The Idolatry of Relationships

It has always amazed me how incongruous our worldly festivities are on days honoring historic figures/events: President’s Day (Washington’s birthday) is when we buy household appliances; St. Patrick’s Day, is a license for public intoxication; Easter Sunday is marked by a rabbit leaving candy eggs.  So it is with Valentines Day.

St. Valentine was a Christian pastor when Claudius was the Roman emperor.  Realizing that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their wives and families, Claudius purportedly banned all marriages in Rome. Valentine defied this ban and continued to perform marriages for secret. When his actions were discovered, Valentine was beaten to death and beheaded.

Does Hallmark have any cards depicting that?

The way we celebrate Valentine’s Day betrays our idolatry of relationships.  We live in an age when romantic love and fulfillment is the ultimate goal in life.  Online dating, aided by social media apps, constantly market to us that the “perfect mate” is out there, just one click away. Our entertainment industry inundates us with stories and images of those star-crossed lovers who defy every norm and custom just to be with the one they love, even if it means leaving the one they thought they loved. This Valentine’s Day will be filled with desperate men scrambling to find flowers or chocolates so that they don’t come home empty handed, just to “prove” their love.

What is the cure for our idolatrous relationships?

In his book Counterfeit Gods, pastor and author Tim Keller writes about this idolatry of relationships.  Here are some excerpts from his chapter entitled, “Love is Not All You Need.”

The failure of romantic love as a solution to human problems is so much a part of modern man’s frustration… No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood… However much we may idealize and idolize him [the love partner], he inevitably reflects earthly decay and imperfection… After all, what is it that we want when we elevate he love partner to this position? We want to be rid of our faults, of our feeling of nothingness. We want to be justified, to know our existence has not been in vain. We want redemption – nothing less. Needless to say, human partners cannot give this.

Both the stereotypically male and female idolatries regarding romantic love are dead ends. It is often said that “men use love to get sex, women use sex to get love.”  As in all stereotypes there is some truth to this, but this story shows that both of these counterfeit gods disappoint.

Male love idolatries make them addicted to being independent, so they can “play the field.” Female love idolatries… make them addicted and dependent – vulnerable and easily manipulated. Both are a form of slavery, both blind us so we can’t make wise life choices, both distort our lives.

The gods of moralistic religions favor the successful and the overachievers. They are the ones who climb the moral ladder up to heaven. But the God of the Bible is the one who comes down into this world to accomplish a salvation and give us a grace we could never attain ourselves. He loves the unwanted, the weak, and unloved. He is not just a king and we are his subjects; he is not just a shepherd and we are the sheep. He is a husband and we are his spouse. He is ravished with us – even those of us whom no one else notices.

And here is the power to overcome our idolatries. There are many people in the world who have not found a romantic partner, and they need to hear the Lord say, “I am the true bridegroom.  There is only one set of arms that will give you all your heart’s desire, and await you at the end of time, if only you turn to me. And know that I love you now.” However it is not just those without spouses who need to see that God is our ultimate spouse, but those with spouses as well.  They need this in order to save their marriage from the crushing weight of there divine expectations. If you marry someone expecting them to be like a god, it is only inevitable that they will disappoint you. It’s not that you should try to love your spouse less, but that rather you should know and love God more.

Excerpt from: Keller, Tim. Counterfeit Gods, The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Dutton; New York, 2009) pg. 40-45.
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About reveds

Occupation: Pastor, Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, Lennox, SD Education: BS - Christian Education, Sterling College; MDiv. - Princeton Theological Seminary Family: Married, with Four children. Hobbies: Running (will someday run a marathon), Sci-Fi (especially Doctor Who and Sherlock), Theater, and anything else my kids will let me do.
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