Love is an amazing thing. Love allows us to feel welcomed, valued, important, etc…. Love in a family brings about protection and security. Love between friends shows acceptance. Love between a married couple creates an everlasting bond. Love is an amazing and beautiful thing, but our world often distorts it. Our world distorts love into sex, emotional ‘butterflies’, and selfishness. The love that God has for us and wants us to have for others is more than sex and selfishness.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things. Love never ends… – 1Cor. 13:4-8
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son… – John 3:16
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… – Matthew 5:44
I have always believed love to be more than emotional ‘butterflies’. A person can like somebody, but not love them. According to scripture, at least the way I see it, love is a choice that is seen by our actions. As we look at the gods worshiped in the Temple of Love (191-238, gods at War), ask yourself if the love you give and receive matches up at all to these descriptions and examples of love.
1. god of Romance (191-206, gods at War)
We’ve all seen the Disney movies where the princess finds her prince. They’re often full of adventure, funny lines, and a heartwarming realization of love. But the message that some little girls end up hearing is, “I can’t be a princess if I don’t have a prince.”
The Bachelor is a T.V. show where a bachelor dates 20+ women over a series of weeks in the effort of “finding love and a wife.” (the counterpart to this is The Bachelorette). The girls look forward to receiving a rose from the bachelor each week receiving validation and the opportunity to continue onto the next week. The girls that don’t receive a rose are eliminated and sent home. The girls leave bursting into tears feeling rejected and worthless. (I used to be amazed at how much someone can cry after being turned down from knowing a guy for 6 hours, but there are probably deeper wounds there, as I said, of rejection and worthlessness. I mean, this show is kind of cruel if you think about it.)
We have phrases and self-help books for encouraging singles into dating and how to find a partner. They say things like, “To find someone awesome, you have to be awesome.” The singer Meatloaf tells us he would do anything for love. (But he won’t do that.) We’ll tell our loved ones that they “complete me.”
What all of these tell us is that if we don’t have somebody to love, then we’re worthless, there’s something wrong with us, we’re not willing to do what it takes to find love, or we’re not whole. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:32 that it is alright to be single. Being single allows one to focus on God completely, because God is the only one who can truly love us and complete us. (There’s nothing wrong with being married, but being married means our attention is often divided. I’m married, and if I give all my attention to God and ministry, then I would neglect my wife, and vice versa.)
Genesis 29 tells us about Jacob falling in love with Rachel. He promises to work for her father for seven years to earn her hand in marriage. When the seven years are up, he is able to marry Rachel but he is tricked into marrying Leah, Rachel’s older sister. (It was tradition that the eldest daughter be married off first.) So, Jacob decides to work another seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage and succeeds. Leah begins bearing children while Rachel can’t. Leah still feels rejected by Jacob. She names each of her sons after her sorrow saying things like, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.”, and “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” She keeps hoping that Jacob will finally love her for giving him sons. When she bears her fourth son, instead of being sorrowful she says, “This time I will praise the Lord.”, and she stopped bearing children. She finally found love and acceptance in the Lord instead of searching for it in her husband.
We don’t need a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife to be made complete or to be worth something. It is okay to be single. If you’re single but don’t want to be, then know that there is nothing wrong with you. No man or woman can love us the way that God loves us. No man or woman can make us complete like God does. If we can’t find love, acceptance, or worth in God, then we’ll never find it in a spouse.
2. god of Family (207-226, gods at War)
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis boards a bus to heaven with other ghosts who will be dropped off at a way station where they will make their decisions about eternity. The book examines why or why not people give their lives to a full commitment towards God (207). He shows that what we’re doing is standing at the gate of heaven choosing between the eternal glory of God and empty illusions of earth, the “great divorce” between heaven and earth. (of course, this is not how salvation works, but this is kind of like a parable about our choice to love God)
As each person gets off the bus, they are greeted by someone from their past to encourage them to make the full journey to heaven and God’s presence. Pam is disappointed that Reginald, her younger brother, is sent to greet her. She wanted her son, Michael, whom she loved dearly to greet her. Reginald explains to her that she’s not ready for that, and she must first be eager to see God, and then all the other blessings of heaven will be made available. She says, “I’ll do whatever’s necessary…. The sooner I begin it, the sooner they’ll let me see my boy.” Reginald says she can’t begin with that kind of attitude. God can’t be a means to get what we want. We must learn to want God for his own sake. God can’t come second in her, or our, affections. He can’t even be tied for first. Pam obsessed over her son Michael ignoring her other children and husband. He became an idol to her causing her to miss out on God.
Kyle Idleman uses a button down shirt to illustrate the order of our relationships. If you put the top button in the wrong hole, then the rest of your buttons will be messed up. If you put the top button in the correct hole, then the rest will follow suit, and the shirt will look good. If our relationship with God isn’t top priority, then the rest of our relationships will mess up.
Genesis 22 tells us that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to him. This was the son that God promised to Abraham, and now God was asking him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham had to choose between God or his family. He chooses God. Abraham takes Isaac to be sacrificed. Isaac is tied up and everything atop of the altar. As Abraham moved the blade to sacrifice Isaac, God stops him. After seeing that Abraham feared and would be faithful to God, God provided a ram to be sacrificed instead. God saw that Abraham would put him first instead of Isaac and his family.
As much as I love my wife, I know she cannot be first in my life. The day that I put her first, which happens every now and then, the rest of my life will become disordered. We have to put God first in all of our relationships: family, friends, couples. Are we willing to sacrifice loved ones for God just as Abraham was?
3. god of Me (227-238, gods at War)
The Three Christs of Ypsilanti is about a psychiatric case where three patients thought they each were Jesus Christ. Talk about a “Messiah complex.” They suffered from delusions of grandeur. Dr. Milton Rokeach was determined to cure them and help bring them back to reality. He had all three of them live together in a house, and they would have group therapy sessions together. His hope was that them being together would help them come down to reality and realize that they are not Jesus Christ.
In their conversations, one would say, “I’m the Messiah, the Son of God. I was sent here to save the earth.” Dr. Rokeach would ask, “How do you know?”. The patient would respond, “God told me.” But another patient would interject, “I never told you any such thing!”. Each patient would assume that the other two were patients in the mental hospital, and he, on the other hand, was the real deal (227-228, gods at War).
Now, we may not all actually think we’re Jesus Christ himself, but we all can tend to worship ourselves at times. We all make ourselves the center of the universe at times. Kyle Idleman tells us that we need to establish that there is one God, and we are not him. Once that’s established, then we must make a choice:
I know that there is the Lord God, the master of all creation.
I also know there’s the god of me, the pretender to the throne.
Whom will I serve? (228, gods at War)
God says, “your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god.” (Ezekiel 28:2). The god of me is the most relentless gods we will face every single day. It is the easiest of all to overtake our hearts away from the Lord God. We take self-preservation and love of self to the extremes of selfishness and egotism. We think ourselves to be more important than God.
Can we deflate our heads to properly worship and love the one true God?
Idleman, Kyle. Gods at War: Defeating the Idols That Battle for Your Heart. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2013. $15