Doctor Who and Devotions: Love is a Promise

The Doctor: I don’t need an army. I never have! Because I’ve got them. Always them! Because love, it’s not an emotion. Love is a promise. And he will never hurt her. PE, catch!

Danny Pink: Attention! This is not a good day. This is earth’s darkest hour! And look at you miserable lot. We are the fallen and today we shall rise, the Army of the Dead shall save the Land of the Living. This is not the order of a general, nor the whim of a lunatic. This is a promise! The promise of a soldier! You will sleep safe tonight.

I mean, you knew this was coming, guys.  This was too perfect to go un-blogged.

Death in Heaven was a SUPER emotional finale.  I haven’t been on to talk about it, but holy wow you guys I just love the twelfth Doctor SO STINKING MUCH.  He’s quirky and funny and doesn’t understand humanity in some really essential ways, which I really love because it adds to the “other”ness of the Doctor.  And I love him with Clara.  I still ship it like FedEx (in vernacular: I WANT THEM TO SMOOCH AND RUN OFF INTO THE SUNSET HOLDING HANDS AND LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER), their chemistry is so beautiful and their interactions are absolutely spot-on for a turbulent but maturing relationship.

And yet, in the midst of that, we had Clara’s tragic romance with Danny Pink.  I loved it and it broke me.  It was a really interesting look into Clara’s psyche, and Danny was just AMAZING.  And this moment, where Danny loses all of his emotion, where he makes his final speech and dies heroically to save all of humanity–but mostly Clara–was heart-wrenching and beautiful.

I have always loved the things that Doctor Who says about love.  The way that it takes these ridiculous, crazy, over-the-top stories about time travel and aliens and turns them around to be about humanity, about the heart, about what it means to love, is always surprising and beautiful and a little bit (or a lot) heart-wrenching.  Danny Pink and Twelve finally understanding one another, finally coming to terms with their differences, and banding together to save humanity, was no different.  It hit on an idea that cuts right to the heart of my problem with so many depictions of love in today’s culture–the idea of love as an emotion over and against love as a commitment.

Love is tied to emotion–that isn’t up for argument.  When we love, we feel deeply about a person.  Love can make us incandescently happy; it can make us desperately sad.  But love itself is deeper and truer and purer and more enduring than any emotion.

There are probably very few people reading this who aren’t at least somewhat familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love chapter” of the Bible.  It gets read at weddings all the time, it gets scrawled across walls in pretty hangings and skin in pretty tattoos.  It’s a beautiful piece of poetry.  The most famous part of the chapter goes like this:

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.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

All of those famous qualities of love are actions and attitudes, not emotions.  They are decisions that one makes even when things are tough.  Love means being patient not just when I’m in a particularly patient mood, but choosing to be patient even when my son has asked if he can watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates for the five hundredth time in the last fifteen minutes.  Love means not just “keeping no record of wrongs” when the offenses are small, it means actively choosing to put aside my natural urge to keep score, even when Husband has done something I think is really worth holding over his head for a while.
Love is a promise.  It is a commitment that we make to see the best, believe the best, and act on behalf of the best for the people we love, even when it’s the last possible thing we want to do.  When we’re feeling good about it, feeling awful about it, or even not feeling anything at all, the choice remains the same.

When Danny loses all of his emotion, he doesn’t lose sight of the promise he made to the woman he loves.  “You will sleep safe tonight.”

Love always protects.

Clara remains close to Danny, letting him hold her and comfort her and reassure her, even when the last vestiges of his humanity have been taken away.

Love always trusts.  Love always hopes.

Danny is able to rally the entire army of the dead, emotion-purged humans, reformatted into Cybermen, to use the last bit of free will they have left to rise up and rescue humanity from the calamity about to befall it.

Love always perseveres.  Love never fails.

It’s sometimes hard to imagine love working like that outside of fiction.  Even in Scripture, the lofty words and poetic feel of 1 Corinthians 13 somehow removes those truths from reality; makes them something pretty we say or write or broadcast but that we all really know is just a pretty story, just a lovely lie.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Love is a promise, but it’s not one I make on my own.  It’s not one I’m capable of staying true to by myself.  Because I do rely pretty heavily on my emotions, and they don’t always want to keep those promises.

Fortunately, I know a God who has kept all of those promises since the dawn of time.

The love that is written about in 1 Corinthians 13 is the love that is expressed in its purest form by God, and demonstrated visibly to us through His Son, Jesus.  It would be beyond the scope of a single blog post to detail out the many ways that He has demonstrated these qualities.  But on that cross, when he paid the price for the darkness and cruelty and brokenness of all of creation, and three days later, when he emerged victorious from the grave, Jesus made a promise to all of creation that things will be finally made right.  That darkness does not have the final say.  That what is awful in this place is being defeated, can be defeated, WILL be defeated in our lives and in the whole universe.  That He is making everything new.

“You will sleep safe tonight.”

What a promise to claim.

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