Friday, January 22, 2010

Counterfeit gods, part 3

So post #3 is about chapter #2, which, so far is the best chapter we've read and discussed in my small group (we've discussed #3 also, but I'm behind in posting).

The chapter title is 'Love is not all you need.' Someone tell the hippies! Keller argues that many in our culture have replace God with love - with an over-dependency on being 'in love'. As with all the chapters, Keller uses a story from the Bible to illustrated to potential dangers of making something an idol. In this chapter, he points to the tragic story of Jacob-Rachel-Leah. I felt his use of this story was better than his use of the Abraham-Isaac story in chapter one, though I don't follow him in all the details (I think he reads too much into Laban's desire to marry Leah off). I had never really considered Jacob's obsession with Rachel, but Keller makes a compelling case that Jacob was lovesick - smitten to the point he says Jacob was acting like an addict who simply had to have Rachel. He had promised to work for seven years to get her, a price that would have been considered exorbitant by ancient standards. Then, when he was tricked and given Leah instead, he worked another seven years to get the bride he desired.

Beyond this, Keller points to the unhealthy longing Leah has for her husband, going to extremes to please him and win his love. The competition between her and Rachel to give sons to Jacob is painful to read, and the sense that Leah lived never having really received Jacob's love is heartbreaking.

Moving from ancient to contemporary, Keller argues that our culture has made an idol of romance and sex - 'apocalyptic romance' and 'apocalyptic sex' are great terms, even if I don't quite know what he means by them. In my experience, the idolization of romance/love/sex comes in a variety of forms. For some, they go into a relationship, even marriage, with this overly romantic notion of what it will entail. Everything good will get better, everything bad will cease to be. Reality, however, never meets these pollyannaish expectations. Nights aren't all about cuddling on the couch or hot sex in the bed. There are bills to be paid, dishes to be washed, and disagreements to work through. Someone who's idolized love/romance going into marriage can be discouraged and embittered. Some will look to blame themselves. Others may blame their spouse and begin to feel the 'grass is greener' over there, in another relationship. The same can happen with sex. Some couples go in search of perfect, wonderful, hot sex all the time. They neglect to consider the rhythms of life and marriage and get frustrated and even angry (I really recommend reading Lauren Winner's Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity - she does a wonderful job unromanticizing sex).

On the other end of the spectrum, some idolize a specific person rather than a vague notion of love. For some, they worship the ground the other walks on. We've all seen it. Sometimes it's a momentary phase of 'puppy love' that wears off. The wearing off is good, because as Keller points out, no one is meant to carry the weight of God. No one but God truly 'completes us' (thanks Tom for what may be the worst cheesy love line ever). When it doesn't wear off it can cause 'terrible blindness to the pathologies in the relationship' and can lead to all sorts of abusive.

I particularly liked two points Keller makes in this chapter. First, he asks "Where are the all the spiritual heroes in this story [of Jacob-Rachel-Leah]?" His answer - they aren't there! He writes, "The reason for our confusion is that we usually read the Bible as a series of disconnected stories, each with a 'moral' for how we should live our lives. It is not. Rather it comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right...the Bible repeatedly shows us weak people who don't deserve God's grace, don't seek it, and don't appreciate it even after they have received it." YES, YES and AMEN! This is what we call Biblical Theology!

Second, I really appreciate his reminder about 'cosmic disappointment'. He says, "We learn that though all of life there runs a ground note of cosmic disappointment. You are never going to lead a wise life until you understand that." While life if filled with good thing - great things even, things that come from the hand of God - they will never satisfy us completely. There will always be a note of disappointment with the job you thought would be perfect, the vacation you saved years for, the relationship you thought would be perfect. This side of heaven, of Eden restored, nothing can satisfy. Thank God! The note of disappointment is God's grace meant to show us that we were created for something else. In Lewis' words, "If I find a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world."

Lastly,I think Keller is spot on in his prescription (I knew some prescription would come). He quotes Thomas Chalmers classic sermon, "The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection [idolatry] is by the expulsive power of a new one...[to rid yourself of an idol] try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of Him who is greater than the world."

A great word just in time for Valentine's Day!

1 comment:

seg said...

I agree I thought this chapter was great! Though I kind of wanted more---perhaps a whole book on the topic. And written by a woman, and one that likes theology not just babies. Did I just say that? :/

Anyway, we're studying Idolatry in Yellow House this semester and I'm thinking the week we spend on relationships will have to be broken out into more than one week---because you're right that this idol can manifest itself in many different ways! This helped me think through it more, so thanks!