The recent conversation between Oprah and Rob Bell, featured in a video entitled Super Soul Sunday, has created lots of buzz over the last couple days. Perhaps the most striking comments emerging from this conversation – and the portion garnering the most attention – is Bell’s assertion that the church (one would presume in context Bell is referring to evangelicals) is “moments away” from acknowledging and accepting gay marriage.Bell explains, “… culture is already there” but then he adds: “… the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.” Because LOVE.
Yes, Bell raises good points: “we need to affirm people,” “this is the world we are living in,” “one of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness.” Yes, yes and yes! However, Bell’s perception of the Bible, God’s love letter to the peoples of the world, reflects he does not view scriptures as Holy or anything that resembles their uniqueness. Is the Bible simply an irrelevant collection of “letters from 2,000 years ago” as Bell suggests?
Funny I should ask that question! From his back-pocket (so to speak), Bell produces a handy antidote to those awkward 2,000 year old letters! Part of the Super Soul Sunday conversation focuses around this book authored by Bell and his wife that was released last fall. Titled The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage, publicity materials for this volume offer the reader “a startling new way of looking at marriage,” proposing there are “deeper mysteries of marriage” (see back book cover) which the Bells have unearthed and have generously revealed in their book.
I’ve lifted three random Bell statements from the Advocate post and quoted them above because they seemed to encapsulate Bell’s point of view. Briefly, I want to address those statements with what I believe is the wholly Christian point of view (as opposed to the squishy, psycho-babbly notion of zimzum).
We Need To Affirm People
This assertion is not debatable in the Christian community. Jesus Christ himself said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I’d say Jesus’ words are totally affirming, wouldn’t you? Who would argue they’re not?
Here’s the difference though. Affirming someone doesn’t mean you should overlook bad behavior (or sin). The beautiful example of forgiveness from John 8 reflects how Jesus affirmed a woman who had been mercilessly condemned by the religious leaders of that day. (They were accusing her of adultery and suggesting she should be stoned.) Jesus says He won’t condemn her – He affirms her – but He adds, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
When a dear friend is addicted to drugs, we don’t demonstrate our love for him or her by affirming the addiction. We urge treatment and counseling and rehab … because love seeks the loved one’s highest good.
This Is The World We’re Living In
Indeed it is. Over the last couple years, this world has shown us multiple beheadings, a pilot murdered by being burned alive with video cameras taping the grizzly details, babies and children who are abused, tortured and mistreated. I won’t dwell on the sorry state of our times, but this world in which we live has shown us its barbaric underbelly. Do we just sit back, shrug our shoulders and accept it?
Honestly, is that the threshold to which civilization has brought us? We used to be a society where people were urged to embrace their better instincts, to reject bad company and hurtful or immoral behavior, and to reach deeply within where the soul harbored soaring ideals!
One Of the Oldest Aches in Humanity is Loneliness
So completely true. We live our lives trying to soothe that ache, trying to scratch the itch as best we can. Loneliness drives some to alcohol, it drives others into the arms of an illicit lover, it drives still others to suicide. The ache of loneliness is excruciating!
But Blaise Pascal said it best: “What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remains to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.” (from Pensées, Section VII, page 113. I’ve underlined for emphasis.)
This same expression has been attributed to Pascal and restates the above paragraph: “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”
Because it’s an “infinite abyss,” trying to resolve that “oldest ache in humanity” by looking to a finite being for relief is impossible. As Pascal says, it requires an infinite and immutable object to bridge that infinite abyss!
As yet, neither Bell nor Oprah nor the mystical promise of zimzum has shown its aspect to be infinite and immutable. It’s simply psychobabble to sell books. Snake oil for the 21st century.