A few weeks ago I gave the chapel devotion at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High, speaking on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. I decided that my approach would be to write a story. What follows is that story.
I am big fan of fantasy and science fiction stories. True, I love almost any well-written story, but when I have my choice, I reach for the stuff with dragons or spaceships on the cover. And if there’s one thing any good fantastical story needs, it’s a good villain. I don’t mean a villain who is morally good, I mean a villain who is so compelling, so intriguing, and so convincingly wicked that you just can’t help but turn the next page to find out how he’s going to get his comeuppance. You know who I’m talking about – Sauron, the Emperor, the White Witch, Arawn of Annuvin.
I think what captivates me is the idea that I can step into the shoes of the hero who overcomes the villain. I can imagine how I would meet the challenge, and I can celebrate with the hero the victory as good triumphs over evil. As I imagine, I can begin to think about the challenges and villains in my own life and – maybe even just subconsciously – figure out ways to overcome them.
So who are the villains in my life? Who are the villains in your life? Who is the super evil, arch-nemesis villain who consistently is at the center of every diabolical plan that has ruined your day, your year, or your life?
If you’re like me, you are probably tempted to point the finger of blame. Maybe it’s a person who constantly grieves you. Maybe it’s an entity that you feel is corrupt to its core. Probably at the extreme you want to just blame the devil and let it be known that if not for him, your life would be peachy.
But have you ever read one of those stories where the real villain is not some boogey man but actually someone familiar? Maybe it’s a fellow countryman, a relative, a friend, or a mentor. For instance, in Lord of the Rings while Sauron is the big bad guy, the real villain that hounds the story is Gollum, a creature that was once a Hobbit, just like Frodo. And there’s Saruman, the good-wizard-turned-bad whose betrayal facilitated some of the biggest disasters for the Fellowship. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, sorry, but I love the Lord of the Rings and I think it serves as an excellent example of literature).
The thing about those stories is that even with the big bad guy out of the picture, those close-to-home villains are still bad. Evil doesn’t disappear just because the evil mastermind is defeated. That’s a major theme of many stories, that evil is never so easily defeated.
Well, in the same way, this is our reality as well. What if God completely destroyed the devil? What if he locked him up forever and took away all his power to tempt you and effect the world in any way? Do you think you’d wake up and have no more problems? Do you think your life would just be peachy?
You know it wouldn’t. I know it wouldn’t. Because even without the devil, you and I still have a problem.
It’s you. It’s me.
I’m the real villain of my story.
The fact is, Jesus did take away the devil’s power. The devil can tempt me all he wants, he can’t make me sin. The devil can try all he wants to make my life miserable, God will still make it turn out for my good. So why do I still have problems?
Because I’m the villain of my story.
I can’t be the hero. I don’t have what it takes. I can’t overcome the challenges, I can’t save the day. The best I can hope for is the tragic death, where I am consumed by my villainous nature and bring about my own ruin.
But you know which villains I find the most compelling, the most attractive, the most interesting? It’s the villains who don’t meet a tragic and horrible end, but who find redemption in the end. The ones who are known for all their wickedness and are loved anyway. The ones the hero will risk everything, even his own life, to rescue. Darth Vader. Gnag the Nameless. You. Me.
See, the real hero of the story is Jesus. He saw us, in all our wickedness, and he loved us. He put everything on the line, sacrificed his life to redeem us.
I don’t think we’re always so comfortable with this notion. We still want to be part of the solution. We want to be part of the heroism. But we’ll only really understand what it means to be redeemed if we first see that we are the villains. Then we can let the hero be the hero.
I’m not usually inclined to pay a lot of attention to the shenanigans that take place on Reddit, a site that, as far as I can tell, is devoted to sharing with anonymous strangers all the things you find interesting, amusing, entertaining, or inappropriate. So, basically like Facebook, only they aren’t people you kinda sorta know/have met once/are related to.
But today someone posted something on Facebook about something that happened on Reddit (how’s that for going down the rabbit hole?) that really caught me. It caught me because I think it is illustrative of a much too common problem in our culture. Several problems, really, but all related, and all have a major impact on marriages.
I’ll explain what I mean in a moment. First, here’s what happened: A woman was on her way to the airport to go on a business trip. While in the taxi she received an email from her husband, a somewhat sarcastic rant about the fact that their sex life had become nearly non-existent, along with a spreadsheet in which he documented 7 weeks worth of his attempts to initiate sex and her response – usually excuses not to do it. The article that explained this presented just the facts, mostly in the form of quotes from the woman. But that is, of course, part of the problem – we have only her perspective on the issue. There’s no clear information about how long he’s been frustrated, how many times he’s brought it up, how she responded to his attempts to talk it through. All we have is the story of his – admittedly – terrible approach to dealing with the issue. So everyone can point the finger at the puerile and inconsiderate man.
I feel like I see this more and more, and it really bothers me – a husband and wife come into conflict, somehow the details become public online, and all we really get is the wife’s perspective on how awful her husband is. And I’ve seen this everywhere from friends posting about their own issues on Facebook to articles posted on sites like Huffington Post. Almost universally, the wife receives all manner of love and support and people join her in bad-mouthing the husband, and meanwhile we never really hear his side of the story.
The thing is, with this Reddit story I’m not sure I need the husband’s side of the story to have some serious questions about the woman’s character.
1. Why is a young wife with no kids withholding sex from her husband? This is actually a significant problem in marriages today. Marriage researchers estimate that about 15-20% of marriages could be defined as “sexless,” where the couple has sex 10 times or fewer in a year. But an anatomist will tell you that the average man needs a sexual release about every 72 hours. Which means that the ideal total for a year should be more like 100+.
2. Why is his frustration and record keeping such a surprise to her? Her husband regularly tried to initiate sex with her. She regularly rebuffed him. It’s one thing for sex to not be on a woman’s radar – for many women sex is only on the radar a few days out of the month unless she makes a conscious effort. It’s one thing for her to not be entirely aware of how infrequent it is – most women believe they make love with their husbands more often than they actually do. But she should have had at least an awareness that him asking for sex and her saying no was becoming a pretty common scenario.
3. Why is she sharing about it on Reddit!? I mean, really? Don’t wait until you can address it with him, just hop online and give everyone you don’t know the scoop? How is this a wise way to address the problem?
4. Why doesn’t she see herself as at least partially responsible? When a person feels they are in the wrong, it is not typical to go and smear the other person. Usually this kind of behavior is reserved for those who are oblivious to their own faults. It seems a little strange that she couldn’t look at something objective like a record of the high incidence in which she has said “no” and say to herself, “Gee, I kinda caused this, didn’t I?”
Here’s where I think all these things tie together: They all are a natural outgrowth of a growing culture that emphasizes female empowerment and female value while simultaneously devaluing male characteristics and roles. As our society lurches away from the traditional like it’s a bad small, it is naturally going to stumble into exactly this kind of problem – a marriage in crisis with a wife unable to see her role in the problem, looking instead to the world around her for validation and affirmation.
The problems with modern feminism and progressivism are points for a different day. But it is important to see how they have a tendency to hamper perspective. They make assumptions about who or what is at fault, and refuse to examine their own motives critically.
What if instead of viewing this through her own lens, and instead of giving it up to the people of the internet to look at it through their lenses, she had instead tried to look at it through her husband’s lens? What if she had made herself consider it all from his perspective? What if she had done so weeks, months before? Wouldn’t that have gone a long way to making this better?
We’re all a little myopic, though. We all have the tendency to only look at our own side of the story. We think we understand the situation perfectly already because we’ve examined it from our own perspective. But this story demonstrates two very important things:
- We cannot afford to look at things only from our own perspective. Only God is omniscient and truly understands all things. We have to force ourselves to look at it from other ends. When we don’t, we’re likely to not realize that there’s a beam of wood sticking out of our own eye.
- We cannot afford to listen to the world’s doctrine of who we are. In the case of this story, a negative outgrowth of progressive feminism seems to be at the root of the problem. Maybe in another case it is the libertarian approach to sexual activity that poisons a marriage. Or the addiction to entertainment or work or success that pull a couple’s focus from each other and onto other things. Whatever the case, Paul’s instruction remains valid, “Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world.”
How do we avoid these two big problems in our lives and in our marriages? Actually, it’s kinda simple: Gain a deeper understanding of the Gospel. Dive into what it really means that you are a sinner in desperate need of salvation, and that completely out of undeserved love God became that Savior for you. When you understand you are a sinner, you know your perspective cannot be 100% valid. When you know your Savior’s voice, you hear the falseness in the world.
I say this is simple because the Gospel is not a murky thing. The real murky thing is trying to get through life in this world without the Gospel. Am I good enough? Have I done enough? Who is right about what is right? How can that offer any perspective? Life without the Gospel is like, well, only seeing one side of the story – we can only see our failure, but not the solution.
The Gospel – the other side of the story – is crystal clear: Jesus saves you.