“Now it is one of the sorry features of evangelicalism, is it not, that conservative evangelicalism, both here and in the United States, has become adept, more adept than any other branch of Christendom, at making the peripheral central and making the central peripheral; and engaging in dialog and discussions about issues that frankly I think are to be set aside if one takes seriously the instructions of Paul here to Timothy as a young man.” Aim for God’s Approval, Pt. A, Feb 7, 2012
Within this Christian vision of marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of what God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!”
Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer’s apprentice who lacked the magic formula to break the spell. Without being bound to the fulfillment of promises, we would never be able to keep our identities; we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each man’s lonely heart, caught in its contradictions and equivocalities, a darkness which only the light shed over the public realm through the presence of others, who confirm the identity between the one who promises and the one who fulfills, can dispel. Both faculties, therefore, depend on plurality, on the presence and acting of others, for no one can forgive himself and no one can feel bound by a promise made only to himself; forgiving and promising enacted in solitude or isolation remain without reality and can signify no more than a role played before one’s self. [emphasis mine]
(*Update: This post had been unpublished while I worked to gain some perspective. I have done so. I am in a different place. I am republishing for purposes of honest continuity.)
Many people come to marriage having been seriously hurt by parents, lovers, or former spouses. I am not talking about parents who physically or sexually abuse their children. I’m talking of the more widespread experiences of cold and indifferent parents or of verbally abusive parents who know how to punish children emotionally. Then there are the dating relationships or former marriages in with the other party wrong and betrayed you. All of these experiences can make it extremely difficult to trust the other sex, while at the same time filling you with deep doubts about your judgment and character. “Woundedness” is compounded self-doubt and guilt, resentment and disillusionment.
I let myself be crippled by this for about seven years… my own voice compounded with the schizophrenic lies and distortions of she who sought, with great success for a time, to undermine every decent thing I’ve ever been or done.
…extremely difficult to trust the other sex, while at the same time filling you with deep doubts about your judgment and character…self-doubt and guilt, resentment and disillusionment.Even knowing the voice was one of psychosis and hatred, didn’t stop it from wounding me more deeply than I could have imagined, wounding ever deeper time and time again. I would be filled with those deep doubts about my judgment and character. I would despair of ever having a future, and I would allow axes of utter nonsense to fell my tree-of-self-awareness.
I am so very grateful, not just for the healing God has given me, but especially for the protection and reassurance against such attacks. I had thought to never again be subjected to such attacks until a letter arrived a couple of months ago. This new packet of hatred sought to go back to the utter beginning of our love affair, well before matrimony, and paint over great beauty with foul and rotted pigments of selfishness and wickedness. Instead of felling me for a time, it became one more reinforcing artifact to add to a pile of correspondence which my spiritual and psychological advisers agree show a descent into madness.
It produced deep sorrow, but sorrow is not at all the same bunny of which Tim speaks. You cannot desperately and deeply love someone, whatever the circumstances, and not ache for them and the pain, unhappiness, and poison of hatred they continue to imbibe.
I won’t say that I’ve grown completely immune, and to be honest I do not want to become so. Satan does find those very occasional lowest points to charge one of his tempters with whispering into my ears tired old lies and doubts. I am glad I am not entirely immune simply because the hubris of immunity would be an utter lack of humbleness and failure to see myself relationally as fallen man in need of Christ. If I became that, I might truly begin to be the monster she describes. I think Spurgeon said it best when he said, “Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” All the more reason to surround myself with friends and spiritual leaders who know me well and hold me ever accountable. Instead, I think it leaves me clear to see those issues with my character and judgment that still merit large allocations of prayer and effort.
God brings joy in the morning.
I’ve explored only of the wounding caused by adult relationships. So long since has God healed me from the first type of wounding Tim discusses, that I nearly forgot to touch on the subject. Learning some crucial truths resolved my fear of being married and of being a father to children such that they no longer seem justifiable concerns. I remain vigilant but no longer paralyzed.
I have learned to truly love, to affirm, to serve, to sacrifice, to place the prerogative of another above my own and to take joy in doing so. I am not my father. I will never visit upon a beloved wife or child the terrors visited upon me; the fear of which kept me from believing I had any right to love and be loved. I will have my own unique blindnesses and shortcomings, but never those and never lacking the love and humility that keeps me from realizing (yes, after prompting and time perhaps) that these blindnesses and shortcomings exist.
I likewise realized is that even were there some ‘demon’ holding license to lurk within me, a fear I once very much held [knowledge of which was used by another as impotent firey dart which fail to wound], I do not exist in a vacuum. I will never be separated from people who know me and who have been given leave to look deeply into my life and sift and seek and confront.
Most important of all considerations is that my deal-breaker-if-lacking criteria for a future beloved is a deep, abiding love of Jesus Christ combined with a sharp intellect, a heart of love and wisdom, and the courage to be bold. A marriage is not one person performing solo, but two persons acting in sweet and sacred concert with one another.
If one member begins to play off-piste and ignores the direction of the Conductor Almighty, the music quickly sours and the partner in error must correct if sweetness is to again be achieved.
2 Timothy 1:7 NLTFor God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
It has been said by someone that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.
There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumbline cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God…
But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe… The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whale soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.
And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject that I invite you this morning.
When I make a promise, I bear witness that my future with you is not locked into a bionic beam by which I was stuck with the fateful combinations of X’s and Y’s in the hand I was dealt out of my parents’ genetic deck.
When I make a promise, I testify that I was not routed along some unalterable itinerary by the psychic conditioning visited on me by my slightly wacky parents.
When I make a promise I declare that my future with people who depend on me is not predetermined by the mixed-up culture of my tender years.
I am not fated, I am not determined, I am not a lump of human dough whipped into shape by the contingent reinforcement and aversive conditioning of my past. I know as well as the next person that I cannot create my life de novo; I am well aware that much of what I am and what I do is a gift or a curse from my past. But when I make a promise to anyone I rise above all the conditioning that limits me.
“Controlling the Unpredictable – The Power of Promising“
Christianity Today Jan. 1983
(*Update: This post had been unpublished while I worked to gain some perspective. I have done so. I am in a different place. I am republishing for purposes of honest continuity.)
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.“So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:
“Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”
Blake’s “And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.” measures well against my top standard as it seems a phrase I would expect from C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, or the lyric giftings of Andrew Peterson.
This particular serendipity occurred as I traveled to that lovely meal shared with friends. I was again listening to what I am certain is the absolute best book on understanding true covenantal and joyful marriage I’ve ever found, and I doubt the like of my ever finding one better. A recent discovery, I’m on my fourth listen and still finding little precious gems. My physical copy of “The Meaning of Marriage” by pastor Timothy Keller will join books by Lewis, Eggerichs, and Kreeft in a place of honor upon my bookshelf once I’m done filling it’s margins with annotations from the heart.
Keller throughout illustrates that the covenant of Marriage as prescribed by God; love through companionship, service, and self-sacrifice, bears precious little resemblance to the postmodern social-humanist me-centred marriage that is so pervasive today. One would expect that God need not check the box labeled, “Substitutions not permitted.” or “Dispense as prescribed.”
Truly, it seems that throughout history, mankind, even the Israelites, God’s Chosen People, have chosen designs that deviate greatly in critical respects and suffer greatly for the deviation. When Christ clarifies that the adultery of the Ten Commandments takes place in the heart, mind, and eyes as much as in the bedroom; when He rebukes the religious leaders arguing over divorce telling them that God granted divorce to them only due to the hardness of their hearts we doubt not that the curse on relationship that fell upon us through Adam and Eve was doing its painful work then amongst the Isrealites as terribly as it does for all of us today.
A fallen world produces only highly imperfect replicas of the archetype. Understanding the archetype helps to shore up weaknesses, correct transcription errors, and repair imperfections one pair of hearts at a time, and I think that is what Keller has done here in providing such understanding. He discusses and then sweeps away the world’s rubbish and then expounds upon and makes accessible and understandable… and most importantly, desirable God’s greatest gift and blessing to His children available, to us this side of heaven. He shines ray of bright light dazzling The Shadowlands. He teaches the only method capable of building a Heaven in Hell’s despair.
I am a clod. A joyful clod of clay in full awareness of God’s blessings, not a pebble lulled by the endless mindless tuneless music of the rill passing over me, bombarded by beauty, lessening appreciation until I value it not.
This view of marriage and ourselves is somewhat allegorical of God’s love for us. We clods of clay don’t merit a second glance.
- I am The Stone the Builders Rejected – Psalm 118:22
- I am the Lost Sheep that would have been far easier to abandon. – Luke 15:1–7
- I am the Prodigal Son rebellious yet beaten, all conceivable worth removed before being redeemed. – Luke 15:11–32
- I am the clay in the Potter’s hands – Jeremiah 18:1–6
- I am the Widow of no station, ostracized as a woman of foreign descent made valuable by my Kinsman Redeemer. – Ruth 1–4
- I am the Lost Coin. – Luke 15:8–10
Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
why the horror of the Crucifixion had to happen.
“He Gave Us Stories”, Reformation Bible College,
2013 Fall Conference, Creation & Re-Creation.
Go back to timecode 34:45 to hear his guiding idea behind writing The Wingfeather Saga. He had a vision of who the main character Janner Igiby was and who he was to become and that it could only be accomplished through conflict. “The only way for Janner Igiby to become that person was for me to ruin his life. To send him on an adventure that would cause him pain. To strip him of everything that was familiar. To bring him to a point where he could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. And now, at the end of my story I keep thinking about how my whole point, my whole goal at the end of this epic tale I’m trying to tell is to make the darkness seem so great that it’s insurmountable. To make it so that the main characters in my story are on the brink of giving up hope, so that at the very last moment, I can lift the veil, and blow their minds and they can see that there was something stronger than all the darkness.”
College, 2013 Fall Conference, Creation & Re-Creation.
I too tear up throughout reading the Chronicles of Narnia. I struggle not to weep upon listening to him say these things as he describes my own dream for fatherhood. I rejoice that there are other men out there doing exactly that and fulfilling that selfsame dream. This only serves to revive all the same feelings I had upon first becoming acquainted with Andrew Peterson through the below video, Family Man. Not everyone has their dreams fulfilled. I am glad that some do. I am grateful that God gives comfort and contentment even to those who do not.
Quote discovered in listening to an interview with artist, author, and musician Andrew Peterson.
— C. S. Lewis, Christian Apologetics, God in the Dock and other Essays, page 102, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Sep 15, 2014
“There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world. There is not an act of kindness or generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken, not a child’s prayer uttered, that does not sing hymns to God before his throne, and in the eyes of men, and before their faces.” — Thomas Merton (1915 — 1968), Seven Story Mountain (1948)
To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
I wonder if Lewis was not considering this passage when he wrote Book 3: Chapter 8 of A Pilgrim’s Regress, “Parrot Disease”. ‘Are you a liar or only a fool, that you see no difference between that which Nature casts out as refuse and that which she stores up as food?’
Every day a jailor brought the prisoners their food, and as he laid down the dishes he would say a word to them. If their meal was flesh he would remind them that they were eating corpses, or give them some account of the slaughtering: or, if it was the inwards of some beast, he would read them a lecture in anatomy and show the likeness of the mess to the same parts in themselves—which was the more easily done because the giant’s eyes were always staring into the dungeon at dinner time. Or if the meal were eggs he would recall to them that they were eating the enstruum of a verminous fowl, and crack a few jokes with the female prisoners. So he went on day by day. Then I dreamed that one day there was nothing but milk for them, and the jailor said as he put down the pipkin:
‘Our relations with the cow are not delicate—as you can easily see if you imagine eating any of her other secretions.’ Now John had been in the pit a shorter time than any of the others: and at these words something seemed to snap in his head and he gave a great sigh and suddenly spoke out in a loud, clear voice:
‘Thank heaven! Now at last I know that you are talking nonsense.’
‘What do you mean?’ said the jailor, wheeling round upon him.
‘You are trying to pretend that unlike things are like. You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of thing as sweat or dung.’
‘And pray, what difference is there except by custom?’
‘Are you a liar or only a fool, that you see no difference between that which Nature casts out as refuse and that which she stores up as food?’
‘So Nature is a person, then, with purposes and consciousness,’ said the jailor with a sneer. ‘In fact, a Landlady. No doubt it comforts you to imagine you can believe that sort of thing;’ and he turned to leave the prison with his nose in the air.
‘I know nothing about that,’ shouted John after him. ‘I am talking of what happens. Milk does feed calves and dung does not.’
‘Look here,’ cried the jailor, coming back, ‘we have had enough of this. It is high treason and I shall bring you before the Master.’ Then he jerked John up by his chain and began to drag him towards the door; but John as he was being dragged, cried out to the others, ‘Can’t you see it’s all a cheat?’ Then the jailor struck him in the teeth so hard that his mouth was filled with blood and he became unable to speak: and while he was silent the jailor addressed the prisoners and said:
‘You see he is trying to argue. Now tell me, someone, what is argument?’
There was a confused murmur.
‘Come, come,’ said the jailor. ‘You must know your catechisms by now. You, there’ (and he pointed to a prisoner little older than a boy whose name was Master Parrot), ‘what is argument?’
‘Argument,’ said Master Parrot, ‘is the attempted rationalization of the arguer’s desires.’
‘Very good,’ replied the jailor, ‘but you should turn out your toes and put your hands behind your back. That is better. Now: what is the proper answer to an argument proving the existence of the Landlord?’
‘The proper answer is, “You say that because you are a Steward.”’
‘Good boy. But hold your head up. That’s right. And what is the answer to an argument proving that Mr. Phally’s songs are just as brown as Mr. Halfways’?’
‘There are two only generally necessary to damnation,’ said Master Parrot. ‘The first is, “You say that because you are a Puritanian,” and the second is, “You say that because you are a
‘Good. Now just one more. What is the answer to an argument turning on the belief that two and two make four?’
‘The answer is, “You say that because you are a mathematician.”’
‘You are a very good boy,’ said the jailor. ‘And when I come back I shall bring you something nice. And now for you,’ he added, giving John a kick and opening the grating.
This marvelous little book by Randy Alcorn fell into my metaphoric hands just at the right time when I and my roommate were asked to start a small-group bible study and the topic asked for was “How to debate with love.”
Below are quotes that I found especially meaningful. (More to follow as I continue my exploration.)
What Gives Us Away?
A friend sat down in a small London restaurant and picked up a menu.
“What will it be?” the waiter asked.
Studying the puzzling selections, my friend said, “Uhh…”
The waiter smiled. “Oh, a Yank. What part of the States are you from?”
He hadn’t said a word. But he’d already given himself away.
In the first century, Christ’s followers were also recognized immediately. What gave them away?
It wasn’t their buildings. They had none.
It wasn’t their programs. They had none.
It wasn’t their political power. They had none.
It wasn’t their slick publications, TV networks, bumperstickers, or celebrities. They had none. What was it?
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. ~ Acts 4:33
They testified to the truth about Christ and lived by His grace. Truth was the food they ate and the message they spoke. Grace was the air they breathed and the life they lived.
The world around them had never seen anything like it. It still hasn’t.— Randy Alcorn, The Grace & Truth Paradox, Ch 1
“We should never approach truth except in a spirit of grace, or grace except in the spirit of truth. Jesus wasn’t 50 percent grace, 50 percent truth, but 100 percent grace and 100 percent truth.
Truth-oriented Christians love studying Scripture and theology. But sometimes they’re quick to judge and slow to forgive. They’re strong on truth, weak on grace.
Grace-oriented Christians love forgiveness and freedom. But sometimes they neglect Bible study and see moral standards as “legalism.” They’re strong on grace, weak on truth.
Countless mistakes in marriage, parenting, ministry, and other relationships are failures to balance grace and truth. Sometimes we neglect both. Often we choose one over the other.”
“A paradox is an apparent contradiction. Grace and truth aren’t really contradictory. Jesus didn’t switch on truth and then turn it off so He could switch on grace. Both are permanently switched on in Jesus. Both should be switched on in us.”
“Some church services are permeated with Christian clichés that mystify unbelievers. Nobody’s drawn to what’s incomprehensible. Grace compels us to put the cookies on the lower shelf where the uninitiated can reach them. Jesus warmly welcomed the nonreligious and spoke words they understood. So should we.
Other churches try to make sinners feel comfortable. How? They never talk about sin. Never offend anyone. They replace truth with tolerance, lowering the bar so everyone can jump over it and we can all feel good about ourselves.
But Jesus said, ’ ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’ (John 15:20).
Something’s wrong if all unbelievers hate us.
Something’s wrong if all unbelievers like us.
If we accurately demonstrate grace -and- truth, some will be drawn to us and other will be offended by us—just as they were by Jesus.
When we offend everybody, it’s because we’ve taken on the truth mantle without the grace. When we offend nobody, it’s because we’ve watered down truth in the name of grace.”— Randy Alcorn, The Grace and Truth Paradox, Chapter 2.
“Grace never ignores the awful truth of our depravity. In fact, it emphasizes it. The worse we realize we are, the greater we realize God’s grace is.”— Randy Alcorn, The Grace and Truth Paradox, Chapter 3.
“God has written His truth on human hearts (Romans 2:15). Shame and twinges of conscience come from recognizing that truth has been violated. When people hear truth spoken graciously, many are drawn to it because of the moral vacuum they feel. Hearts long for truth—even hearts that reject it.”— Randy Alcorn, The Grace and Truth Paradox, Chapter 4.
This next one is very similar to Ray Comfort’s analogy in his talk Hell’s Best Kept Secret in which he talks of Jesus being offered not as salvation from the transgressions of the law, but as “Life Enhancement”. People are enticed to ‘try on Christ’ with promises that their difficulties in life will be resolved (using a parachute as metaphor for Christ), but without any true understanding of the jump out of the airplane that is to come. They put it on. It is uncomfortable and bulky and gives no benefit and so they tear it off, are angry at the parachute (and the stewardess who gave it to them), and resolves never to be fooled by that nonsense again. This as opposed to the one who is told at the outset that there will be a jump to come and the only thing that will save them is wearing the parachute. Then when the difficulties of life befall him, say for instance, a new stewardess who trips and spills boiling hot coffee on him, he doesn’t cast off the parachute and say “You stupid parachute!” No, holds it all the tighter, and may ever Look Forward to the jump to come.
If a teacher is guilty of preaching life enhancement instead of the truth, then there is nothing at all redemptive in his ministry. Indeed, it is less than redemptive. It is damning.
The opposite is nearly as bad. That is, preaching truth in absence of all grace. Ray Comfort clarifies, “I’m not talking about Hellfire Preaching. Hellfire Preaching will produce Fear-Filled converts. Using God’s law will produce Tear-Filled converts.”
The world’s low standards, its disregard for truth, are not grace. The illusory freedom, however, -feels- like grace to someone who’s been pounded by graceless truth—beaten over the head with a piece of the guardrail. In fact, people who grow up in joyless religion learn that there’s no hope of living up to such daunting standards. “Why even try? It’s -impossible!-.”
But properly understood, biblical truths are guardrails that protect us from plunging off the cliff. A smart traveler doesn’t curse the guardrails. He doesn’t whine, “That guardrail dented my fender!” He looks over the cliff, and sees demolished autos below, and is -grateful- for guardrails.
The guardrails of truth are there not to punish, but to protect us.— Randy Alcorn, The Grace and Truth Paradox, Chapter 4.
Godly living centers not on what we avoid, but on whom we embrace. Anytime we talk more about dos and don’ts than about Jesus, something’s wrong.—Randy Alcorn, The Grace and Truth Paradox, Chapter 4