My friend Jim at Therefore Now Ministries recently wrote a piece on why marriage is objectively better than living together—not merely for reasons of moral soundness, but because it’s just better, more desirable, more satisfying. Jim was right on as usual, and as I read his words, I suddenly remembered a strange and terrifying situation I heard about some years ago.
A man met a woman at a strip club or whatever those places are called now. He was a patron; she was an employee. They developed a relationship, and she moved into his high-dollar home in a Dallas suburb. She quit her job and became a full-time homemaker, cooking for this guy and keeping his house.
In a way this sounds like a cushy deal for her. She didn’t have to work her sexually degrading job anymore. She had no childcare duties. She had a nice well-furnished house to live in and good food to eat, and all she had to do in return was keep the place clean, cook appetizing meals from expensive ingredients in a spacious kitchen with new high-dollar appliances, and provide pleasant company for the guy. Sexual favors would certainly be expected, but at least she had just one man to satisfy, which had to be an improvement over whatever she was doing before.
Okay, so I tried for the sake of argument to make the above scenario sound reasonably attractive, but I guess there’s really no way to do that. Basically this was high-end, white-collar prostitution.
For Christmas the man gave the woman an engagement ring minus the diamond. The space inside the prongs was substantial; it would take a big stone to fill it. He said he would buy the stone after she proved that she was “The One.”
What kind of man does that?! And what kind of standards might such a man have for housekeeping? With so much time on her hands the woman ought to be able to produce some exquisite meals as well as keep the house in pristine condition. She would constantly labor under the pressure of expectations, both spoken and unspoken. She would feel perpetually off-balance, never sure if she had done enough. They say that when you marry for money, you will earn every penny. I imagine that when you provide sexual and housekeeping services for money, you will earn it even more. And of course it was for money. What woman would enter into an arrangement like that for love? What could love possibly have to do with it?
This is the legalist view of the Christian walk. We have been taken out of a former degrading way of life and moved into a clean, respectable environment, but we must prove our worthiness to be there through constant performance. It’s not that we believe we earn our salvation—that would be bad doctrine—but we hold to a vague idea of some higher level of God’s favor that makes a Christian truly legit. Home schooling, natural living, daily “quiet times”—whatever activity or combination of activities our particular group has deemed essential in separating serious Christians from shallow fire-insurance dabblers, we must persist in doing them if we want to keep in good standing with God. We can never be sure we are doing enough; we are edgy and anxious. We have been given a costly gift, but it’s defined by its emptiness, prongs outstretched like the fingers of a grasping hand. Who would want to wear such a thing?
In this construct we are not a bride but a whore. And God is not a loving husband but a man of business, dispensing payment for services rendered. In the place of sacrifice, we have a bloodless commercial arrangement.
God’s love is nothing like this. It is a wild reckless passion culminating in an unbreakable lifelong commitment. It is unilateral: nothing we can do or leave undone will ever lessen or increase its strength. It is permanent: God will never walk away. It is more than duty: he maintains the same intensity of love for us always. He doesn’t get disillusioned; he never had any illusions to lose. We may fool others and ourselves with silly posturing, but he sees all—the hidden sins, the laziness, the lust, the greed, the moral weakness—and he chose us anyway. In his eyes we are precious and lovely and will remain that way forever.
God doesn’t offer an empty ring.
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
Song of Solomon 8:6