Friday, March 6, 2009

The False Idol of Options

So I have a confession.

I watched the antics on The Bachelor this week. I had heard some hype, I had caught bits and pieces in the weeks prior, one of the girls (Molly) is a Pi Phi from IU and a sorority sister of some friends, and I had found myself inside the discussion of rumors about massive drama and spoiled endings. The amount of facebook status updates the night of the finale mentioning the outcome made it clear that the show is a relevant (or at least popular) part of our culture. As an amateur commentator on the culture, I felt obligated to partake. I like to be able to speak intelligently (sometimes, sarcastically) at the proverbial water cooler. So, what the heck? I still was able to watch my mighty Hoosiers give a valiant effort against a Top 10 team, so the extra time could be wasted watching a show that will at worst cause others to doubt my masculinity. Obviously I don’t care what others think. I care about Christ. And I hope He is glorified in this post.

First question I had after the finale shouldn’t surprise you: Is this show serious? Is it real? Honestly, stop me right now if it’s fake (which even if it is, the point of this post has some validity, and so I’ll risk being gullible. You can’t stop me anyway). I mean, c’mon. I laughed multiple times, which sounds cruel.

No one would allow this to happen on national television. They would make an exception. They wouldn’t specifically replace the “after the final rose” show that is supposed to be a celebration of love and commitment with a mockery and terrifying representation of all that is wrong with our culture’s understanding of marriage and love. They wouldn’t allow the sensitivity and delicateness and beauty of a woman’s heart be the casualty in the wake of the “reward” of dramatic television and national rankings. They wouldn’t so obviously present the exact opposite of the way that the Sovereign God of the Universe created us, and call it entertainment. That would be appalling and ridiculous, albeit dramatic, even for a secular television show. They wouldn’t do that. Reality television hasn’t sunk that low. Simon Cowell can tell emotional teenagers that they are horrible and hopeless, but not this. People can be humiliated for their weight every week, but not this. Late night talk shows and morning news programs wouldn’t casually laugh about the “bachelor bombshell”, ignoring the hurt experienced and hopeless statement that was being made about our culture. No, it couldn’t have been real.

Well, I guess it could have been worse. They could have already been married. Maybe that would have been the line. They wouldn’t have aired that interaction. Right? So then the damage control effort the night after the finale was respectable. The new happy couple seems well and good. All is not lost. But much still is.

Let’s be clear. I don’t know why I watched this show. I had other things to do and I take seriously my manhood. This is not great PR. Immediately after watching I grilled a T-bone steak outside in the cold with no shirt and a tallboy to make myself feel better. And even if I was somehow sucked in, I could have easily not told anyone and not felt guilty about being dishonest. I didn't have to post on it. But I guess I just don’t care what you think. I feel a deep conviction to be a voice in the wilderness and bring into this psychotic culture the most true, helpful, soul-satisfying reality in the universe: Jesus Christ. So in the strange and humiliating sovereignty of God, I watched. And I didn’t like what I saw, thought this needed to be said, I opted to tell someone, and I chose the World Wide Web. Hence you are now reading my first (perhaps only) post on dating and relationships. Yikes.

As a disclaimer, I am single. I hope that makes this a lot more personal and non-judgmental and blissfully ignorant. I live my own bachelor experience, and let me tell you: it is nothing like the show. Sometimes I think it is helpful to hear a wise perspective on singleness and dating from someone who, well, is single, because it seems like they would know something about the topic. So if you are single, I hope this can be that for you. If you’re married, the naïveté of this post is maybe laughable to you. That’s ok; you can let me figure it all out on my own. Laugh away.

Being outside of marriage, I can give an honest and pure declaration to every single (unmarried) girl in the world: I believe (and hope!) love is more than feelings, and if I ask you to marry me, I will honor and fight for that. I expect and hope for some pretty amazing feelings, but I will not base my commitment entirely on them, because I know some of them may fade, as emotions typically do.

This doesn’t mean I think it is necessary to unwillingly love someone you don’t have feelings for. This doesn’t mean I think chemistry is unimportant (it is necessary!). This doesn't mean that I think romance ends at any point in a marriage. If you don’t have feelings, don’t commit. If there is bad chemistry, don’t commit. If you don't have the guts or the vulnerability or the desire (or whatever it takes) to romance your wife, don't commit. Once a commitment is made, though, feelings are a bonus, not the main deal. Once a commitment is made, and somewhere down the road chemistry is affected by a fight or a challenge or whatever, that doesn’t mean you bail. Once a commitment is made, realize that romance is not entirely spontanteous, and if it seems to be lacking, that is probably your fault, not hers. It is the same way with Jesus. If love were just about feelings, what a waste. Is that all Jesus’s relationship with His Church is about? Warm and fuzzy? He died because he felt butterflies when he saw us? That is not life-changing or heart-transforming or kingdom-building. That is blasphemy. That is not love. And it doesn’t make much sense anyway considering our sinfulness and inconsistency.

So the issue is not that “the bachelor” changed his mind. The issue is that he became so overwhelmed and confused with his “feelings” that he made a commitment that was false. That is a very bad example. We should be warned. Sure, the commitment of engagement is not quite as binding as the commitment of marriage, so it is admirable that he figured things out before that, but still it is very bad. Fortunately, in the real world, most do not (or could not) put themselves in the situation of falling for two women at the same time (and who both seem to fall for you also – how is this possible, by the way? How could you fall in love with someone who was also falling for someone else?). So maybe the culture is safe from this kind of debacle, and the show is just irrelevant entertainment. More likely though, the example on the show is a watered down version of the brokenness in our swinging / hooking up culture, and it is feeding an already unhealthy perspective of love. That is very bad.

This is not a post on the entire biblical teaching on marriage. Nor is this an exposition on the Song of Songs, and an explanation on whether that book is spiritual allegory or a literal celebration of romance and sex in the context of marriage (or both!) That I will wait to do if and when. This is also not so much a post about love, in the sense of loving our neighbor. I hope that much of that comes up in any other post. This is a plea to not let the reality of love between a man and a woman as taught in the Bible be thrown out with the filthy bath water of reality television. This is a plea to single men to begin to understand the loving part of Ephesians 5 as much if not more than the submitting part. This is a plea to single women to wait for someone who understands love, not just feelings.

I guess the premise of the show was bound to culminate in the disaster of this finale. Unfortunately, this time a person who seems to be a really nice girl with a big heart was the victim. Little did I know that this show has been going on for 13 seasons, and only one couple is still together. Seriously? Little good can happen when you present the concept of love and the pursuit of the holy union of marriage as a selection process. As Mark Dever says, having multiple options is an idol our culture worships to our own destruction. What this basically means is that if we are constantly preoccupied with what could be, from our own selfish, worldly perspective, we will miss what already is, and never experience the relational, loving, sacrificial reality of how God created us. Its not surprising that most of the bachelors or bachelorettes on the show so far have questioned their final decision; if you had 20+ perfect specimens to chose from, of course you are going to consider "what if" with the other options. Maybe the show wouldn't be so ridiculous if it was more about casual dating, and did not require a proposal at the end. That wouldn't be as good television I guess.

Obviously it is possible (though not advisable) to develop romantic feelings for more than one person at the same time. To intentionally orchestrate this is in the form of a TV show is absurd, however entertaining it may be. But you can only “love” one or neither, and I guess Jason was really confused about that concept six weeks ago. And that is a shame. Clearly what was different since his “proposal” with Melissa had nothing to do with Melissa and had everything to do with his remaining “feelings” for Molly. This is not wrong in and of itself, but considering his well-thought out decision to say goodbye to Molly and propose to, and profess his unending love for, Melissa, it represents everything that is wrong with the modern perspective of dating.

As a Christian man, I try to live the truth in the Bible that teaches when we “date”, we should be less concerned with finding the perfect fit for me, and more concerned with becoming the perfect fit for her. Because the “list” will never be completely fulfilled, and we will waste our lives thinking only about ourselves, never make up our mind, and miss the opportunity and eternal joy that comes from serving and loving her. But as I said, the premise of the show made the dramatic outcome almost inevitable, so it’s not Jason’s fault. Right? It’s what the producers have probably been planning all along anyway.

I think it’s time for our culture to stop worrying about who is at fault, and start worrying about what is happening to the most wise, true, and helpful explanation of the universe. Why do we have to ignore the Bible so blatantly when the alternative is a mess? We laugh about in movies like Wedding Crashers the friendly wager about which bible verse will be read at a wedding, and ignore the same verse that could show us the reality that would avoid the pain, confusion, and heartache of broken commitments.

If Jason ever reads this, I hope you find Jesus and someday truly understand His love for you. It is unchanging and unconditional. If Molly ever reads this, I hope you can find the same, and can forgive and encourage Jason daily in the midst of that reality. If Melissa ever reads this, I hope you know and soon realize (or at least begin to anticipate) the riches and blessings that await those whose hearts are fully committed to Him (Jesus). It will all be worth it.

At the end of the day, I don’t think the tragedy is that Jason is in love with Molly instead of Melissa, though for some reason we sympathize much easier with Melissa. The tragedy is that Jason let feelings talk him into a commitment he was not ready for, and we consider this relatively normal. Deeper than that, the tragedy is that a show exists on the premise of falling in love with multiple people and then choosing based on feelings and emotions (which are sometimes hard to discern), where not only are broken commitments a very likely possibility, but they are broadcast for the world to see. And deeper yet, the tragedy is that girls actually submit themselves to this, because they feel they don’t have any other choice, and feel like it is worth it. Maybe because of that, I should be less concerned with their broken hearts and more concerned with the broken culture, and with the men who have chosen women to date and marry based on statistics and feelings, rather than love and commitment; who have in turn given girls the impression that the former is the only option; and who have been the source of countless broken relationships, which have scattered families and crippled our society.

I’m confident Melissa will be ok, especially considering her perspective. Jason and Molly can now pursue a normal, real-life relationship, where there are no divided feelings, and where hopefully they can model what love is supposed to be. The corruption the show entered into their life and relationship is now over. Thank God. But thousands of unnamed single women have been subconsciously deceived about the nature of love, and thousands of lazy men have been further encouraged in their laziness, all in the name of entertainment. That’s just great.

Or it was all an act. Probably. (Hopefully!) But the damage could be the same.

Either way, I will live and love only through the example, and only by the grace, and only because of the Cross, of Jesus Christ. From that, I don’t think the “feelings” that are experienced will disappoint.

But what do I know. (I'm glad this post is over).

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Joey, I could not agree with you more. I watched in shock the dual finale.... No, it couldn't be real.... but maybe it was? The whole thing made me sad. Confused men, desperate women. How our culture has embraced this behavior...
I know all too well how a man's shallow "emotional" commitment can leave a woman standing in the wake of his "confusion" wondering what the heck happened!
Christ's model for love is the only way.
Thanks for your insight. :)
btw - I've really enjoyed reading your blog!