Aimee Byrd wrote a really useful blog post on why ‘Jesus Calling’ is a really popular book among Christians, but also why it is not a helpful book to be reading. What I particularly loved about this blog, however, was that it didn’t just write off ‘Jesus Calling’ and then leave it there: it went on to suggest an alternative – ‘A Vine Ripened Life’. This I found particularly encouraging as all too often we’re very ready to critique a book (or idea, or policy, or any other number of things) but not offer something more positive or helpful in its place. Simply ruling something negative out just leaves a vacuum, it doesn’t actually go very far in growing a person positively. And I think we’ve seen a lot of this recently in Christian responses to 50 Shades of Grey.
So, here’s my Read This Not That offering: ‘Read Redeeming Love, Not 50 Shades of Grey’.
Don’t Read 50 Shades
I realise I’m pretty late to the anti-50 Shades blogging party! In many ways, that ship has sailed. But in all the reviews and analyses I’ve read, there’s never been an alternative suggested to those who might be tempted to read 50 Shades. And also, I haven’t actually read it. So I am about to commit that cardinal sin of commenting on something I haven’t read – but I think I have read enough reviews (and seen enough adverts) to get a broad idea of what the book is about.
My understanding is that it tells the tale of a young virgin woman who falls for the ever-so-dashing heart-throb Mr Grey who, it turns out, has a tendency to be dominating and controlling – both in the bedroom and out of it. This story line has attracted many readers and has seen hoards of well-educated self-respecting women flock to the cinemas to watch Mr Grey in action. Adverts all over social media reading ‘Mr Grey will see you now’ allude to what is apparently every woman’s desire to be ‘seen’ by their own version of the desperately desirable man himself.
What I find so disturbing about this apparent lust for our own Mr Grey’s is that it shows how warped our notions of love have become: something that is at its source quite beautiful and Biblical has become twisted into something very ugly and abusive. It highlights how, in our sinful world, the notions of headship and submission have mutated into domination and assault. It is no longer beautiful and representative of Christ and His church, but is the sinful and fallen grotesqueness of Satan’s lies.
So, why is it so desirable? Why do Christian and non-Christian women read the books and go to the cinema and, quite frankly, find it erotic? Here’s my (completely unprofessional and untrained) thought: because we are created by God, as women, to need to submit. It’s not something that we necessarily can do easily (otherwise it wouldn’t be commanded in the Bible because it would happen naturally), or indeed something that we should do lightly, but we are called first to submit to Christ and then, if we have one, to our husband. And, subsequently, we are also created with a need to know that we are lovingly and self-sacrificially led – first by God and then, again if we have one, by our husbands. But in the same way as our need to worship is warped by our seeking out and creating idols which can only fail us, this need to be able to learn to submit to a head is warped by the so-called ‘leadership’ of men who ‘lead’ in a dominating way.
But, can I ask, if you’ve ever desired your own 50 Shades experiences – would you hope for the same for your daughter? Is it the kind of relationship you would want for her? Jesus said, ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him’. (Matthew 7:11) If we, as sinful parents, would not desire a relationship for our daughters which is controlling and dominating (and possibly abusive), why would we think that that is what God, who is the perfect parent, wants for us? Maybe somewhere along the line we’ve lost our identities as daughters of the King of kings; as adopted by the true and living God. If we wouldn’t want to see our daughters with Mr Grey, then perhaps we need to remember whose daughter we are, and how our identities as daughters of God should be shaping our desires for our earthly relationships.
Read ‘Redeeming Love’
On the other hand, Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers, I’ve found really helpful in exploring God’s heart for our relationships as His daughters. It’s a (very) fictional re-telling of the book of Hosea (a prophet commanded by God to marry a prostitute to demonstrate God’s love for Israel). In Redeeming Love we see the prostitute (Sarah) journey through three defining relationships.
Initially she is in a very abusive and dominating relationship with the man she was sold into prostitution to as a child. She thinks she loves him: she thinks he provides for her and protects her, but eventually realises that this is not the case and flees, unfortunately only finding herself a prostitute again in another place.
Eventually she marries Hosea, who strives to love her as God loved Israel. Obviously as in this story he is a fictional character he is able to do an almost perfect job at it and demonstrates at every level true and masculine love towards her. But this isn’t enough. He is a mere man and cannot heal the deep wounds she has suffered. She needs to know and experience the truly perfect saving love of God, and accept it as wholly enough for her (the final defining relationship), before she can enter into a mutually loving marriage relationship.
The point is that no man can be enough or love perfectly enough. We must find our desires for love satisfied in God, and that must be enough for us. We cannot pin our hopes for love on anyone other than God. Any loving relationship on earth can only shadow that of God’s love. Whether married or single our relationship with the Father, and the self-sacrificing perfect love that he bestows upon us, must be our primary and defining love relationship. Marriage can, and should, point to the relationship that we and the Church have with Christ, but it cannot take the place of it. Our identity must be found in Christ, and so too must our need and desire for love, protection and guidance.
So my point is this: don’t read 50 Shades of Grey and allow yourself to dwell on an ugly, twisted version of something that should be so beautiful and liberating. Rather, read Redeeming Love. And when you find yourself thinking, ‘I wish someone would love me like Hosea loves Sarah’ remember that God does, and that this is the point of the story of Hosea. And if God does call you into marriage, never lose your identity as His daughter and know that the King of kings wants to give his daughter the gift of a husband who will strive to love her like Christ loves the Church. But always remember that God’s great love is unchanging and perfect, and it is not your husband’s love that is your ultimately defining relationship, but God’s.