“The prince walked deeper into the castle. In the hall, he found the pages and courtiers sleeping where they stood, and the king and queen asleep in the doorway. He went farther, until the silence of the palace grew so great that he could hear the pounding of his own heart and the blood rushing through his veins. At last, he came to the tower and climbed the long, dusty spiral staircase to the room where Sleeping Beauty lay. Then he saw her. She looked so beautiful that the prince could not take his eyes from her. He bent down and kissed her. At his touch, Sleeping Beauty opened her eyes and looked at him with great tenderness. Then he took her hand, and together they descended the stairs and went into the castle.”
Such beautiful words pen a tale that hardly any of us feel is promoting a virtuous principle of love. Deep within us, our hearts cry “how dare he only love her because she is beautiful? He doesn’t even know her name!”
Love at first sight is not a virtue we encourage among our children anymore. And understandably. We don’t want to our little girls to think that their value is only in their physical beauty and we don’t want to teach our young boys that love ought to be driven solely by physical attraction. Not to mention, love at first sight doesn’t really happen in real life – so we don’t want to pass along that disappointed expectation to our children.
And yet these are classic stories that have been passed down through the ages of time. And while our post-modern society may encourage us to relinquish history as meaningless and outdated, we ought instead to pause before so quickly dismissing such timeless enduring tales.
So is there virtue in the idea of love at first sight? I would venture to say yes, a resounding yes. For I believe it reflects the greatest and truest love story of all time: the story of God’s love for mankind.
It is a story I am constantly wrapping my mind around and yet a story I so easily and quickly take for granted. God loves you, we say. Yet deep down, do we really believe it, believe it in such a way that it changes the course of our lives? I conjecture that those that feel His love that deeply would say it is not an easy love to grasp. In fact, even the Apostle Paul himself suggests that to grasp God’s love takes a miraculous work of the Spirit in a person’s heart. Listen to his prayer for the Ephesians found in Ephesians 3:14-19:
For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory, He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Twice, Paul says it takes a certain spiritual strength derived by the power of the Holy Spirit to comprehend the fullness of God’s love for us in Christ. Certainly, this is not an easy love to grasp.
Why is that? One reason, for me at least, is because my experience of love on earth is so counterintuitive to the kind of love God has for me. I experience human love primarily when I am loveable – when I am kind, kindness is most often returned to me; when I move towards others, more often then not, they easily return the care. But when I am in the throws of my sin, when I am ugliest of all, that is when I feel I am least loveable. It takes the greatest kind of virtue to love someone who is self-centered, or intemperate, and especially evil in nature and behavior. How much more than for us to believe that the perfect sinless Creator-God would feel any kind of affection for His creatures who have scorned Him to His face time and again with the very breath they breathe from their self-centered ungrateful hearts?
No. God’s love is not easy to believe in. In fact, apart from the Holy Spirit, I don’t think any of us can really feel it and experience it and know it.
That’s because God’s love is a love-at-first-sight kind of love. When He sees us in Christ, He sees reflected back to Him His beautiful image. It is a beauty, although tarred by sin, that remains. It is the beauty that He put in us the moment we were created. Like Sleeping Beauty, whose virtues were gifts from magical fairies, our merit comes not from ourselves, but rather lies in the gift of being made in God’s glorious image. We are loved at first sight by our Creator because He made us worthy of love.
This is why I read classic fairy-tales to my children. Stories like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Snow White give a framework to our children for God’s kind of love. It teaches our children that love can be given to someone simply because they exist not because they have to earn it first. This is the virtue of the stories of love at first sight.