A + B = C. 1 + 2 = 3. All of these are equations, and simple ones at that. Ask anyone who loves math why they love math and you’re almost certain to get the same answer. They will say that the beauty in math is that it doesn’t change. You can debate politics, economics, literature, film, history even, but not math. One plus one equals two, period. If you debate this you are… a moron. There is a sense of comfort in that consistency, a sense of control. It’s still difficult, but it’s just a puzzle to be unlocked, and the formula works. If you don’t get the answer right then it is your fault. All variation of outcome rests on your shoulders. The formula works. It is up to you to fill in the blanks and work the formula to its definite conclusion.
It really does have its own beauty, and the draw is real in a world that is ever changing and complex. 1 + 2 = 3. Formulas work… with numbers. What happens when we start to use formulas with people?
“Well, Nicholas, who cares? People don’t use formulas with people really.”
Don’t they though?
One of my best friends recently got engaged. My friend had been previously married and went through divorce. His wife cheated on him sexually and then abandoned him. He was one of the greatest husbands I had ever seen. Everyone who knew him throughout his marriage would say the same thing. His ex-wife concurred throughout the entire process of her cheating and leaving that he was so wonderful that it made her sick. It irked her that she had no real leg to stand on and get upset, to blame. She would talk about how good he was with complete vitriol as she spiraled away from goodness and from him. Time passed. As I said, he is now engaged to a woman he has fallen in love with. It should be a time of celebration, and joy, and in most ways it is.
However, there has been enormous surprise though in the form of doubt from his fiancés friends and family. Pre-divorce, this man was the man all parents and friends wanted to marry their daughters, their friends. Post-divorce, he has been doubted at every corner, every turn. Even after people get to know him, there is doubt. Yes, SHE cheated. SHE left. Yet, there must have been a reason. There must be some unsavory secret lurking in the closet. That is always the thinking that comes from the people who doubt. No matter how many times he recounts the tale of what occurred he is always asked skeptically, “What did you do?” When he asks them to clarify they always say something like, “Well, you talk about what SHE did, but what did YOU do?”
Question. Why must he have done something? Why must her leaving be his fault in any way at all? Is she not a human endowed with her own free will?
Let’s take a look at another story for the answer.
Another friend of mine recently walked out in the middle of a sermon. The pastor at her church was giving the second sermon in a five part series on marriage. Sermon one, a week earlier, had been on men and their roles within marriage. This was sermon two, and was dealing with women and their role. The pastor came around to the subject of divorce. He urged everyone that was in a struggling marriage to stick it out. He talked about God’s design for marriage, talked about how those that did go through divorce that there was forgiveness, redemption, and hope. My friend, who divorced her husband due to sexual infidelity and drug addiction nodded knowingly through all of this. It wasn’t until the pastor started talking about how women could, through certain actions, bring about the change they wanted in their husbands. The list began. After the first item she nodded, thinking, “I did that.” Then the next item. She did that. The next. Did that too. On and on it went until she just couldn’t take it any longer. She walked out of that sermon knowing that she did all of those things and it did not change her husband. She knew them throughout her marriage. People told her that if she just loved her husband better then he would change. Her actions would melt his heart. They didn't.
That pastor was doing his best, but he had no idea that he had done something very dangerous. He put people into a formula, and while formulas work with numbers, they don’t work with people. Everything he had told those women to do was spot on. There is no trouble there. The trouble was telling them that such actions could, indeed WOULD, change the actions and heart of their husbands. My friend is the prime example of how that is not true.
People are not numbers. Numbers do not change. Four is four is four. People change constantly. We change so much we aren’t even always sure what is going on inside our own selves. That is how stupidly complicated we are.
This concept is not in any way limited to marriage and divorce. The idea of simplifying humanity into a formula pops up in the Bible. Check this out…
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Read that. The people talking to Jesus saw these horrible things happening to these people and instead of seeing it as injustice, instead of putting the blame on Pilate and the Romans whom had mixed their blood with sacrifices, or in the case of the tower, gravity, they assumed that those who were killed had done something to deserve such misfortune.
Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
1As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
Here it is again. This time it isn’t just people, but Jesus’ disciples. They come upon a man who is born blind and instead of seeing it as misfortune they assume that either he or his parents had sinned. There is a loooooooong heritage of people oversimplifying in the Christian faith. I’ve known people who were battling cancer and instead of receiving encouragement were instead chastised. You see, they would be healed if only they had enough faith. They were still sick. Ergo, they did not have enough faith.
“Nick, that’s crazy talk. Some outlandish people might do that, but not your average Christian.”
Maybe not about healing sickness, no. About marriage and relationships? You bet.
We need to feel we’re in control. We need things to be understandable. In church, we feel we need to have answers, definitive ones. If we don’t have an answer for everything then somehow that might mean we’re not worth coming to? I don’t know. Answers must be had though, and so we reach to that same place of peace we find in math. We think, “God loves marriage and hates divorce, ergo, he would not let a marriage between two God following people end in divorce.” Hey, God also hates death, but it is still coming. God hates sickness, but no one lives a perfectly healthy life.
Most Christians have come to see the prosperity gospel as silly, yet we have adopted that gospel, not with money, but with our families. Surely, if I love God and my wife loves God then there is no chance for failure. Surely, if I raise my children in the way of the Lord, they will grow to love Him as I love Him. Yet, we all know that when we get beyond the fantasy and look at life, at our experiences, we know differently. Have we not all known someone amazing who has been left? Have we not all known an amazing set of parents who had a child become wayward? I’ve read the Bible and have yet to see a verse promising such things. Have you? Where is the verse that promises that “if you love your spouse how you should they won’t leave and will become the spouse you wish them to be?” The verse that says, “if you raise your children as the Bible says that you are guaranteed that they will grow up to be as you hoped” is where? For that matter, where is any verse in the Bible that says that your obedience in any way is guaranteed to alter the actions of another person ever?
I’ll give you a hint… there isn’t one. Okay, that’s not a hint. You caught me.
“Nicholas, no. It says in Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and when they are old they will not turn from it. Boom!”
That is not a promise. It is a Proverb. A proverb is defined as a brief popular saying that gives advice about how people should live or express a belief that is generally thought to be true. Thus sayeth Merriam and Webster. Before you tell me that you don’t care about what some secular source says a Proverb is, here are some resources, all gotten from the first page of Google with “Are proverbs promises” in the search bar. Feel free to go see your self. Here are some of the sites…
These articles weren’t written by hippies here, with John Piper and James Dobson amongst the writers. In the article written by Dr. Dobson he expounds on not just this one proverb as not always being true but goes through a list of others, as he says,
"Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth" (10:4). (Have you ever met a diligent--but poor--Christian? I have.)
"The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it" (10:22).
"The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short" (10:27). (I have watched some beautiful children die with a Christian testimony on their lips.)
"No harm befalls the righteous, but the wicked have their fill of trouble" (12:21).
"Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed" (15:22).
"Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life" (16:31).
"The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (16:33).
"A tyrannical ruler lacks judgment, but he who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long life" (28:16).
There is no promise that you can manipulate another person through your obedience or faith. Each person is accountable for only their sin. Deuteronomy 24:16 says a parent is not to be executed for a child’s sin nor vise versa, as each is punished for their own sin. How can this be true if Proverbs 22:6 is a promise? Would that not make the parents culpable? Also, were this a promise, then you, not God, would be saving your child. It would be your works that saved them, not God’s grace. We know this to be false.
Point is that all of these situations are formulas, and all of them fail. They don’t just fail the people who have them hit them directly. They hurt everyone. How much better would our marriages be if we didn’t rest on this fake formula? Mightn’t we be more active in our pursuit of our spouse? Would we not be infinitely more capable of encouraging those who have been left by their spouses, had children go astray, are estranged from their parents, a friend, are dealing with illness or some other life horror? We would. There is no doubt. There may be a sense of security in trusting the formula, but it is false security, as people aren’t numbers.
If we got rid of trusting these stupid formulas…
…my friend could be simply celebrating his engagement. The people around his fiancé would be ecstatic, as they would see that their friend was about to marry one of the best men alive. They would meet his story with empathy instead of doubt.
…the blind man would have been met with help and empathy instead of judgment, as if his life had not been hard enough.
…those who died at the hand of Pilate and under the tower in Siloam would have been mourned properly instead of their legacy being invoked with shame.
…we will not doubt God’s goodness when the formula fails, as we will already know the formula was fantasy and not from God. We will love our spouse as we ought and God will still be good regardless of their response, as we will now know there was never a guarantee of change. We will be evermore patient when our child doesn’t respond to our Godly parenting. We will not hate ourselves, nor God, as it was never in our power to control another, even one who is in our stewardship. We will go to God, not our own actions, to change the hearts of others.