Author’s Note: For the next few weeks, I am publishing a series of essays responding to a blog post, “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).” In the article, the writer basically argues that Christian women should not go to college, get married, or even move out of their parents’ house (until they’re married) because it might distract them from their sole life purpose of raising a large family. Last week, I discussed the double standard for Christian men and women that the article exploits.
I would like to announce that the writer of “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos)” has rethought her position and admitted that she was incorrect. She said that the title of the post should have been “Godly Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).”
Good. Because that was the glaring problem with her theology.
But, as someone who struggles with pride (I mean, sure, I have a lot of good qualities, but humility isn’t one of them), I really respect it when people admit they were wrong. So, let’s phrase it her way.
It actually does kind of address the problem I wanted to talk about: leaving out God.
Now, changing the title to “Godly Men Prefer YadaYadaYa” doesn’t fix the issue at all, because the overarching motivation expressed in the piece is still the same: women should lead godly lives (and we’re ignoring her perception of how women live a godly life) to please men.
If this was a video, I would put a record scratch right here.
Not doing things to please other people is a very popular idea in modern mainstream culture. Disney teaches us to wish upon a star and follow our dreams no matter what anyone says. Pop stars croon that you only need to love yourself. You don’t live to please other people; girls don’t need to pander to men; live your life however you want; you do you, babe. #GirlBoss
All that is true, but it’s not the whole truth. And, as my mom likes to say, a half-truth is a whole lie.
Here is part of the truth: not only do we not need to live our lives to please other people, as Christ-followers, we shouldn’t live to please other people.
In church, we talk a lot about how we need to be passionate, “on fire.” We are shouting in the streets, dying to ourselves, conquering kingdoms, extinguishing flaming arrows (Christians love war imagery), crying out loud in the desert, eating wild honey and locusts, and beating our camel hair-clothed chests.
But when it comes to the declaration that “[anyone] prefers [anything],” God allows us to respond with lying-in-our-PJs-watching-golf-after-a-turkey-dinner apathy.
I Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Christians are still human beings. We experience human wants and needs. In some ways, how we live our lives is no different than the rest of the world – we work, we eat, we sleep (not as much as we should or would like to). The difference in the day-to-day lives of Christians is our motivation for living and, by extension, everything that we do in life. We live to glorify God, because we find our identity in Him and boast in knowing “nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).
Here’s another part of the truth: we all find our identity in something.
Our identity is the very core of who we are. Do you know the biblical term for finding our identity in anything except Christ?
Pastor Tim Keller describes idolatry as “anything in your life that is so meaningful to your life that you can’t have a life if you lose it…in your heart of hearts, you say to it, ‘If I have that, then my life has value, then my life has meaning. And if I lose that, then I don’t know how I would live.’”
That makes for a pretty bleak future when your idol is a temporary object of a fragile reality.
Here’s a third truth: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to please other people. In fact, we should be serving, encouraging, and caring for others. The problem is when it becomes the consuming purpose of our life.
Here is the truly twisted and insidious truth about modern idols: most – if not all – of them were created by God.
In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes that, try as he might, Satan cannot create a single pleasure; the concepts of joy and happiness defy his very essence. Instead, he uses pleasures that God has given us – love, food, money, for example – and subverts them – lust, gluttony, greed. That is what makes sin so alluring and (at least temporarily) pleasing; it was originally designed for us to enjoy.
The problem isn’t that the idols themselves exist or that we enjoy them; the problem is the level of importance with which we regard them and the amount of control we allow them to wield over us.
God gives His children three things: blessings, callings, and an identity. The first two tend to be closely related; for example, God blesses us with a spouse, He calls us to be a faithful and loving wife or husband. He blesses us with a successful career, He calls us to work hard. However, blessings and callings come and go. They do not affect our identity. Our identity is constant. It is always Christ.
Idolatry is when we mistake the blessings or callings that God has given us for our identity. It’s what St. Augustine called “disordered loves.” Suddenly, instead of just making money so we can afford necessities (and the occasional splurge), we base our self-worth on the shape of the dried ink on our paychecks.
And that is absolutely heartbreaking, because here is the final truth: what makes Christianity radically different is that it is the only religion that does not require a performance. Every other religion dictates that you act a certain way, follow a certain code for a deity or whatever the highest power may be to deem you “worthy.”
We don’t have to do that. Our liberated lives are no longer a performance, a succession of rituals to placate a god who views us with indifference. Yet, when we find our identity in anything other than Jesus, we are placing that idol in the judge’s seat. We have no choice but to act out a desperate charade and present our case, hoping for mercy from something that by its own nature demands unceasing drudgery.
Last January, The New Yorker published an article titled “Improving Ourselves to Death.” The writer, Alexandra Schwartz, explores some of the ways that people try – and fail – to mold themselves into the pinnacle of human perfection. Two of the men she writes about, both business professors, spent a year delving into all the popular methods of self-improvement: Crossfit, therapy and life coaching, yoga, drugs, cleanses, stand-up comedy…the list goes on. Every month, they tried to achieve a different virtue: creativity, intellect, athleticism, productivity. At the end of the year, one of the men, André Spicer, realized that his self-focus had ruined his relationship with his wife, who was due to give birth in a few days. Schwartz summarizes what he discovered after a year of striving to perfect himself in every possible way: “On the other side of self-improvement, Cederström and Spicer have discovered, is a sense not simply of inadequacy but of fraudulence…[Spicer] writes, ‘I could not think of another year I spent more of my time doing things that were not me at all.’ He doesn’t feel like a better version of himself. He doesn’t even feel like himself. He has been like a man possessed: ‘If it wasn’t me, who was it then?’”
He lost his sense of identity.
In his famous commencement speech, “This is Water,” writer David Foster Wallace says, “If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough…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 they ﬁnally plant you…Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”
Wallace concludes, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”
It truly hurts me to say that Wallace was not a Christian, and he committed suicide three years later. Despite his objective realization that all humans worship, he never chose to anchor himself to something that wouldn’t destroy him.
If this seems really depressing and hopeless – you’re right. It is. That’s the point. Our idols will always “eat us alive.” They are insatiable. They will always demand more from us, because when fulfilling our identity depends on our actions, we can never rest.
The good news is that we do not have to submit to them. Jesus is already sitting at the right hand of God – He doesn’t have to sit on the judgement seat anymore. The hammer that nailed Him to the cross acted as the gavel for God to declare His final verdict on those who claim their identity in Him: not guilty.
Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, emphasis added).
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).
So, let’s try this headline: “Godly Men Prefer Women Who Could Not Care Less What Men Prefer.”
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“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)