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Psychology, Sexual Attraction, and Scripture

Mystery surrounds dating and romance.

How do people fall in love? Why are certain people attracted to each other? How can someone become desirable?

A recent article from Psychology Today called “The Laws of Attraction” by Wendy Paris touches on these topics. The article’s subheading reads

“Who we desire is driven by powerful evolutionary forces, but while most of us are drawn to looks first (whether or not we admit it), human attraction is far more complex than it appears at first sight.”

Dating is a new word and largely a new concept in the timeline of history. However, the Bible has much to say to those desiring romantic relationships, and is the most important source of information about how and why people fall in love.

This Psychology Today article actually serves to show how superior the Law of God is compared to the psychological insights it provided. I say this not to insult the author of this article but rather to highlight the helpfulness and relevance of the Bible. The plan for romance described in the pages of Scripture is not only sufficient for a healthy life, it is able to produce a beautiful life. Which makes it superior to any other resource.

Psychology Today and The Laws of Attraction

Consider the following summary of the main sections of the “Laws of Attraction” article:

1) According to the article, the driving force of attraction in dating comes from evolutionary compulsions. Behind attraction is Darwinian evolution based upon natural selection and survival of the fittest. The people who are the most physically appealing are the most sought after because of reproductive qualities, but there can be other factors that contribute. “…it’s more important to be well matched with your partner than to catch the most beautiful person in your circle. Couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual, tend to fall within similar ranges of size, education, religious beliefs, values, and socioeconomic status.”

2) The article attributes dating preferences to chemicals in the brain that compel people to be attracted to specific types of personalities. Chemistry is not a mere metaphor, but a driving factor in why people fall in love.

3) It concludes by giving tips and ways to improve your own attractiveness. It claims you can increase your level of attractiveness by improving how you handle your most compelling features. A person can make themselves more attractive by being confident and comfortable and by broadening social networks.

The problem here is not the mere observations from the psychologists in the article. The psychologists have observed common occurrences and trends in romantic relationships. There is nothing wrong with pointing out the fact that attraction can develop by couples having intimate conversations or that there are a variety of chemicals in each person. The observations made by these psychologists are not necessarily inaccurate in and of themselves.

The areas mentioned in the article fall short primarily because they do not adequately understand how and why human beings function in romantic relationships. The psychologists have the wrong foundation (Darwinian evolution) instead of a biblical foundation which establishes man and woman as created in the image of God. But it isn’t merely their foundation that is faulty. The conclusions and summaries from the psychologists fail to be beautiful. They miss the most central compelling realities of romance and blunt all the beauty behind it.

The Beauty of Scripture

Consider now the following passages of Scripture in contrast to the three areas from the Psychology Today article I highlighted above:

1) “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6, NIV)

Many comments could be made about the driving forces behind attraction, but fundamentally the article has “boxed in” love. It relegates attraction to a result of reproductive inclinations and calculations. People are attracted to those they (knowingly or unknowingly) believe will best suit them for reproduction and survival. (I also find this perplexing because the article includes same-sex couples in its analysis and does not address the reality that same-sex relationships cannot biologically produce offspring.) When this Darwinian box is forced upon attraction, love is forced out. Real love is lost when driven by biological calculations. If the “Laws of Attraction” article is true, there really is no such thing as love – only sexual desires. The true beauty of romance is left out.

On the other hand, the Bible provides a flourishing framework that accounts for both sexual appeal and an authentic moral category of love. The “Laws of Attraction” assessment allows one law – the law of self-pleasure, self-preservation, and self-gratification. Only the Law of God can demonstrate that the greatest and most fulfilling pleasure available to man is through self-sacrifice. Attraction is not relegated to merely a result of physiological instincts and urges. It can be a result of genuine care and selfless love.

2) “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.” (1 Peter 1:3-5a, NIV)

How would you comfort someone who feels “ugly” reading the Psychology Today article? If they believe the article, they are truly hopeless because all the action is confined to physical, social, and sexual appeal. What about the winsome and “gorgeous” people reading the article? If they believe it, they will be fooled into thinking that attractiveness is merely outward.

Consider the example of Fisher and his date in the article: only the body exists in this Darwinian system. Physical chemistry has replaced the conscience, the soul, and morality. This runs contrary to the better and more beautiful picture presented in 1 Peter which discusses the adornment of the heart. The Bible isn’t as simplistic as this article in Psychology Today.

3) Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30, NIV)

The practical advice on how to become more attractive misses the mark because it is aiming the wrong way. The goal is backwards compared to the biblical framework of attraction. The article assumes the goal is to become more physically and socially appealing and then proceeds to give tips on how to cultivate appeal with whatever body type or skills you possess.

On the contrary, the biblical goal is to glorify God by enjoying him and serving others. When a person seeks to serve others and bring honor to Jesus, they will naturally grow in faith and confidence of their standing before God. They will become bold and brave for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As they grow in Christian love and hospitality, this might increase their social standing and rapport. This confidence and growth in warmth might then increase their appeal to others who may be romantically interested in them. But this would be a by-product of faith and obedience. This would be a result of living in Christian community and could never have been the focus.

It could also be that confidence is boosted, social skills are enhanced, networks are broadened, and attractiveness is at its highest possible peak, but no one ever bites. No dates take place because no one becomes romantically interested. What then? Only the Christian who sought the Lord with their whole heart can be radiant. The Christian is secure because their goal was never to maximize their attractiveness for the sole purpose of finding a mate. The Christian knows that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a person who fears the Lord is to be praised. It is only the Christian, because of the Bible, who can obtain true and lasting beauty. The blessed (happy) person is the one who walks in the Law of the Lord and meditates on his Law day and night (Psalm 1:1-6). He will be like a tree planted by streams of water that produces fruit in due season.

Conclusion

In summary, if you are looking for a proper understanding into the mysteries of romance, you don’t need to read the latest in Psychology Today. Instead, you can mine the depths of the Scriptures to behold beautiful treasures. Romance is not merely about sexual attraction that is so easy to observe. Romance is about something much greater that only can be understood in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 


Sean Perron is a speaker at the 2017 Pre-Conference “Crafting a Covenant: Biblical Guidance on Dating and Engagement” this October in Jacksonville, FL.

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Sean Perron
Sean Perron is the director of operations at ACBC. He is the co-author of “Letters to a Romantic: On Dating” and “Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement.” (P&R, 2017)
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Comments

  • Clifton Brantley
    July 27, 2017

    I appreciate your assessment of this psych article. We definitely need more cohesiveness between psychology and the Bible (for Christians at least). Before I continue I will admit that I did not read the actual article, only what you highlighted here. That being said, 1 Corinthians 13 is NOT about romance no more than the cross and resurrection are about romance. The love Paul is talking is absolutely necessary to live as a Christian and treat people the way God intends, but that love has nothing to do with being attracted to someone, romance or chemistry. “Attraction” is merely the initial pull towards a person. Attraction is personally unique to each individual. Life experiences, personality, and values shape our attraction. But that is separate from love. Another point you made was Peter saying value your inner beauty instead of outward. That’s good sound doctrine and key part of emotional health. But he’s not saying don’t care about how you look. To think you will see someone and be attracted to them because you know they have inner beauty is unrealistic. That never happens. Attraction is always about desire. But I completely agree that you cannot stay there. I think you made great points just out of context. The love that makes relationships work has nothing to do with how you feel. But that initial attraction does.

  • Philip Hoffman
    October 20, 2017

    Sean,
    Great article! It was nice to get to know you at the CCEF conference! Blessings on your future studies at SWBTS as well as your work with ACBC!

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