“You’re nobody till somebody loves you.” -Dean Martin
She sits in my office as her eyes dart nervously around the room, and we continue to make small talk. Eventually, her eyes settle and she tells me what she’s been dying to get off her chest. Over the past few years, she’s developed an eating disorder. The body that she had wasn’t attracting the attention she had been taught to expect, so she started making changes. She dreams of being happily married with kids, and so she started making certain sacrifices.
He stares at the picture of his old family, before placing it back in the drawer. He sincerely hopes they’re doing well, he loves his kids and misses being such a large part of their lives. He even misses his Ex. He misses the memories that they had and how they almost always knew what the other was thinking. But now that he’s met someone else, it’s hard to explain how powerful the desire he has for her. It was like nothing he had ever experienced before, she was worth certain sacrifices. And he had made them, and would continue to do so every time he placed his families picture in the drawer.
For days she had been dreading having to tell her kids that she was getting married again…she knew how they would respond. After all, they’d been down this road several times before, and they had seen this coming. For the last month they’d been seeing the same old patterns emerge Their mom was withdrawing from her friends and family to spend most of her time with a new man. And the kids knew they were going to lose their mother one more time to another infatuation. The mother loves her kids, but she dreams of a life where someone loves and appreciates her as a wife, and for that life she’s willing to make certain sacrifices.
When I was a junior in college, I spent a semester in Greece touring the ancient temples and ruins. We walked around the famous museums and the same ground that Paul travelled and the first Christians bled on. And we saw lots and lots of idols. Looking back, it’s ironic to me that I thought that was the first time I had seen an idol.
The truth is it was just the first time I had known I was seeing them.
Ernest Becker, in his book, The Denial of Death talks about the new development of “apocalyptic romance” We look to sex and love from another to give us a sense of transcendence. We want to be a part of a story larger than ourselves, we want to worship, and so we will.
Here’s how Becker says it:
“We still needed to feel heroic, to know that life mattered in the scheme of things. Man still wants to merge himself with some higher, self-absorbing meaning, in trust and gratitude, and if he no longer has God how else is he to do this?..The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one’s life. In one word, the love object is God…Man reached for a “thou” when the world-view of the great religious communities overseen by God died…After all, what is it when we elevate the love partner to the position of God? We want to be justified, we want to know our existence has not been in vain. We want redemption-nothing less.”
If you are to ask someone from my generation to describe God in one word, we would say God is love. And I like that description…a lot. I think the apostle John did too, but I’ve come to learn that words only mean what we want them to. And when the Christian story talks about love it already has a definition for it.
But the larger problem is that I don’t think we actually mean what we say we do. I think we are saying God is love, but what we really are trying to say is that Love is God.
Back in the day that Jesus and Paul lived in, there was actually a god of Love. Her name was Aphrodite and she was a fun god to worship and a horrible god to please.
She still is.
In her day, Aphrodite was worshipped by temple prostitutes, they were known as “sacred slaves.” She was worshipped by sexual encounters with girls who were slaves. Today we would call them brothels and we would want to kick in the doors to free those girls.
We hear about temple prostitutes and we think how primitive, but we are still making sacrifices to the same god they served.
They are the certain sacrifices that to those around us seem ridiculous and self-destructive but to us seem divine.
I’ll write more about the idolatry of love next week, but for now.. if there is one thing I’ve learned in ministry, it’s this: idol worship is never what we think it is. And it can never deliver what we think it will. I can’t tell you how many families I’ve sat with in the aftermath of “certain sacrifices.” And as sad as that is, the worst part isn’t sitting with the victims. It’s sitting with the people who’ve created them. The husband who left his family, or the mother who neglected her kids, and watching the realization dawning on them that they are in love with love. And love isn’t worth what the sacrifices they thought it was.
God is Love, but Love isn’t God.