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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Jesus Is Not Glue

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across the blog of a woman I'll call Cassie (no link, since I'm not sure if she'd want me to). I was struck by the sadness of her all-too-common story: she's five years into her third marriage, she dearly loves her four kids (but she doesn't get to see them very often), and things are going south with her current husband:
I've been feeling this HUGE wedge growing between Prince Charming and I so today I asked him if we could spend the day with him. He seemed so happy and eagerly shared he missed when we worked together every day. It was a sweet fleeting moment. ...

I know our relationship is breaking and I've been mostly worried because I don't feel safe talking to Prince Charming about it. About every 3-4 days things get strange and usually the only resolution is sex. Even today we pulled in the garage while I was squeezing back tears and his answer to make everything all better was me sucking him. At first I heart was hurt but he said, "See...? Negative." So we rolled around in bed and everything will be OK for another 3 days.
So what would you say to a person like this? What does Cassie need to hear?

Now the obvious answer might be something like: "Sex is not glue." What I mean is that sex can never the deliver the goods relationally - no sex, no matter how good, will ever sustain a marriage (or any kind of relationship, for that matter - and yet isn't it interesting how many people view sex as something to help determine whether a marriage will be successful - if the sex is good, that means we love one another and the marriage will work. And yet it never does).

Here's the thing though - Prince Charming may need to hear that sex is not glue, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Cassie already knows it. She's been down that road before, and I think she is looking for something more. So what DOES she need? The biblical answer has got to be "Jesus", right? Well, yes, but I'd like to think about that a little bit.

In his Journal of Biblical Counseling article entitled "Whose Dream? Which Bread?" (JBC, Vol 15, No. 3, 1997), Paul Tripp begins begins with a great question: "What kind of Messiah do you want Jesus to be to you in your marriage?" He goes on to describe counseling a woman with a troubled marriage:
She felt like God had forsaken her... I wanted her to understand that God is a refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble.

I was quoting her passages of the amazing, abundant love of God; and in the middle of a verse she said, "Stop!" I stopped. She said to me, "Don't you tell me anymore that God loves me. I want a
husband who loves me!" And she pounded her fist into her chair as she said it. - (p49)
Now, I am not sure whether this applies to Cassie, but I'll bet it's pretty close. So many times we look to Jesus, to God, as the one who will "fix" the things that are broken in our lives. We realize we have a problem, we realize he's the answer, but we often assume that the way he works is like divine elbow grease - we expect him to work out the kinks, to smooth the friction.

Where Prince Charming might be looking to "sex as glue," for people in Cassie's situation its very tempting to see "Jesus as glue." And both of those views are wrong.

You see, Jesus is indeed the answer, but not in the way we might think. Tripp points to John 6, where the people are seeking Jesus, hoping that he will perform another miracle and give them more bread to eat. They were looking to Jesus to deliver what they were hungry for - to fill their belly's. Now, Prince Charming's appetite may be for sex; Cassie's is probably more along the lines of relational intimacy. I'll bet she would LOVE to have a husband who loves her, who connects with her all the time (regardless of the sex), a marriage that is strong and stable, one that works and lasts.

And what Jesus told the crowd applies to Cassie as well - she is hungering for the wrong things. This is not to say that her desires are bad. They are just not for what is best. She needs Christ. This is why Jesus said to the people: "I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, whoever believes in me shall not thirst" (Jn 6:35). This is why Jesus says "The work of God is to believe in the one he has sent" (Jn 6:29).

Now, saying it like this might be a hard sell to someone like Cassie. Let me see if I can make it concrete. Jesus himself says something very interesting as he prays to his Father - "This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn 17:3).

Jesus doesn't just say he is the WAY to eternal life. He says that he IS eternal life. To know Christ, to be connected to him personally, intimately - with a relational intimacy that surpasses the best sex ever - THAT is eternal life. That is what Christ desires for us, for people like Cassie.

And the way he gives himself to us, is often through people like Prince Charming. Here's what I mean. We look to Jesus to give us something we want (relationship, sex, whatever). And Jesus says, what you really need is me. And the way I'm going to give it to you is by showing how all the other things you are looking for - as the glue, as the goal - how all these things ultimately fail to satisfy.

This is why God allows suffering - as a grace to us in the here and now, to keep us searching for something more, something better. As Tripp says:
What is now about? Now is about something much deeper than getting up in the morning with a smile. Much more than romantic weekends. Much more than fulfilling intimacy. Much more than having kids you can take to the restaurant without being embarrassed. The message here is that God is willing to compromise these things in order to produce something greater, and fuller, and deeper: genuine faith. - (p48)
So does Cassie need Jesus? Absolutely! But she also needs to understand HOW she needs him - not merely as a fixer of problems, but as the one who sovereignly allows the problems to occur in the first place, so that he can be the one to lead her through the problems, to bring her closer to himself.

If we are going to offer someone Christ, we must present him as he truly is - not elbow grease to eliminate the friction, not glue to hold things together - but the very bread of life, the thing that we need more than anything else. Cassie needs to see that she needs Jesus himself, even more than she needs Prince Charming.

It may take a while to convey, but that's the place we all need to get to. Jesus is not glue. He is what we are looking for in everything else, and the sooner we realize that the sooner we will begin to deal with all our trials, tribulations, and disappointments in everything else.


At 8:11 PM, March 12, 2006, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

Good post.

It really meshes with our pastor's (Rowe) sermon today.

MY PROBLEM is not accepting God's sovereignty in my life (ie, the friction, the suffering), but I truly suffer in applying His sovereignty in my life.

It might sound like I am splitting hairs, but I think there is a very significant difference.

The first is passive (think Eyeore), while the second is proactive (now think Tigger).

For myself, I can say, "Yup, Mr.X just screwed me out of thousands of dollars. God's will. Could of been worse. Guess someday I will see how this all works out. Oh well."

But to turn around and apply God's sovereignty, to love Mr.X as Christ loved me, to forgive him as I have been forgiven..... myself, I struggle with that.

And that is probably as good as I can describe the differences between the two right now.

Oh, well. Better go and see what Garm is yammering about....

At 7:55 AM, March 13, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

Great post! I really loved reading this one!

I'd agree with Jacob too, that there were similiarities with Sunday morning's sermon. Pastor Rowe's main theme (correct me if I'm wrong, Jacob) was having the proper perspective on our trials or "sufferings". There really becomes an issue of trusting that God really is working out everything in our lives for our benefit; maybe the harsh reality of this at times, though, is that sanctificiation sometimes just sucks.

Pastor Rowe's sermon, and the series he is working through, also is directed at past experiences more so than the present state of things. So how does Cassie deal with her present state? I'm looking more to add to what Jacob began to say in the "active" role of forgiving combined with the perspective of knowing that God is willing to compromise relationships in our lives to bring us to a more genuine faith as you quoted from Tripp.

So, there is an active working out of forgiveness, but also, I think, an effort towards loving her husband more faithfully despite his lack of love, not for the sake of being faithful to "prince charming" but for the sake of being faithful to Christ, the true Bread of Life.

At 8:20 AM, March 13, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Excellent point in that last paragraph there Brian, and something I didn't really draw out in my original post - the fact that what Jesus wants to give Cassie in the midst of her hardship is himself, rather than (necessarily) just fixing her husband - that reality in no way means that her husband is less important, or doesn't matter, or anything like that.

As you said, Christ's teaching us through difficulty helps us learn to love others even when they are unlovable, or worse - even when they actively wrong us. Viewed rightly, Cassie's difficult marriage is actually an opportunity to love her husband even when its hard, and to start finding more fulfillment in Christ than in a fulfilling marriage.

Of course, all this assumes she has Christ in the first place - I don't really know whether she does or not. Imagine the bleakness of suffering for the non-Christian - there is nothing redemptive at all in it. It is just pain.

For the one who does not have Christ, suffering is just the first taste of what hell will be like. For the Christian who is clinging to Christ, suffering actually becomes redemptive, driving us closer to Christ, teaching us to walk through hard times by leaning on him rather than on anything else.

At 11:49 AM, March 21, 2006, Blogger Ryan Kellermeyer said...

Hey man, found you via the comments on the flossing post from the WTS prof that Q linked to. Anyway, great stuff. Thanks for keeping it real. See you at church!

At 9:29 AM, March 28, 2006, Blogger Gunny said...

"Where Prince Charming might be looking to "sex as glue," for people in Cassie's situation its very tempting to see "Jesus as glue." And both of those views are wrong."

Well said.

At 2:54 PM, April 07, 2006, Blogger Justin Dombrowski said...

Insightful post, Christian. Well done.

At 3:30 PM, May 11, 2008, Blogger Joseph said...

Sex is the least of sin. The appropriate condition is that in a garden of life that Jesus is a great marriage counselor. What better than a super bowl quarter back against the wages and time of Caesar to help get people on the love channel that a garden in his name has been populating heaven with a full mind and belly for the length of the human experiment?
When you take the mind, you get the body... how else but an early weigh out of the full marriage partner for a market complex yet to know market sin from genuine sin. A life slightly broken repaired by God always has the next sin to pay for that initial debt and sex remains the pay for all whether in sin or out of sin.
The Bible is not for everyone, some people can read it others decline. That is what free will is about.

At 7:49 PM, May 11, 2008, Blogger Christian said...

I'm afraid I didn't understand much of that last comment...

At 1:36 PM, July 16, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I see the points made, as well as their validity, questions still haunt me in the Cassie example. You are right that she needs Jesus, as well as that she should try to actively love and forgive her husband. However, let's just say that Cassie truly finds Jesus and does actively try to consistently show love and forgive her husband regardless of his actions...and he (the husband) continues down the same path, consistently being (for lack of more detail in this specific case, and as an example knowing of others who have been through that with husbands doing much worse than expressed in this example) a bad husband?


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