Friday, September 23, 2011

Do You Think I'm Beautiful & Captivating

Notice the absence of a question mark.  This is NOT a poll, so feel free not to treat it as one.  Believe it or not, this post isn't even about ME! 

I recently spent a week blazing my way through these two books:

Do You Think I'm Beautiful?


I read the first by way of recommendation and the second because it addresses similar issues.  Captivating has been both widely hailed and wildly criticized, so I decided to read it myself in order to confirm my preconceived bias against it.  I have to admit I was somewhat surprised at what I found (stay with me, Momma!)

I went into this expecting to disagree with every word on every page, but found instead that both books contain nuggets of truth.

1)  Both present fairly accurate insights into the longings of the feminine heart: to be seen, known, and understood (at our best and worst), yet still be considered beautiful, significant...glorious even...and to be loved.  I think they get this right, although I could easily argue that these desires are not distinctly female, but HUMAN.  But I'll grant them this as a postive point of truth anyway.

2)  Both suggest, and I think rightly so, that our experiences in life and relationships often leave us believing the opposite of what we desire: that we are mostly ugly, insignificant, and unloved.  Our response is usually to harden our hearts or withdraw so that we can avoid the pain of being "too much and not enough."  And then...we TRY HARDER. 

3)  This restless striving in all the wrong directions actually thwarts the fulfilling of our desires, and it compounds, rather than fills, our lacking.

4)  Only as we come to terms with our standing in Christ and believe (i.e. really TRUST) His unfailing love for us will we find a place of freedom, satisfaction and rest.

If you have read the books, perhaps you find those 4 points rather generous, but I do think both authors communicate these truths and they shouldn't be overlooked.  Each challenges us as Christian women to confront our desires honestly; to understand how these desires and our responses to them are marred by original and personal sin, ongoing fallenness, and the curse; to seek first and foremost the redeeming love of God in Christ; and to be at rest.  These things are true, right, and beneficial.

However...(you knew that was coming, didn't you?) would be negligent of me to ignore the ways in which both women depart significantly from sound, biblical interpretation. 

For both Thomas and Eldredge, the path to life and health is found in Jesus far, so good.  But then they insist that the way this happens is through my relationship with him as Bridegroom.  He loves me with an intimate, romantic love.  He is smitten with my beauty and wants to dance with me and be my Lover.

I will attempt to stifle all the sarcasm that such sentimental silliness evokes, and I promise not to tell you how many emphatic "NO's!"  "UGH's" and "BLECH's!" I wrote in the margins of both books.  I won't say anything about THAT.  But I will explain why I consider the idea as sheer nonsense.

1)  First of all, if Jesus' personal relationship with women is as a Romantic Lover-Husband, then what is his personal relationship with men?  Is He a Romantic Lover-Wife to them?  Well, that doesn't exactly work since He is a Man.  If He is not a wife, is He a Romantic Lover-Husband to them also?   That doesn't work either for obvious reasons!  As absurd as those questions seem, they flow quite logically from the premise.  If we answer both of these questions with "No" then Christ's personal relationship with Christian MEN still remains undefined...except that in some way He relates differently to men than He does to women. 

2)  A couple of even more shocking questions follow.  If Jesus is my personal Lover, Romancer and Husband, then He is also those same things to every other woman who trusts in Him, right?  As far as I can tell, that makes Him a polygamist at best and a philanderer at worst.  Think about it.  Any man who woos more than one woman is an unfaithful spouse.  This system of thought borders on blasphemy!  We know for certain that one of Christ's primary traits is FAITHFULNESS.

3)  The fact is, I am not Jesus' personal bride.  His Bride is The Church...the collective Body of believers from eternity who look to Him for redemption.  He does not husband individuals, He husbands The Body.  She is His One Bride.  Period.  Both the Old and New Covenants make it infinitely clear that His People as a unified whole are His Garden, His Beloved, His Bride.

Don't misunderstand.  I am not implying that we have no individual, personal relationship with Christ.  We most certainly do!

His strong, unfailing, limitless, eternal love for us as individuals is clearly portrayed in His Word through a plethora of analogies, both personal and impersonal.  He is my Shield, my Defender, my Strong Tower, my Rock, my Light,etc.  But he is also my Shepherd, Father, Brother, Friend, Protector, Defender, Kinsman Redeemer, etc.

The underlying truth that these two books attempt to convey - that God's love for me in Christ is perfect and eternal - can be very effectively communicated without distorting the concept of the Bridegroom and the Bride.

It is unnecessary to adopt a sentimental, feel-good mentality that says Jesus thinks I am a beautiful and captivating woman whom He wants to romance, in order to know that I am infinitely loved by Him.

Though a mother may forget her nursing child, He will not forget me...I am graven on the palm of His hand.

He fought to the point of death in order to redeem my life from the pit!

He rescued me from dangerous waters because He delighted in me.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there His hand shall lead and guide me.  I am never forsaken.

He shepherds and restores my soul, leading me by quiet waters.

He preserves me from the Evil One.

He gathers me under the shadow of His wings, as a mother bird gathers her chicks.

These only scratch the surface of biblical truths that demonstrate that He loves me.  He is present with me.  He is unwaveringly faithful to me.

But He is NOT my personal husband.

In conclusion, let me make it clear that, on one hand, I appreciate the heart that these 2 authors have to help other Christian women.  These books are not altogether devoid of truth and value.  On the other hand, I fear their counsel may be received trustingly by hurting women who may end up highly-disillusioned if they wholeheartedly swallow the Lover-Romance pill. 

As always, we must determine to read books like this carefully, attempting to find that balance between opening our hearts to learn new things, yet not being either gullible or overly negative, skeptical, and judgemental. 

May God grant us the grace to move toward one another on these issues and to sharpen one another by challenging all teachings from a standpoint of biblical truth.   

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