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. 

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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.

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).