A couple of weeks ago my wife made an apple pie for her dad’s birthday (at his request). It ended up being just the best apple pie you can imagine. Perfectly seasoned apple slices (a blend of Honeycrisp and Yellow Golden Delicious) had been softened to a perfect crunch without becoming soggy. The blind baked crust cut through clean with a knife and provided the perfect foundation for transportation to the mouth. The top, instead of a second layer of pie crust, had been crowned with some kind of crumb concoction to coronate this culinary delight.
Now imagine that as I spread word of my wife’s amazing, superlative, and exceptional apple pie that a well meaning friend pulled me aside and began to rebuke me for my pie idolatry. Clearly, I am informed, my love for the pie has exceeded my love for my wife. All I talk about is her pie and not she herself. My love for her should be pure: free from any attachments to such incarnate delights as pie. I am exhorted to repent of my idolatry for pie and focus my affections on the immortal soul of my wife.
“My dear gnostic brother, ” I reply. “How strange it is that you think I can love my wife without loving what comes from her hands. Were she not my wife, I would still think this a delicious pie, but my love for her only increases my love for her pie. And while it is true that I have spoken on many occasions about her pie while I have not waxed very poetic about her immortal soul in times past, let me assure you that it is only because I am a man and find that my words fail when it comes to her immortal soul but flow when it comes to her cooking. There is no idolatry here, but thank you for your concern.”
Now let me hasten to add that human beings are strange creatures and I suppose that there might be some husband out there who truly loves his wife’s cooking more than he loves his wife. The accusation is not an impossible one, but it does seem to be an unlikely one. I meet very few husbands who love their wive’s cooking who do not also love their wives. It is a rare husband who heaps public praise on his wife’s cooking or parenting or talents whilst despising that same woman. But I grant that such a crooked creature could exist.
Obviously, I speak in parables. Idolatry is a real and common thing with fallen man. There are idols in our hearts and idols in our hands (for covetousness is idolatry). Nevertheless, we need not accuse everyone of idolatry when they speak of the work of Christ’s hands as something to be loved and cherished, even if they speak more words concerning the created than the Creator. We are embodied creatures and we should not be surprised to find that words concerning the created come more easily than words concerning their Creator.
I am particularly concerned when well meaning Christians talk about the idolatry of family and children and nation when they never seem to talk about the idolatry of singleness and barrenness and globalism. Love for family and nation is at least a natural love. It is a commanded love. It is a Christian love, even if at times it becomes a disordered love.
We should be careful not to accuse a man of idolatry for loving his family. We should certainly not use the expression that a man “loves his family too much.” Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, a goal to which we must all aspire as an artist aspires to perfection. Paul never had to admonish men to love less. As a pastor, I have yet to meet a husband who loves his wife too much or a father who loves his children too much. Most of the men that I meet are too weak in their love. Too weak to love enough to lead. Too weak to love enough to speak truth. Too weak to love enough to discipline. To make hard choices. To risk the peace of our homes for the souls of those in our care. But to love too much? I don’t think so.
We should also be careful about accusing a woman of idolizing marriage or children. Hannah cried in anguish over her barrenness and the Lord rewarded her with a son who would guide the nation in the ways of God and bring about a great revival. Children are a blessing and it is good to seek after the blessings of God. And while there are women who do make an idol out of marriage and/or children, we really ought to be preaching against the enemy at the gate and not the enemy on the other side of the world. We live in a culture that tells women that their highest calling is in a STEM field and we provide free pills and abortions to make sure nothing as troublesome as a baby thwarts her efforts to become a second rate man. So by all means, write and preach about the idolatry of marriage as long as you spend about 10 times the amount of time writing and preaching against barrenness as the path to personal fulfillment. When was the last time your preacher (or you, if you are a preacher) exhorted the ladies at your church to be keepers at home? Do that about 100X and then lecture the moms about idolizing their role as moms.
This same restraint should be used before we judge those who love their country as being idolatrous. What is a country besides an extended clan? And why should we not perceive our country as a work of God’s hands? Does He not direct the course of nations and empires as much as He directs the course of an individual? I fully expect my Japanese friends to love Japan and work towards her good and seek to improve her failures. Can we not ask this of Americans?
Perhaps the giant beam in the eye of the guy who dislikes Trump is causing him to focus too much on the splinter in the eye of the guy who loves Trump. I don’t think Evangelical leaders need to apologize to the world because the people who pay their salaries like to fly American flags, want to secure the border, and want public schools to start educating instead of indoctrinating. Some of them even wear MAGA hats. (Not me: red diminishes the natural poignancy of my brown eyes).
Granted, out of the two topics – loving family and loving nation – the loving nation one seems to go wrong quicker and in weirder directions. I grant that. But if you are going to preach against a disordered love of nation, can you not also preach against the lack of love for your nation? Would it help you to swallow this pill if you used the word “community” instead of “nation”? If you are going to write against people who like to fly the flag a little too high, can you not also write about people who refuse to fly the flag at all? Or give grace to those who are passionate when that flag – for which some of them fought – is burned or perhaps takes a back seat to the flag of sexual perversion?
Before we get overly spiritual towards those who love being married and love having children and love being American (or Japanese or Russian, whichever might apply), let’s remember that marriage is honorable in all and the bed undefiled, and that children are a blessing from the Lord, and blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. It is good to eat hamburgers and hot dogs and wave flags on the 4th of July, even if it is as American as my wife’s apple pie.
The Christian is to resist the spirit of the world. But when we say this, we must understand that the world-spirit does not always take the same form. So the Christian must resist the spirit of the world in the form it takes in his own generation. If he does not do this, he is not resisting the spirit of the world at all.Francis Schaeffer, the God Who is There