still confident of this:

    I will see the goodness of the LORD

    in the land of the living.

    Wait for the LORD;

    be strong and take heart

    and wait for the LORD.

    Being thankful/giving-thanks to God for His love toward us:

    Rom. 5:6 NIV

    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    Psalm 136:2 NIV

    Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.

    God bless you Jessica. Thanks John.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    Oh Des that’s a fantastic point! Not that it’s true for everyone…but for my husband and me, the contrast is definitely there. I just can’t understand why he doesn’t like to sit, & process things, and talk about life. :)

  • Jessica

    My Pastor has actually given talks at length on this. He's a guys guy and is very honest about his initial uncomfortableness with using the common language associated with God and Jesus. We have a very strong men's Bible Study and a lot of men that attend Church on a regular basis. (without being dragged there) I think they relate to the Pastor and are made more comfortable that he uses the love language and is still very much a "dude."

    • Lissy

      It might help guys to think of Jesus AS a “dude” who would play ball with them, etc, give manly hugs and be goofy. It’s a bit of a stretch for some people, but I know I feel more connected to God when I remember He enjoys what I enjoy, and He enjoys me enjoying those things!

  • raginggenius

    To love Jesus is to follow his commands, which means getting out of your comfort zone. Only when you are willing to get uncomfortable and suffer as Christ did will one experience true love for him. A lover of Christ stands out and looks really strange to a secular world.

  • Amaranth

    To me, loving God has always kind of felt like loving a sunset or the ocean. It’s something that feels so big sometimes, sometimes like being plugged into the cosmos and sometimes intimately solitary…but not something that inspires a longing for any sort of physical intimacy. You can walk on the beach with it, but not really buy it a latte.

    Definitely beyond words.

  • charles

    as always John, a lovely post….

    It reminds of the George Bernard Shaw quote about the British and the Americans- that we are a people divided by a common language…..

  • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

    This was great, John! Thanks for pointing it out. Love the picture, too. :)

  • Ellen

    You had me at the photo…


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