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I was having lunch with a group of college students yesterday and we hit on the subject of Valentines Day and the state of love in our culture today. Over the pizza and the back-and-forth jokes and questions, there was a clear consensus among the group: as a culture, we are really confused and broken when it comes to love and romantic fulfillment. And the heart of the problem goes down to our most basic assumptions about love and relationships.

The vast majority of what passes for love today in pop culture is just an obsession with sex and eroticism. At the very core, there is very little that our culture currently holds more dearly than the value of total sexual freedom. Our rejection of any authority, rules or directions about love stems from the foundational denial of any external moral authority in any part of life. There is no God. And if there is, he can’t tell you what to do. So follow your desires to the fullest.

The simple problem with this is that it’s just not how love works. Sexual freedom leads to despair. Pursuing multiple partners, sleeping with whoever you want, allowing yourself to be allured by anyone you want – will make you miserable and broken. And we know this. The trouble is that the only alternative is utterly impossible for most people to stomach.

Real love is hard work. Real love is commitment. Real love is long term commitment. It’s messy. Its imperfect. It will break your pride and take away your freedom. Push and shove all you want, but real love inevitably means marriage and family. This is the one and only ancient path to fulfillment, acceptance, belonging and joy. Every other cut-and-paste version of this path that our culture has tried and rehashed has been a complete and utter failure.

And here is why this is an impossible path for the vast majority of people today. Real love doesn’t make sense without a God who has revealed himself to us. A God who has loved us. A God who has given us the amazing gift of love to give us a hint of how much he loves us. This is the very God that our core value of complete sexual freedom opposes on all fronts. And this is why we are so broken and miserable.

The question at the end of the day, is not whether you have a Valentine this year. The question is, what animates your drive and longing for love? Where does it come from? What gives rise to it? What defines your longing for belonging? Many of the people today who are opening their pink shiny gifts, reading words of affirmation or experiencing feelings of passion are actually headed for greater and greater degrees of heartbreak.

This thing they call love is built on the ticking time bomb of pop culture eroticism and self fulfillment. And it will most certainly crumble and fall under the inevitable pressures of commitment and relationship. Real love will make us very uncomfortable before it brings the deep fulfillment that we long for. And that discomfort starts with the humbling acknowledgement that we are not our own Gods, that we need him.

We need him to tell us what love is. We need him to show us what love is. We need him to enter our world, to suffer with us, to suffer for us, to mend our broken hearts and to show us the way forward. Under the constraints of his love, we find freedom. Freedom to love Him. Freedom to love others. Freedom to love another, even when it hurts.