The Idolatry of Relationships

It has always amazed me how incongruous our worldly festivities are on days honoring historic figures/events: President’s Day (Washington’s birthday) is when we buy household appliances; St. Patrick’s Day, is a license for public intoxication; Easter Sunday is marked by a rabbit leaving candy eggs.  So it is with Valentines Day.

St. Valentine was a Christian pastor when Claudius was the Roman emperor.  Realizing that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their wives and families, Claudius purportedly banned all marriages in Rome. Valentine defied this ban and continued to perform marriages for secret. When his actions were discovered, Valentine was beaten to death and beheaded.

Does Hallmark have any cards depicting that?

The way we celebrate Valentine’s Day betrays our idolatry of relationships.  We live in an age when romantic love and fulfillment is the ultimate goal in life.  Online dating, aided by social media apps, constantly market to us that the “perfect mate” is out there, just one click away. Our entertainment industry inundates us with stories and images of those star-crossed lovers who defy every norm and custom just to be with the one they love, even if it means leaving the one they thought they loved. This Valentine’s Day will be filled with desperate men scrambling to find flowers or chocolates so that they don’t come home empty handed, just to “prove” their love.

What is the cure for our idolatrous relationships?

In his book Counterfeit Gods, pastor and author Tim Keller writes about this idolatry of relationships.  Here are some excerpts from his chapter entitled, “Love is Not All You Need.”

The failure of romantic love as a solution to human problems is so much a part of modern man’s frustration… No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood… However much we may idealize and idolize him [the love partner], he inevitably reflects earthly decay and imperfection… After all, what is it that we want when we elevate he love partner to this position? We want to be rid of our faults, of our feeling of nothingness. We want to be justified, to know our existence has not been in vain. We want redemption – nothing less. Needless to say, human partners cannot give this.

Both the stereotypically male and female idolatries regarding romantic love are dead ends. It is often said that “men use love to get sex, women use sex to get love.”  As in all stereotypes there is some truth to this, but this story shows that both of these counterfeit gods disappoint.

Male love idolatries make them addicted to being independent, so they can “play the field.” Female love idolatries… make them addicted and dependent – vulnerable and easily manipulated. Both are a form of slavery, both blind us so we can’t make wise life choices, both distort our lives.

The gods of moralistic religions favor the successful and the overachievers. They are the ones who climb the moral ladder up to heaven. But the God of the Bible is the one who comes down into this world to accomplish a salvation and give us a grace we could never attain ourselves. He loves the unwanted, the weak, and unloved. He is not just a king and we are his subjects; he is not just a shepherd and we are the sheep. He is a husband and we are his spouse. He is ravished with us – even those of us whom no one else notices.

And here is the power to overcome our idolatries. There are many people in the world who have not found a romantic partner, and they need to hear the Lord say, “I am the true bridegroom.  There is only one set of arms that will give you all your heart’s desire, and await you at the end of time, if only you turn to me. And know that I love you now.” However it is not just those without spouses who need to see that God is our ultimate spouse, but those with spouses as well.  They need this in order to save their marriage from the crushing weight of there divine expectations. If you marry someone expecting them to be like a god, it is only inevitable that they will disappoint you. It’s not that you should try to love your spouse less, but that rather you should know and love God more.

Excerpt from: Keller, Tim. Counterfeit Gods, The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Dutton; New York, 2009) pg. 40-45.

Summer Reading List

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”
(Proverbs 4:7)

With the summer almost halfway completed, I wanted to share my Summer Reading List before it was too late.  I pass these titles along to you for your consideration and edification.  Enjoy!

True Community, Jerry Bridges – While I have already read this book, I am re-reading as I prepare the summer sermons series based on this theme of building authentic community as the Church in Jesus Christ.  Bridges presents some very deep theological foundations and explanations of what it means to be the Church and what our fellowship ought to be, but in such a way as to not bog the reader down or shoot over our heads.  I highly recommend this book, and there are six copies left in the Church Narthex.

God in the Whirlwind, David Wells – This is decidedly a more substantive theological work than True Community, but it is still very approachable and has much to say for today’s Church.  Wells argues that the church has lost sight of the character of God, his Holy-Love.  We hear a lot about God’s love but not much about his Holiness. Well’s writes,  “We have become inclined to think of God as our Therapist. It is comfort, healing, and inspiration that we want most deeply, so that is what we seek from Him. That too, is what we want from our church experience. We want it to be comforting, uplifting, inspiring, and easy on the mind. We do not want it to be something that requires effort or concentration. We want God to be accepting and nonjudgmental.”  In a masterful, yet compassionate and encouraging tone, Wells calls the church to engage our culture with the Holy-Love of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ; the gospel which should shape and influence our view of the world, ourselves, our worship, and our service.

Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller – I have always enjoyed Keller’s writing, and this book doesn’t let me down.  I read this book as sort of a modern-day Christian response to the soul searching of Ecclesiastes.  Before Christ, and apart from Him, the author of Ecclesiastes, and those who pursue their treasures in the world today, all work, all success can seem empty and meaningless – there’s always more to do, always someone better to come along.  With great pastoral care, Keller shows readers that biblical wisdom is immensely relevant to our questions about our work. In fact, the Christian view of work – that we work to serve others, not ourselves – can provide the foundation of a thriving professional and balanced personal life. Keller shows how excellence, integrity, discipline, creativity, and passion in the workplace can help others and even be considered acts of worship—not just of self-interest.

Crazy Busy, Kevin DeYoung – This book jumped into my hands and screamed, “I was written for YOU!”  Now, if I could just find the time to read it.  If your life is anything like mine, you have a packed calendar, there are often things that done get done, or don’t get done well, and the most important things (like your family), often get the least amount of attention.  I’ve only just started  with this book, but already I’ve begun to see how my “busyness” is often a cover for my insecurity, and a way to feed my sinful pride.  Since I’m still early in the book, I’ll share this review from Publishers Weekly:

DeYoung offers a refreshing (and refreshingly short) take on the plague of modern American life: the too-long to-do list and the overscheduled calendar that produce the frazzled response ‘busy’ to the innocent question ‘How are you?’ DeYoung doesn’t offer time management but rather theology. God wants you to use your talents, but God is not nearly as big on the idolatry of self-importance that often motivates over-commitment.  DeYoung is clever (‘If Jesus were alive today, he’d get more emails than any of us.’), his analysis is well-organized, and he brings theological thinking without moralizing. If you are someone who checks your email before going to bed and as soon as you wake up, DeYoung has your number, and this is your book.”

One With Christ, Marcus Peter Johnson – Wanting to go deep with a Theology book this summer, I’ve selected this treatise from Dr. Johnson, assistant professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute.  From the cover of the book there is this summary, “Despite our love for the Bible, emphasis on the cross, and passion for evangelism, many evangelicals ironically neglect that which is central to the gospel.  In our preaching, teaching, and witnessing, we often separate salvation from the Savior.  Looking to the Scriptures and to church history, Marcus Johnson reveals the true riches of our salvation by reintroducing us to the foundation of our redemption – our mysterious union with the living Christ.”

Memoir and Remains of R.M. M’Cheyne, Andrew A. Bonar –Having read Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer and Marsden’s on Edwards, I thought I’d turn this summer to the story of Robert Murray M’Cheyne.  M’Cheyne was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and missionary in the early 19th century who died at the young age of 29.  A preacher, pastor, poet, he was also a man of deep piety and prayer. His biography tells the story of his brief life, and includes all of his collected writings, letters, and poems.

SDG