“Looking up ‘Love’ in God’s Dictionary” &
“The Right Thing at the Wrong Time is the Wrong Thing”
This week we’re entering the second Part of IKDG: “The Heart of the Matter.” I was hoping this meant that we’d be digging into different ideas, but so far these two chapters were repetitive. There’s building your argument, and then there’s just restating yourself, and Joshua is going in circles at this point. However, it did make it clear that there are two realities that are affecting his judgment: 1) his utter lack of experience, and 2) the cynicism and suspicion he’s been taught to see The World through. These combine to form an inaccurate understanding of how The World actually works; a side-effect is that he’s far too sanguine about fellow Christians and their behavior.
For example, he cites Eric and Leslie Ludy (although he doesn’t use their last name, which seemed odd to me) as a model for how courtship should work and why it’s successful, contrasting it with a high school friend who lied to his parents in order to sleep with his girlfriend. However, he does nothing to address the fact that in the early days of their speaking tours, the Ludys talked about the fact that they didn’t consummate their marriage for over a year. Joshua presents them as the ideal: “You’d be hard pressed to find two more romantic people” (61), but he glosses over (or doesn’t know about) their lack of sex, which Joshua has argued is central to marriage.
In the next chapter he cites William Bennett, using a parable of Bennett’s creation about self-discipline and patience, concluding with Bennett’s line:
“Too often, people want what they want … right now. The irony of their impatience is that only by learning to wait, and by a willingness to accept the bad with the good, do we usually attain those things that are truly worthwhile. (76)
This statement serves as the chapter’s main thesis, except … Bennett had such a severe gambling problem that he lost millions of dollars in Vegas. But sure. It’s “The World” that has the problem with selfishness and impatience.
I’m also worried about Joshua’s view of sex. He has consistently portrayed sex as something that happens primarily because of selfishness, because a person is consumed about their own gratification– and has applied this definition to his own view of sex. This worries me because what you believe about the nature of sex doesn’t change simply because you signed a piece of paper. If he thinks that sex outside of marriage can only be selfish (65), what miracle happens to suddenly transform selfishness into benevolence when a couple signs on the dotted line?
His lack of experience shines through here: he doesn’t believe it is possible for sex outside of marriage to be anything except selfishly motivated. And sure, it frequently can be. However, that’s not an intrinsic part of pre-marital sex, but a problem with the individual person. In my experience, pre-marital sex was one of the most affirming, life-giving, healing, and beneficial experiences of my life. With Handsome’s help, I was able to overcome some elements of my PTSD. If we’d waited until we were married to start exploring this area of our relationship, I am 100% positive that it would have been disastrous for us. In our case, it was the least selfish thing we could do for each other.
He’s being overly cynical about what sex outside of marriage can look like for people. It’s probable he’s only ever heard horror stories used to bolster the abstinence-only position. If someone ever came into his church’s pulpit and said “we had sex before we got married and everything was fine” I’ll eat my hat. Except, for a lot of people, that is the reality of their experience– everything was fine.
One of his points is that “Love must be sincere,” following Romans 12:9. He uses this to denounce the “fact” that dating comes with a “an angle, a hidden agenda” (70). He describes a conversation he once heard between young men where they talked about negging (although he doesn’t use that term) and other manipulative PUA-style tactics. So while I agree with him that love is sincere and honest, and he’s right to condemn horrible things like negging, he’s holding up betas and PUAs like they’re the standard form of secular dating. Hint: they’re not.
He also condemns the type of boyfriend who says “If you really loved me, you’d do it” (65) but infuriatingly ignores the ubiquitousness of “if you don’t sleep with your husband, you don’t love him (and you’re responsible if he cheats on you!)” in his complementarian culture.
In the next chapter he breaks down what he views as cultural problems that affect romantic relationships, like how The World is supposedly all about impatience– and the more impatient our culture becomes, it affects how we treat sex, such as having it at increasingly early ages. Spoiler alert: the trend at the time Joshua wrote IKDG was actually the opposite of this. The rate of girls ages 15-19 who’d had sex fell by 8% from 1988 to 1995, and that trend continued past the original publishing of IKDG. Today, the average age for a woman to have sex for the first time is 17, and the number of high-schoolers who say they’ve had sex has dropped below 50%.
But, little things like facts and research shouldn’t stand in the way of a perfectly good pearl-clutching moment.
The latter half of this chapter is dedicated to the concept that you have to trust God and their perfect timing, which is one of the primary messages of purity culture. If you try to rush things, you’ll inevitably be losing out on “God’s best.” Wait for the person God has for you. God knows best. God knows better than you ever could. You can’t be allowed to make your own decisions because you will screw it up.
This is all based in a view of God that is primarily punitive:
God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloodied man hangs and says, “This is love.” God always defines love by pointing to His Son. This was the only way our sins could be forgiven. The innocent One took the place of the guilty–He offered himself up to death so that we could have eternal life. God’s perfect love for a fallen world is more clearly seen in the death of His Son. (67)
My marginalia for this section is “UGH.” Because that specific understanding of the Atonement is supposed to be viewed by us as the pinnacle of love. God points at the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, the beating, the misery, and says “that’s what love looks like“? It looks like violence and terror? It looks like an execution performed by the state? Just … this articulation always makes me want to beat my head into the wall. I also find it disturbing that, according to penal substitionary atonement theory, it is impossible for God to be merciful and forgiving. They must exact vengeance, a price. Sin must be paid for, or we will all burn in hell.
That’s not love. That’s not forgiveness. That’s not mercy.
Jesus paints such a different portrait of God. In his Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Jesus portrays God as a king who forgives his servant of an enormous debt– a number that would look something like $10 million dollars when you make $30,000 a year. He forgives the debt for no other reason than that his servant begs him to be merciful, and he is. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus says. A king who forgives incomprehensible debt for no reason besides mercy.
But if your view of God is the opposite of this, then of course it makes sense to see our human relationships as being extremely precarious. There’s no room for grace or second chances, of making mistakes and learning from them, if this is who you think God is.