Marriage Makes a Poor Idol

Tim Keller, in a 2009 sermon:

Kathy and I, before we were married, had really good prayer lives. Neither of us really thought we were going to get married to anybody. We got married, and without our knowing it, our prayer life kind of went into the toilet.

Why?

Well, why do you have to pray to God when all you could do is just call on the phone?

John Newton said the worst thing about a good marriage is the problem of idolatry. For many years, we had no idea how poor our prayer life was because we had made idols out of each other. We didn’t see it that way. We didn’t understand that. But when bad sickness came to both of us we realized our prayer life was nothing like it should have been. The best thing that happened to us was our idols were in jeopardy. It gave us a prayer life back.

Awakening to a false sense of security in a spouse is often gauged by the erosion of the personal prayer life. It’s a hard lesson, but a good one.

The Confrontation of Christmas

From Tim Keller’s 2007 Christmas sermon:

The world embraces Christmas in a way it has never embraced Good Friday and Easter. I think the world sees Christmas as being rather affirming — it’s all about peace and goodwill. Isn’t that nice? Actually, the message of Christmas is incredibly confrontational. It says the reason for Christmas is the world’s wisdom has failed.


Related posts —

Why Personal Idols Destroy Community

N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope, 182:

One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only back to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sexual objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.

Wright’s point is that idolatry is more than a mere internal heart problem — idolatry is what we project onto others. Idolatry de-values others and becomes a relational cancer in our families, our communities, and our churches. In other words, personal idols dehumanize us, dehumanize our evaluation of others, and necessarily erode community.

Work Like A Calvinist

Herman Bavinck, “The Future of Calvinism,” The Presbyterian and Reformed Review (Jan. 1894), 20:

Calvinism gladly honors the good features of the Christian labor of our age. It by no means favors the idea of fleeing from the world; it does not encourage idleness and somnolence. It is active, points out to each man his moral calling, and urges him to labor in this with all his might. On the other hand, it is no less averse to that worldly type of Christianity which would transplant the turmoil and clamor, the agitation and strain of our times, within the pale of Christianity.

Calvinism maintains the independent value of religion, and does not suffer it to be swallowed up by morality. It has a vein of deep mysticism and it cultivates a devout godliness. It considers God alone as the highest good, and communion with Him as supreme happiness. Calvinism sets the rest of being over against the restlessness of becoming, and makes us feel the pulsation of eternity in every moment of time. Behind the vicissitudes and transitoriness of this life it points to the unchangeableness of God’s eternal counsel. Thus it offers a place of rest to the weary heart, in which God has set eternity, and protects man from all overexcitement. Those that believe shall not make haste.

Calvinism is deeply convinced that the husband as father of the family, the wife as mother of her children, the servant girl in the kitchen, and the laborer behind the plough, are as truly servants of God as the missionary.

Lord, Teach Us To Live

J. H. Bavinck, The Riddle of Life (Eerdmans, 1958), 80–81:

The man who finds insufficient pleasure simply in service, simply in self-giving, simply in doing the will of Father in heaven, needs three idols.

He needs money in order to bring his life to a higher level. He needs the powerful spice of honor in order to season the food of life. He needs pleasure in order to quench his thirst after happiness. The three, when brought together in this manner and as it were placed in contrast to the great ideal itself, are idols. They are the trinity of sin. They leer at and lure human life, they pump it dry and then drive it off, and each of the three is an illusion. They are themselves far too poor to be able to satisfy for any length of time the hunger of the human heart.

They are powerful gulfs which tug at the little ship of one’s life, which draw it to the bottom, and there is no human being who can struggle himself free from their attraction. Nobody is above this, with only a single exception.

A consideration of all of the questions of life brings one to the ever more profound acknowledgment that there has been only one man who has known what life was, who has really lived, who has placed Himself beyond these three illusions, who has not bowed down before the trinity of sin — the man Jesus Christ. That is why all the questions of life converge on Him. “Lord, teach us to live!”

He offers the solution: Struggling one, you can live only if you begin with a quiet trust that you are living in a meaningful universe which was conceived and made by the eternal Father. It is possible only if you repose yourself on the confidence that He has given you your existence, your talents and your abilities, and that you have nothing more to do in the place where He has put you than quietly to shine and to serve. If you thus believe that the Father is behind everything and in everything, then you no longer need these three — money, honor, pleasure. Then you can go on your way like a child. Then you have the only true and high ideal of life that is worth the trouble to live for, namely the purpose which the Father has granted you the capabilities to complete.

If you can do this, if you can believe so firmly in Him, believe that everything in the world has its place and purpose to which it has been conceived and assigned by Him . . . but human soul, you are living then, aren’t you? To live is to serve in the confidence that one is placed in a meaningful world, by the hand of the wise Father.

Christ, the Center of Christian Literacy

Last night I was honored to speak for two hours on a theology of literature to students and faculty at San Diego Christian College, Rivendell Sanctuary Program. Some of my content was taken directly from Lit!, but much of it included fresh thoughts on how the glory of Christ transforms Christian literacy. The Rivendell folks were probably the most engaged Christian audience I’ve ever spoken to, making for a tremendously fun evening of lecture, laughs, food, and dialogue (my first salon). Here’s a copy of my manuscript, for the interested (PDF): “Christ, the Center of Christian Literacy.”

Nobody Does Not Worship

Tim Keller shares this illustration in his new book, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (Dutton; 2013), 28–30:

Everybody has got to live for something, but Jesus is arguing that, if he is not that thing, it will fail you.

First, it will enslave you. Whatever that thing is, you will tell yourself that you have to have it or there is no tomorrow. That means that if anything threatens it, you will become inordinately scared; if anyone blocks it, you will become inordinately angry; and if you fail to achieve it, you will never be able to forgive yourself.

But second, if you do achieve it, it will fail to deliver the fulfillment you expected.

Let me give you an eloquent contemporary expression of what Jesus is saying. Nobody put this better than the American writer and intellectual David Foster Wallace. He got to the top of his profession. He was an award-winning, best-selling postmodern novelist known around the world for his fierce and boundary-pushing storytelling. He once wrote a sentence that was more than a thousand words long. And, tragically, he committed suicide. But a few years before that, he gave a now-famous commencement speech at Kenyon College. He said to the graduating class,

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god . . . to worship . . . is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before [your loved ones] finally plant you. . . . Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are evil or sinful; it is that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

Wallace was by no means a religious person, but he understood that everyone worships, everyone trusts in something for their salvation, everyone bases their lives on something that requires faith. A couple of years after giving that speech, Wallace killed himself. And this non-religious man’s parting words to us are pretty terrifying: “Something will eat you alive.”

Because even though you might never call it worship, you can be absolutely sure you are worshiping and you are seeking. And Jesus says, unless you’re worshiping me, unless I’m the center of your life, unless you’re trying to get your spiritual thirst quenched through me and not through these other things, unless you see that the solution must come inside rather than just pass by outside, then whatever you worship will abandon you in the end.

Halloween: Mocking the Darkness

On the cusp of the customary All Saints Day
The Christ-i-an kinsfolk made mocking display.
These children of light both to tease and deride;
Don darkness, doll down as the sinister side.
In pre-post-er-ous pageants and dress diabolic,
They hand to the damned just one final frolick.
You see with the light of the dawn on the morrow,
The sunrise will swallow such darkness and sorrow.

Do All Humans Descend from Adam and Eve?

John Frame, in his forthcoming 1,280-page Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (P&R; Nov. 15), writes (805–6):

We should consider the possibility that Adam and Eve, though historical figures, were not literally the first parents of all present-day human beings. C. John Collins considers the suggestion that Adam and Eve may not have been the first human beings, but rather “king and queen” of a tribe. In this case, the passages referring to their special creation (Gen. 2:7; 21–22) would likely (though not necessarily) be intended figuratively, representing God’s investiture of this couple with special qualities (the image of God) and a special vassal kingship, including the covenant headship of Adam over the existing human race.

Covenant headship in Scripture does not necessarily presuppose biological parenthood: the relation of Christ to his people is adoptive. And such a hypothesis would more adequately explain some perplexing data of the Genesis history:

(1) Cain’s fear in Genesis 4:14 that someone might kill him to avenge his murder of Abel;
(2) Cain’s obtaining a wife in 4:17;
(3) Cain’s founding a city in 4:17 and the rapid development of culture, agriculture, and technology thereafter.

These data are not impossible to explain if we assume (as theologians traditionally have done) that Adam and Eve had many, many sons and daughters in addition to Cain, Abel, and Seth. But the supposition of a tribe or community contemporary with Adam and Eve makes the history somewhat easier to understand.

On such an interpretation we would also have to take figuratively the statement in Genesis 3:20 that Eve “was the mother of all living.” Of course in Scripture “father” and “mother” do not always refer to biological parentage. Scripture sometimes refers to kings and other authority figures as fathers and mothers, and certainly adoptive parents have the right to these titles. So it is not inconceivable that Genesis 3:20 refers to Eve as the mother of the human nation, given that status and title by God’s covenant investiture.

But the development of such interpretive hypotheses is in its infancy, and certainly no such interpretation should be made normative in the church.

On the other hand, we must also consider the possibility that the scientific consensus in favor of an original human race of thousands is wrong. Science constantly changes, and there is no place for the cocksureness with which some have insisted on this consensus view. The genetic arguments, like all scientific judgments about the past, are based on models, and the assumptions governing these models can be, and are being questioned.

It is interesting to note that the consensus among evolutionary scientists about the numbers of original humans have actually decreased — from millions to thousands. And if it is true that 150,000 years ago there were, say, 10,000 modern humans on the earth, that is a remarkable fact. Evolutionary scientists have generally thought that common characteristics imply common ancestry. Why should they not seek a genealogy of human characteristics earlier than the 10,000, that would account for the 10,000?

If the 10,000 sprang out of nowhere, their genesis begins to sound much like special creation. But if their genesis had a backstory, a backstory presumably different from the usual process of genetic transmission, couldn’t that backstory lead to a single couple?

LOTR as Life

John Piper, in his first message at the DGNatCon, brought to our attention this lovely quote from C. S. Lewis on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (Collected Letters, 3:971–2):

I’ve never met Orcs or Ents or Elves — but the feel of it, the sense of a huge past, of lowering danger, of heroic tasks achieved by the most apparently unheroic people, of distance, vastness, strangeness, homeliness (all blended together) is so exactly what living feels like to me. Particularly the heart-breaking quality in the most beautiful places, like Lothlorien. And it is so like the real history of the world: “Then, as now, there was a growing darkness and great deeds were done that were not wholly in vain.” Neither optimism (this is the last war and after it all will be lovely forever) nor pessimism (this is the last war and all civilization will end), you notice. No. The darkness comes again and again and is never wholly triumphant nor wholly defeated.

(Also see Tim Keller on LOTR here.)

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