Thursday, September 1, 2011

Marrying for Money


Have I married God for his money? Rupert Murdoch got me thinking about this.
The media magnate Rupert Murdoch has received his own share of media attention recently.  News agencies were shocked, simply shocked, that Murdoch’s employees would gather news at the expense of a public figure’s privacy.
Most of us in the general public gave passing notice to the news scandal.  But we were absolutely riveted to the screen by Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng Murdoch.  At hearings investigating Murdoch, a protestor leapt from the crowd to hit Murdoch with a cream pie.
His wife—a former Chinese volleyball star—leapt from her own seat and spiked the guy in the forehead before he could pie her husband.  What a woman!

I know absolutely nothing about Mr. and Mrs. Murdoch’s relationship (although I was deeply touched by her loyalty and her athleticism).  Nevertheless, I heard plenty of idle speculation about what this beautiful young woman was doing with an octogenarian.
It’s not fair, but the consensus in some circles was money (followed closely by power).  Even though I don’t actually hold this view, it got me thinking about the tone associated with this speculation.  There was an air of condescension about it.

There is general agreement, it seems, that marrying for money is a bad thing.  In America (and more broadly, in the West) we marry for love.  
Never mind that we’re all confused about what we mean by love.  
And forget about the fact that other cultures favor arranged marriages based on economic and social considerations.
And set aside the fact that other historical periods of the West have understood marriage in economic and even in political terms.
We Americans prize the ideal of marrying for love.  For that matter, Christian marriage is a covenantal bond at whose very core is love.
Marrying for money suggests that we don’t love the one we’re marrying.  We love the money.  We love what the person can give us, not for the person.  Presumably, we would throw our husband or wife over if a better deal came along or that spouse could no longer provide the money we were after in the first place.
Using another person as a means to our own selfish ends is wrong.  Simply marrying for money (and I don’t actually assume this to be the case for Mrs. Murdoch) might make us rich, but so long as money is the goal the marital relationship will never be intimate, mutually supportive, and nurturing.
So why then do so many people marry God for money?
Okay, that’s seems like a leap.  But bear with me.
An easy example is what’s often called the heath-wealth Gospel.  Joel Osteen and others like him so emphasize God’s desire to bless us in material terms that I begin to wonder what the focal point of faith is.  Do people seek material comforts, career success and physical wellness and turn to God because he can provide it for them?
Let’s consider another example.  St. Paul talks famously about the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians.  Here’s what he says:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  (Galatians 5:22-23)
Paul is describing a soul that we could all want.
Some non-religious people genuinely want to be better people.  They want grow spiritually and so they turn to spiritual guides who can tell them how to do this.
Writers and speakers who frame themselves as spiritual but not religious tap into that desire and offer various spiritual techniques to achieve the sort of soul people long for.
Christian pastors like Rob Bell sometimes seem to emphasize the spiritual state and social relationships of humans to such an extent that God becomes a means to attaining the soul and the society we want.
What they’re missing here is Paul’s essential message.  So long as the condition of your soul or the structure of your society or the state of your finances or the health of your body is your highest goal, you are choosing something other than God as your God.
You’re marrying God for his money.
That’s why Jesus told the rich young man to give away all his possessions and follow him to have eternal life.  (Mark 10:17-31)  Anything we cling to that prevents us from giving ourselves utterly to God becomes God for us.
Paradoxically, we cannot know the fruits of the Spirit so long as we pursue the fruits of the Spirit.  We won’t be at peace if we chase after peace.  Patience will elude us—as will joy and kindness and gentleness—so long as we pursue it as our chief desire.
However, the fruits of Spirit grow for those who “belong to Christ Jesus.”  (Galatians 5:24)  We belong to him when we refuse to give ourselves to something other than him; when we refuse to follow him just for what we will get out of it.
The Church—the body of all faithful believers—is the Bride of Christ.  And here’s the odd thing.  He marries us even when he knows that we’ve married him for his money.  But he will never stop trying to win us over to a sincere love of him for who he is.
(The image above is Frederick Goodall's "The Bride" from this link.)

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