The past days have brought increased feedback on the blog, which I love by the way. This is called the market on purpose and I desire your ideas, even correction. Several times since "Is God in a Blues Riff" one of my past writings has come up on conversation. It was origionaly posted on January 12, 2008, and I think it is perhaps still the one that most affected myself, so I humbly re-present it to you here for your thoughts.
The Hatred Love Demands
One of the joys of being a musician is the benefit of sharing in the joys of special and important days in the lives of friends and family. This Saturday I had the distinct honor of performing for the wedding of an old family friend. Weddings are always interesting for me to observe. As a person who looks forward to officiating them in my future, I often ponder what the makeup of a wedding ceremony should be. As I look into the crowd I often wonder if the people in attendance truly grasp the immensity of what they are about to see taking place. At some weddings I wonder if the people on the stage realize the immensity of what is taking place. As an attendee at a wedding you stand to witness one of the few actions of mankind, that was ordained by God, and the only one Christ uses to describe his church. The comparisons of the God-Church and Husband-Wife relationship in the bible are pervasive and poignant. God has given us a window into his mind in marriage, that is hardly rivaled in any other of our daily observations.
The parallels are as I've said pervasive and therefore far too massive to approach, however as I sat among the crowd today, one hit me especially. In what is traditionally called the declaration of intent, the minister offers a kind of pre-vow to the couple, after which the true “wedding ceremony” can begin. While the terminology is archaic the recitation is probably quite familiar to you. Here is an excerpt, “to have and to hold, forsaking all others till death do you part”. Now the last part, of this the last line of the declaration, is perhaps the best known in wedding liturgy. “Till death do us part” has served as the tagline for more than 11 films, as well as 3 television series, as well as being mentioned in countless songs and printed on millions of wedding trinkets. Indeed in this day and age wherein 1 million marriages fail every year, till death do us part is an important consideration. However it is the clause before this that struck me today. “forsaking all others”
Should it not strike us as odd that such a line should be included. A wedding day is hardly a day of forsaking. In fact we go to a great deal of expense and planing to gather our nearest friends and relatives. Perhaps for the more discerning the reason is obvious in retrospect, but for the average American Joe writing a description of marriage, forsaking probably wouldn't be the first thing to come to mind. We think of marriage, and correctly, as the joining of lives. In fact in the last ten years it has come into vogue to modify the unity candle tradition, to leave both individual lights aflame, to give representation to each members individuality. While I'm sure in the correct context this change could be made without ruining the truth behind the tradition, it shows evidence of a greater misunderstanding; especially if we are to use marriage as a picture of God.
The traditional wedding liturgy wasn't written arbitrarily. In fact it would surprise many people to know that it wasn't written by people who would have necessarily been the most directly involved in weddings. Most of our traditional wedding liturgy is taken from “The Book of Common Prayer”, it was written by church leaders, many of them theologians, to insure that priests, rectors, and pastors (all names for essentially the same thing in different denominations) used careful words to describe this union; the truth about which is so desperately important to God. Make no mistake, the words “forsaking all others” are not arbitrary, and serve to give us a look deep into the truth about marriage, and thus the heart of God.
To forsake is to give up both title to, and influence from the thing being forsaken. It is to say that any cords of duty, friendship, emotion, or commitment, are void in light of this new vow. The implications are huge. This vow places the marital relationship on a plain in which no other earthly relationship may encroach. Many marriages in our generation would be saved if more people took the time to defend the borders of that plain. That means that as a married person, steps have to be taken to make sure other relationships do no grow to close. In our free emotion society, logical barriers in relationship seem quite archaic, but than again, we are a generation that has more failing relationships than any other in the measured history of such things. The words of Solomon at the end of Proverbs 4 to “guard your heart” go mostly unheeded.
I've stated, I realize without much evidence in this note, that God has given marriage as a window into his economy of life. What then does this simple line teach us about Gods economy? Is there in Love intrinsically some sort of hate? Christ thought so,
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters- yes even his own life- he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
Tough words for the new follower. In a way, like this wedding vow, it is understood that love includes a forsaking of other affections. It is at this point, that if we are truly honest, we will cry out at God. Why should we have to forsake other things to follow him. Is he not the God who gives all good things. Why would he give and take away. Isn't that just like the mischievous child who tantalizes the cat with the toy he knows he will never truly give. The more “pious” among us will have the answer of Job, that “the lord gives and takes away” and basically he's big enough that we can't talk back. This is desperately true, but its not the whole story.
The essential belief here is the value of Gods love, over whatever is being forsaken. As that married couple says that all other friendships pale in comparison to their relationship of vow. I cannot convince you of God's worth, I can only say that if you seek him truly its awesome depth will become more than apparent. The problem, especially for those of us who already believe in God's amazing worth, is the forsaking of all else. Once in my life I thought I had done just that. You may be thinking the same right now as you read this. I know what I thought. I knew I could be poor for God, give of my earthly possessions. I knew I could be uprooted for God, with a willingness to go to the ends of the earth. I even gave God my hopes and dreams, most of them as you'll see, as he changed my course through time. I thought that nothing would usurp my love for God. That was till God decided to take someone I loved.
I had somehow built into my mind that God would somehow never ask for my relationships. You see somehow I thought those were spiritually off limits of his dividing knife of dedication. These relationships were gifts from him were they not? He would never take those? The truth of this marriage vow, is that love without forsaking others, is not really true passionate love. Certainly we can love multiple people at once. We can even show a type of general good will to the world at large. But there is a love, that God reserves for himself, to be reflected in the love of marriage that is unlike any other. And essential to its make up is a holy hatred.
What I had failed to realize, is that our relationships actually pose the largest risk to our spiritual life. What is love? That question is large and complicated. What do I love? Now that question is simple. When something wonderful or inversely horrible happens in your life who do you think first to call? This is probably the person you love most. In a larger spiritual sense, when life gives you trouble, where do you go for comfort? If you're still not sure of the love-idols in your life answer this. “everything would just be ok if________” If you have an answer, chances are you have an Idol.
To love God means that we turn to him as our first source of comfort. If we call anyone, or anything, before him we are not showing true love. Like a marriage vow for spritual life, we have made a commitment to forsake all other forms of comfort. God is the God of all comfort, but unless we realise that any other comfort we see comes from him, its like falling in love with a valentines card, and ignoring the valentine. Is it any surprise, that for our own good, God sometimes has to surgically remove these other forms of comfort in order for us to see his heart. It is when we doubt all else that we truly have the capacity for faith. It is in comfort that faith and love meet. The man who gives up all for the maker of all will find that he has lost nothing.
Forsaking all others, for death shall not part us.