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Why is there so much violence in the Old Testament? How could a loving God allow _______? Isn’t it arrogant to believe Jesus is the only way to God?
How do the above questions pertain to a website about relationships, Joy?
These are all valid questions, but if you’ve spent much time on the Love and Respect Now site you know that I write from a place that not only desires for people to understand and have hope for marriage, healthy dating and significant singleness, but for people to know God.
My friend, Josh, recently came out with a book that addresses some of the toughest questions I have asked about the God of the Bible. He has also written a specific post tying in some of the big themes of his book with an analogy of proposal. I love the imagery he uses and it makes me excited to finish his new book, Skeletons in God’s Closet.Photo by Daniel C. White
Getting ready to pop the question? Want to do it in a “godly” way? Well, maybe we can learn something from the way God proposes.
The cross is God’s marriage proposal to the world: where the Groom bends down on one knee and invites us to become the Bride, to turn from our independence and autonomy, and enter into intimate communion with the very life of God.
What I find interesting, however, are the ways God doesn’t propose. I would suggest if you want to find the best way to ask the love of your life to be with you forever, we can start by observing four ways God’s doesn’t pop the question (though many people seem to think he does) . . . to learn what not to do.
Please, for the love of God (literally), don’t propose like this:
1. “Marry Me and Bring In Your Old Lovers”
God doesn’t bend down on one knee, bust out the ring, and say, “Marry me and bring in your old lovers.” God wants the fullness of who we are with all of who he is, and our old lovers—the gnarly stuff like sin, idolatry and injustice we once gave ourselves to—are like abusive ex-boyfriends with an agenda.
They want to crash the wedding and tear God’s honeymoon suite apart.
Some people think if God truly loved us, he’d just look the other way. But letting our old lovers in wouldn’t be nice—our rebellion is the destructive force that tore our world apart. Our world is redeemed from sin and to God. For God to heal creation but ignore unabashed evil would mean creation hasn’t really been redeemed.
It would be like a doctor saying he’s healed his patient of cancer and ignoring all the incoming tests and X-rays showing the cancer still there. If children are still crying, nations are still warring, and people are still dying—then it isn’t really the new creation.
God loves us too much to do that; he won’t settle for a sham marriage. God’s wedding consummates the union of heaven and earth and God with his people forever. To bring sin into the wedding is to bring our old lovers into God’s honeymoon suite. And God won’t have it.
So propose that the fullness of who you are be joined in union with the fullness of who they are—no intrusive exes allowed to disrupt the flourishing of your new life together.
Which brings us to the next bad marriage proposal.
2. “Marry Me or I’ll Torture You”
This is a really bad way to propose. And unfortunately, this is the way many popular caricatures depict the big, bad, scary topic of hell (one of the topics I tackle in my book). Fortunately, this is not the way the bible depicts things.
God is not a sadistic torturer.
I grew up on Bill & Ted’s excellent adventures and bogus journeys where, like most popular Hollywood images, hell is an underground torture chamber: deep in the belly of the earth, where little red devils with pointy tails and pitchforks poke at you for eternity.
But these images are pretty silly. In Scripture, hell’s location is not underground, its purpose is not torture, and its construction is not a chamber (here’s a quick video where I talk about this more).
If someone proposed saying, “Marry me or I’ll torture you,” we would rightly be horrified . . . and lock them up. This is not how God proposes, and not how we should either.
3. “Marry Me or I’ll Kill You”
If we reject God’s wedding proposal, some have found annihilation to be God’s most merciful option for dealing with our stubborn rebellion. But I think there are a few significant problems with it.
First, it’s like God saying, “Marry me or I’ll kill you.” This is a REALLY bad way to propose!! Don’t do it. If you’re considering it, call Joy! She’ll help you think through a better way . . . or she’ll call the police.
It’s also problematic because Christ has conquered death. The grave is no longer an option. Jesus has torn down the gates to the graveyards, raided our coffins, and closed forever the dark road leading down into the depths of the earth. So this minimizes the life-giving power of Jesus’ victory over death.
Some people find God killing the marriage-rejecters more merciful because they’re responding to the caricature of torture. “Why can’t God simply put them out of their misery?” But as already mentioned, this is not the way the gospel works: God is not a sadistic torturer.
If you knew a guy who asked the love of his life to marry him and she rejected the proposal, you’d hope he had the maturity to simply move on and let her go her own way. If he killed her for turning him down, we would think him small, vindictive, and cruel.
And we’d lock him up as a criminal.
4. “Marry Me or I’ll Lock You in the Basement”
Finally, some have found God’s most merciful option to be a universalism in which he sends unrequited lovers downstairs to purge them of their sin until all are eventually redeemed into his kingdom. Once again, however, there is a major common-sense problem with this. It is like God saying, “Marry me or I’ll lock you in the basement until you learn to love me.”
We know from common courtesy and everyday experience that the most mature response to a rejected marriage proposal is not to abduct the unrequited lover and lock them in your basement, but simply to let them go their own way.
Abduction of any kind is a bad marriage proposal.
Once again, folks are usually responding here to the caricature of torture. If annihilation tries to get rid of torture by simply killing the unrequited lover, universalism tries to find a constructive use for it: such as dealing with our sin. Both are problematic because they are responding to a caricature to begin with.
Fortunately, if we reject Jesus’ marriage proposal, he does not torture us for our redemption; he allows himself to be tortured by us for our redemption.
Jesus delights to embrace us, grace and goodness beckon from God’s city, but our independence, autonomy and pride must be left at the door. To ask Jesus to redeem us from sin is to ask for what he has already graciously provided on the cross.
Our problem is not God’s refusal to marry us, but our refusal to be bound in union with him. Asking God to redeem our refusal of redemption is to ask for a contradiction: it is like asking God to let us accept the marriage proposal and never have to see him again.
5. “Marry Me or Go Your Own Way”
God is good. Gloriously good. Better-than-we-can-ask-or-imagine good. And he shows us a good way to pop the question. With sacrificial love, we vulnerably open ourselves up to the possibility of rejection, of being wounded, as we propose, “Marry me . . . or go your own way.”
God invites us into marital union with him, but he creates a space for those who prefer independence to communion, who want autonomy over worship, who desire sin over salvation. This is, so far as I can tell, the most merciful option God has for a rejected marriage proposal.
And in the gospel, this is the option he takes.
Jesus invites us into union with God, adulterous rebels that we are. God’s arms are wide open, inviting us to turn from our sin and be healed in his care! The Great Physician loves to heal, the Lamb desires to forgive, the King freely offers amnesty to all who will receive it and be made citizens of his kingdom.
God doesn’t torture, kill or lock us in his basement. And he doesn’t settle for an open marriage. So please, for the love of God (literally), don’t pursue the love of your life in those ways either!!
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Thank you Joy for posting this powerful article, and thank you Joshua for writing it. I look forward to reading the book. Your statement, “The cross is God’s marriage proposal to the world: where the Groom bends down on one knee and invites us to become the Bride, to turn from our independence and autonomy, and enter into intimate communion with the very life of God,” is very powerful. I had never seen the image of the cross as a marriage proposal. Thank you for illuminating the cross in this way.
Thanks so much Beth! So grateful you enjoyed it. 🙂
-2. “Marry Me or I’ll Torture You”- I think is the biggest one many of my non-Christian friends struggle with. I’ll be book marking this post [at least until I own “The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War”] for those awkward conversations with friends I love whom I have not yet scared away by my love for Jesus. Sometimes you just can’t explain things you know in your heart and I think Josh does a great job putting the answers to those tough questions in to words.
Thanks Crystal! Glad to hear it was helpful and hope you enjoy the book–would love to hear your thoughts once you’ve had a chance to dive in!
Thanks Lisa! Glad you enjoyed it.
Ha ha! Thanks Paul, glad to have been instrumental in the liberation of your captive. 🙂 And totally, the relational “love-story” dynamic changes everything–grateful for the feedback!
I think too often it’s too easy for us to believe lies about the way God loves us, because we so often compare it to the ways others love us. I love how Josh used those ways and solidly debunked them as lies for how God loves us. His love is so much bigger and so further beyond what we think, and He just wants us to see that Truth and live in faithful marriage to Him and His ways. Thanks for speaking that Truth into our lives!
Thanks Karleigh! So glad you enjoyed it.
Very good points, I find the clear perspective about assumptions we put on God that we would think absurd if someone made that same assumption of our motives or tactics. I think in many ways our desire to control and our egos try to create a “Let’s negotiate an Arranged Marriage” to see what we can keep or what we bring to the table.
Very good point, the perspective of clearly looking at the assumptions we make of God that we would think absurd if anyone made the same assumption of our motives and tactics is thought provoking. I think many times we also try to maintain control and feed our egos with a “Let’s negotiate an Arranged Marriage” idea. We try to reach an agreement on what we can keep and/or show what we can bring to the table.
Thanks Troy! So glad you enjoyed it.
Thanks Jenny! I’m glad to hear it was helpful.
“Marry Me and Bring In Your Old Lovers” — This one is interesting to me because so many people carry “baggage” from past relationships into their new ones. Just as God wants us to cast away our past sins and idols, we should not carry our old relationships with us. That’s not to say they won’t affect us or that we shouldn’t learn from them, but people have to leave their past pains behind them. Sometimes that’s difficult and that’s where good counseling and good friends are important. They can help you work past the pains and leave the baggage at the door.
On a different note, I got your book last week and started reading it this morning. It is fantastic. I’ve already learned so much, and my perspective of God, heaven, earth, and hell have been transformed.
Thanks Nathan! Appreciate the interaction with the piece, and so glad to hear the book has been helpful. Thanks for the feedback. 🙂
Thank you Joy and Joshua.
As far as this blog, I am reminded of some thoughts I had the other day.
I am single and was thinking about my current walk with God and what it might look like when I am married.
So I got to thinking how if relationship with God is now and how “intimate” our relationship is, versus how I would prefer it to be. I see it as my relationship is more of a checklist of Bible reading and my prayer list and different church activities. So bottom line, is my relationship with God growing and looking like something I would want.
This blog, along with the preview video for the book, reminded me more of God’s heart.
Thank you guys again,
Thanks Christopher! So grateful for your feedback and glad to hear it was helpful. Best wishes!
Such an interesting take! I am studying through Hosea right now and so much of this goes with that story!
Thanks Kristi! Definitely, I love Hosea and these themes are so richly present there. Appreciate the feedback!
I appreciate this article a lot. When I first was going through I was like yes, yes this is true but no one, or at least not Christians, really approach proposals in this way. Perhaps inward they may feel these ways, but they don’t actually express it because that would be insane. But if that were true there wouldn’t be this article. It reminded me that I have known guys who call themselves Christians that have actually proposed in one or more of these ways and girls who don’t think these proposals are out of line. This blows my mind. But the article shows that people, even those who think they are saturated in the Word, can greatly distort the truth of God’s character, ignore it, and/or struggle with deep fears (like being rejected). I like that this topic brings out more that is going on in a deeper level and it can be applied to other areas like work and friendships. We don’t misuse God just for the sake of it but to mask our fears (i.e being rejected). We’d rather be abusive, do wrong, or tolerate hurt/sin than be rejected. And when we feel and think this way it reveals that we are missing the truth of Christ in which we have no need to fear for our identity and worth is in him. I think is a great step to reaching through these issues. Thank you and I look forward to more of it!
Thanks so much Temery! Sorry I missed responding to this sooner, but so grateful for your interaction and feedback with the article!
Thanks Rachel, so glad you enjoyed the article!
Interesting, and I think effective, analogy. This is the first I’ve heard it and it’s given me things to think about. I like that the torture and just (mercy) kill a reject-er were made different, as they are different. I’ll be looking up more of Joshua’s writings – thank you for sharing this one with us!
Thanks Jennifer, so glad you enjoyed the article!