Yes, Monogamy is ‘Unnatural’

Friday is my husband and I’s five year anniversary. On that day, my husband and I stood before God, family, and friends and took vows of commitment to one another. I’m not here to hand out marriage advice. Five years feels like a big milestone, but I know it’s not much compared to people like my parents and grandparents, who have been going strong for 30, 60 plus years. Like any marriage, we have had and have our difficulties.

I recently read that, after splitting from her second husband, actress Scarlett Johannson called monogamy “unnatural” and “a lot of work.” This is an opinion I’ve heard from other celebrities and many people in general. I’m not here to condemn her for view. Actually, to some extent, I’m here to agree with her.

We feel that there is something unnatural about monogamy because there is. What comes naturally is what comes easily and what comes easily is self-love. Commitment, the promise to love another more than ourselves, to stick with it when things gets hard, flies in the face of all of our natural instincts. But if our only standard for living is what feels natural, we have reduced our lives to virtual meaninglessness. Nearly everything worth attaining takes work and sacrifice. The student spends hours studying despite the fact that he would naturally rather not. The marathon runner trains, pushing himself through pain and straining against every natural instinct which begs him to stop. If we only do what feels natural, we may have comfort and ease, but we have very little actually worth having. 

In our society, we are both idealists and cynics. We want to believe in a love so powerful, so consuming that it is always easy to give, that never demands something we don’t naturally feel like doing. We want the sensation of falling in love, but we don’t ever want to hit the hard ground of reality, where things become mundane and difficult, where feelings dissipate. The problem though is that we inevitably do hit the ground and when we do, we feel that love has failed us somehow, that if it was real love, it wouldn’t be so hard. Falling in love is effortless and only takes a moment, but choosing to love for a lifetime takes a lifetime of work.

Real love is made of weightier stuff than feelings. It finds its form and substance in difficulty. It is refined in pain and trials like silver in the fire. It is not simply felt, but forged. It matters more when it is given in spite of and not because of natural instinct. Loving in moments of ease might make us feel good, but it means very little.  We all love that which makes us feel good and no one needs vows to do what is natural. Real love, however, is very unnatural and costly, but then by definition, it is very precious. If we only strive for that which costs us little, we will only attain that which is not worth very much.

I write this not to hold my own marriage up self-righteously or to condemn anyone who has gone through divorce, but rather to dispel the notion that love should come easily. Five years is very short in the long run and I know that we will yet encounter greater difficulties than we have so far. There may come a time when one or both of us will want to throw in the towel, but like a runner who runs to win a prize, I set my face toward the goal with the expectation of difficulty, a prayer for endurance, and the hope of reward. I am determined to keep my vow, to strive for the essence of love that God has given me, the love which promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Indeed, we find this love perfected in Jesus Himself. Being fully God, there was nothing natural about Him condescending to come to earth and certainly nothing natural about Him dying on a cross. Leaving us in our sin and self-wrought misery would have been natural, easy, and just. Being fully human as well, we know there was nothing easy about Him doing it. Indeed, he sweat with blood and prayed with tears that the cup should pass from Him. Showering us with mercy and grace came with great pain and at a very high cost. And yet, because of His love for His bride, the Church, He laid down His life in order to make her His own. This is real love, love which has supernatural power precisely because it pushes us beyond our nature to imbue our lives with beauty, hope, and purpose. 

396626_4066663952053_763910180_n.jpg

Advertisements

Rob Bell, Jesus Wasn’t “Relevant” and His Church Shouldn’t Be Either

Today, I happened upon an article about Rob Bell and his recent remarks to Oprah that the Church will become irrelevant if it continues to cling to the teachings of the Bible. From what I know about this man, he has renounced the doctrine of hell and obviously, doesn’t see the scriptures as authoritative. Without the Bible, I’m not sure Christianity can be called Christianity, but nonetheless, this is nothing new. The church has always been tempted to give way to the culture in the desperate hope that it can influence the culture.

However, this is completely counter to who Jesus Christ was. Jesus wasn’t “relevant” in His day and He never will be today, not in the sense we want. He wasn’t the Savior anyone hoped for or looked for. He didn’t tell anyone what their itching ears wanted to hear.

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:2-3

A “stumbling block” and “rock of offense,” Jesus came to love, yes, but to love and lead people out of their sin. Never once did he amend His message in order to make it more palatable, more popular, or more “relevant.”

The great irony is, that if he had, He would’ve been irrelevant. 

Can you imagine if He had told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and keep on doing as you please.” Or to the tax collector, “Continue in your greed and thievery.” Or to the Pharisee, “Stay in the comfort of your self-righteousness.” These messages would have been well-received, no doubt, but they would have had no impact. If this had been Jesus’s message, the Cross itself would be not only pointless, but laughable and certainly, irrelevant.

A drop of rain which falls in a stream becomes indistinguishable from it. It has no power or influence over the stream, for it is simply carried along by its tide. It is the rock which stands staunchly immovable against the tide that has the power to influence the course of the stream. The more the Church adjusts its views to appease the culture, the more it will look like the culture. And a Church which looks just like the culture will have nothing notable to say to the culture.

Those who suggest we “update” Christianity’s teachings say they are motivated by love, but love without truth, love which points out no wrongs and accepts all is a love which renders itself meaningless and powerless. Jesus loved people enough to tell them they were wrong. He loved them enough to tell them they needed something they couldn’t obtain on their own. And He loved them enough to die to give it to them.

Yes, Mr. Bell, love has, indeed, won, but without a battle, there is nothing to win.  As Tim Keller said, “We’re far worse than we ever imagined, and far more loved than we could ever dream.”  Through the cross, Jesus both showed us our greatest problem and satisfied our greatest need. This is the the Good News which Jesus came to bring and the most relevant message Christians have to offer the world.

Lessons of Motherhood: A Love Like His

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I still keep kind of forgetting that this holiday and that word, “mother,” apply to me now. I am a mother to a beautiful little boy who lights up my world when he smiles and melts my heart into a puddle when he reaches out his arms to me. People tell you before you have a baby to prepare to love someone like you’ve never loved someone before and it’s true.

It’s funny how much I love him really given how little I really know about him. I know the way he smells and the way he smiles, but there’s still so much I don’t know, like what kind of books he’ll like or his sense of humor or his favorite subject in school. There’s a lot left to know about him, but one thing I do know. I know that he’s mine and for that I love him wholly and completely.

After he was born, the thing I kept thinking was, I’ve never been so sure that I would die for someone as I am that I would die for him. If it was him or me, I’d choose him. If he was in trouble or danger, I would take his place. No questions asked. Because he’s my child. Because selflessness and love are two different words for the same thing.

Isn’t this how God has loved us in Christ? I think back to the Garden of Eden and how right after the fall, God immediately promises to send Jesus (Genesis 3:15). He didn’t have to think about it. He didn’t have to weigh his options and decide if we were worth it. No, the instant He saw that His children were headed for death, Jesus stepped up to the plate and said, “I will take their place.  I will do whatever it takes, pay any price that they may live.” His plan was always to save us.

I know I will not love my son perfectly as God loves us. I know it will not always be easy or fun to love him. I know that real love is costly and hard, but I’m thankful for the privilege of being his mother and for this small, but clearer glimpse into the love of our Savior who so eagerly, so willingly paid the high price to purchase us as His own.

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” Psalm 103:11-13

Lessons of Motherhood: The Burden of Love

There is a new love in my life. He’s about two feet tall. He can’t speak yet, but when he looks at me and smiles, I’m quite certain he’s saying “I love you too.” He’s my son and there are moments when I’m rocking him in my arms and he wraps his tiny fingers around mine that I am completely overwhelmed and almost a little scared by how much I love him.

Our society has trivialized love to the point of making it almost meaningless. We have reduced it to nothing more than fleshly instinct, insatiable lust, and a high of warm and fuzzy feelings. Motherhood is teaching me that real love is made of much weightier stuff. To really, truly love someone is a burden.

I have a vision for my son’s life, things I will hope he will learn and do along with things I hope he will not do. There are pitfalls and painful experiences I pray he will avoid, but I am not naive enough to think that all of this will work out as I plan. He will encounter struggles. He will make mistakes and get hurt. He will probably even hurt me. He could reject my faith and in so doing, reject life and salvation.  His life could even end early and so bring tragedy and sorrow to mine. You see, love makes us vulnerable. It can be painful and costly.

At times I’ve wondered why God created mankind knowing all along how they would reject him and the pain it would cause him, how He would have to suffer for them. I can’t pretend to know God’s mind, but I think I understand it a little now. Even though I realize how loving my son could bring me pain, I know I would never want to erase his life to avoid it. Knowing him and loving him is an unqualified good.

I think that’s how God feels about His children. He created us even knowing all that we would do because he delighted in mankind. Burdened by love, He became the most vulnerable thing on earth: a baby. Though we rejected Him, He embraced pain and sorrow to save us. His love for His children cost Him his life.

So when I look at my son, I know I’m in this all the way. Whatever it takes, I pray I can love him as Christ has loved me, embracing the pain as well as the joy, counting the cost as well as the blessing. I pray I will carry my burden well.

“This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” -1 John 3:16

Good News: God Is Intolerant

There’s a rumor that has been floating around for quite some time that God is Love.  He hates nothing.  He offends no one.  He makes no accusations.  All he really does is pat our heads and tell us how wonderful we are and how much he wants us to do whatever makes us happy. Essentially, he is a tolerant God.

I am not sure what this God is based on, but it is not the God of the Bible.  It is a God of our own making, a God made in our mage.  I’ll admit he is appealing on some level. No one likes to be told they are wrong. No one finds it pleasant to have their sin exposed.  This God is certainly easy to get along with.  Yet I would suggest that this God of tolerance is not a God of love.  My last post was about the fact that acceptance is not the same thing as love.  This post will suggest that intolerance is not the same thing as hate.

The God of the Bible is a God of love, but that does not mean that He hates nothing.  In fact, I would argue that it is because He loves that He hates certain things, namely, sin.  The message of the Bible is actually that God’s intolerance and His love flow from the same place and work to achieve the same goals:  the glory of His name and the redemption of His people.

Suppose for a minute that God really was a tolerant God.  He might notice that we all sin, that this sin leads to our destruction and death, but he would do nothing about it.  Perhaps, he would see that what we think makes us happy really only makes us more miserable, but he would not lift a finger to stop us or say a word against us because he would not want to offend.  He would simply sit back and watch us as we ruined our lives, but oh he would celebrate with us that we were able to live freely unencumbered by old-fashioned rules and out-dated standards of morality.  This God might make a good pal, but not a very good Savior and above all, he would not be a God of love.  His tolerance would be convenient for him, but come at a very high price to ourselves.

Fortunately, this is not the Gospel.  God did not choose the path of convenience, but of sacrificial love. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God loves us so deeply and hates our sin so passionately that He absolutely refused to tolerate it.  He would not leave us in our sin and knowing that we were powerless to keep His law and meet His standards, He took our penalty.  His love for us has cost Him greatly.

The Cross is as much an expression of God’s wrath as it is of God’s love. It was as much an offensive action as a defensive one.  Christ died to save us, but He also died to defeat sin, to purge His creation and His people of the sinfulness that He abhors.  On the cross, His love and His hate coalesced to purchase our salvation.  So we find that contrary to popular belief and political correctness, we should rejoice to find that we have an intolerant God. For just as a good and loving Father refuses to stand back and accept the harmful and destructive habits of his child, so our Father has refused to accept and leave us in our sin.  Our God is intolerant and this is very, very good news for both His intolerance and His love have compelled Him to save us from our sins.

Acceptance Does Not Equal Love

This generation is obsessed with “tolerance” and “acceptance.”  We just want everyone to get along.  Love.  Not Hate.  It’s that simple right?  If you love someone, you’ll accept them.  Well, I’m calling it.  This is a total bunch of horse manure and I think it’s about time we at least all talk straight with each other.

The idea that we can all just get along and always “accept” each other is just simply not realistic.  People are fine with acceptance until they come across something that they find…well….unacceptable.  Then all their fine notions about total tolerance are thrown out the window.  This happens on both sides of the issues, usually liberal and conservative, but usually one side gets the label of being “hateful” and “intolerant.”  What makes it all ridiculous is that the other side is just as intolerant.  They find it unacceptable that the other side finds their point of view unacceptable. Anybody else find that totally absurd?

So let’s not kid ourselves here. Let’s at the very least be straight with each other.  We all find certain things unacceptable.  None of us can really tolerate everything.  To tolerate and accept everything would be to have conviction about nothing.  It might look “enlightened” and “loving,” but it is really fatuous and useless.

Moreover, let us ask if we really believe that total acceptance of a person equals loving them?  If by total acceptance, we mean choosing to love them in spite of all their sin, then yes, I suppose it does.  But if by total acceptance, we mean choosing to love them by embracing and turning a blind eye to their sin, then no.  That is not love.  In fact, it is the opposite of love.  Sin is not a laughing matter. It kills.  It ruins people even if they don’t see it.  If I believe with my whole heart that someone’s sin is deceiving them into death, if I love them, I would not tolerate their sin.  I would not accept it.  I would want to expose it, not to judge them or condemn them, but to save them and show them the truth.  To simply accept and ignore it would be not an act of love, but an act of hate.

Love that accepts all is not love.  It is a cheap knockoff of the real thing. It is selfishness and convenience masquerading as something noble.  To truly love someone enough not to accept all their sin is hard and sometimes, it gives offense. It costs something. But it is real and powerful.  Most important, it is the companion of Truth for whoever loves and tolerates and accepts, but does not reveal Truth, does not love at all.

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6).