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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Alice's battle

When advice from the godly clashes with the Word of God

Issue: "New breed of homeless," Feb. 28, 2009

Alice is a Christian who is thinking of getting married but she has cold feet. Her best friends are godly women, given to prayer, reverent and pure, doers of good deeds in the name of Jesus. They support Alice in her plan, but gently warn that marriage is not all she dreams of. There is that initial disappointment, always-but don't worry, God gives grace to adjust. Moreover, romance is a passing thing, which God and nature use to further kingdom ends. One should not expect that phase to last.

This is a bit of a downer for Alice, but her friends are godly, as I said, so she works on contented resignation, tamping down her expectation. The girlfriends' counsel colors her thoughts like a low-hanging fog.

But Alice is a woman who for months has been seeking hard after God. In particular she has asked for the mind of Christ. As Jacob and his brother jostled in the womb, so she is feeling nowadays a jostling of two kingdoms in her breast, where formerly there was just one that ruled her uncontested. This is not altogether pleasant, as you can imagine. Something is trying to be born, and it comes not without travail.

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A thought-at first a flash is all it is-breaks in upon familiar dreary circularity. It percolates through layers of hard sediment with a strange suggestion: "I am my beloved's and his desire is for me" (7:10). The Lord loves lovers! It would take fancier hermeneutical skills than Alice possesses to see eight chapters of "Song of Songs" as a bait-and-switch from courtship to a grin-and-bear-it marriage.

Other counselors start piping up from a reservoir of daily devotions: God pronounces all his inventions "good" (Genesis 1). Marriage is God's invention (Matthew 19). Every good gift is from the Father of lights who has no dark sides, nor tricks up his sleeve (James 1:17). If Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8), is it likely he is in heaven hatching scams against us (v.9)? How will God not bless the union he created for the express purpose of reflecting his own Trinitarian love and joy? Conclusion: Do not call disappointing what God has called good.

You have never seen a struggle like Alice's struggle against joy. The doubting Narnian dwarfs were preemptively miserable, and so is Alice. The girlfriends' counsel of lowered expectations mounts a new offensive in her mind. (There is no force so powerful as error in a godly person's mouth.) But just as Alice starts to sink again, the Spirit counters with this coup de grace:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).

Alice perceives in a hot instant that this is not only where the present battle is joined, but where every battle is joined-against the counsel of one's saintliest friend, against the received wisdom of one's generation, against the carnal instinct to protect oneself. There are only ever these two-the Word of the Lord; your own understanding.

It dawns on Alice that at any given moment of the day she has a choice of which thoughts she may entertain-those of her friends and "her own understanding," or the word of the Lord. All that is not the latter is the former, no matter how sweetly wrapped.

"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8).

Everyone says marriage is a flop. Fine. "Let God be true though every one were a liar" (Romans 3:4). That is the weight of the evidence: God on one scale, all men on the other. There is everything you ever heard and feared about marriage on the one hand (every statistic and survey and story of well-meaning Christians), and there is the word of God on the other.

Alice figures that if she is careful to be always coming back from the gloom that seems right in her own eyes to the "whatever is true"-that God is good, that God made marriage for good, that God's vision of marriage is a vision of romance and joy-then she may get over her case of cold feet enough to take the plunge.

If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to aseu@worldmag.com. To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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