I keep waiting for our narrative to pick up steam, but it looks like chapter five is not where that is going to happen. It’s called “Does God Want Everything?” I’m pretty sure, judging from the previous four chapters, that Elliot’s answer is going to be, “Yes.”
This chapter is a mere four pages. She reiterates Bible stories in which God asks a character–Abraham, Paul, etc.–for everything. She talks about how plants must die before new life springs forth. She says, “He gives all. He asks all.” She reiterates that she struggled as a young woman between wanting what she wanted and wanting what God wanted.
My question, as ever, is why can’t it be both? Why would God give you a desire for something and then tell you you can’t have it? Why is God, who gives good gifts to His children, after all, painted as such a selfish authoritarian? I understand that there is a great–the greatest!–spiritual principle of death to self and selflessness in love. This chapter simply reiterates that yes, you should definitely sacrifice everything. But what does that actually mean? Elliot is obviously not an ascetic–she’s married three times, after all. So how did she determine how much sacrifice was enough?
Since she doesn’t answer this question in chapter 5, let’s move on. Chapter 6 is called “The Snake’s Reasoning.” This should be good. Most of this chapter is a remembered transcript of Elliot’s conversation with a roommate, a “beautiful girl” who had just come home from a date. The girl wants to marry a handsome and wealthy man. Her date was “a Christian, handsome, interesting” but not wealthy. Let’s see what Elliot advises:
…What if [God] should choose for you a man who was poor and homely?…does he love the poor, homely man? If so, will he give him an ugly woman? Or might He give him a beautiful one?
…You said you wanted God’s choice, Jane, and God’s choices involve His plans for a whole universe…Maybe the man with no looks and no money is praying God will give you to him. What about that, now?
…The blue eyes filled with tears, “Doesn’t He want me to be happy?” (I heard an echo of Eve in Eden.)
First, just because you pray for something doesn’t mean you’ll get it.
Second, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so let’s not assume that “handsome” means the same thing to every woman.
Third, good lord, way to condescend to this friend, comparing her to Eve.
Fourth, Elliot and her beautiful friend are operating on very different ideas of happiness here. There’s a common idea in evangelical youth that God might have you marry someone unattractive. (I can’t tell you how many of us feared this.) After all, if God wants everything, and marriage is for sanctification and not pleasure, why WOULDN’T he give you someone ugly?! I notice that Elliot doesn’t address this at all, not even perfunctorily (“Whoever you marry will be attractive to you!”) In fact, she does the opposite! But she does this while also noting more than once that her Jim was very “manly” and “handsome.” I wish she’d delved into a more thorough analysis of attraction, happiness, and beauty because a real result of this (and similar) books is that many evangelical youth are convinced that they might need to suck it up and marry someone unattractive FOR GOD. This is the cause of a lot of unwarranted stress and misplaced ideas about how Christians are supposed to find happiness.
I could give better advice to this lady: “Don’t marry someone you don’t love. Whoever God has for you will be perfect for you. If you want to marry a wealthy man, you should hang out with wealthy people–but remember that Jesus talks a lot about how dangerous it is to pursue material wealth. Money does not a a good marriage make. Focus on yourself, on cultivating your own interests, on becoming a better person for yourself. You are already whole. The right guy will come along eventually.”
Elliot ends this short chapter by almost totally disregarding a very valid question, especially considering the marriage-happy Christian subculture she’s operating in. The question is, “What do you do when you feel you’ve come to a point that your singleness appears to be an inadequate status for deep personal growth?” Instead of taking this questions seriously, for it is a serious question, she flippantly says that of course singleness is not inadequate, for Jesus himself was single. She then blames this person’s question on Satan:
I’m afraid the snake has been talking to that person…”God is stingy…He refuses you the only thing you need for deep personal growth.”
Good night! Again, we’re talking about a subculture that puts marriage on a very, very high pedestal. In this very book, Elliot talks about her desire for marriage and downplays singleness. This person, presumably trying to do his/her best, to seek God and do what He wants, who is in a culture that prioritizes marriage, probably genuinely thinks, I guess I should get married but since I have no prospects, I have no idea what to do. Not knowing what to do when you’re unmarried is a direct result of a culture that focuses almost solely on marriage and disregards every other possible marital state. And Elliot has the gall to not only dismiss this question out of hand, but to say outright that this person has been listening to the devil. Talk about tone-deaf.
So let’s recap: in chapters 5 and 6, Elliot reiterates two of her main points, both of which were also brought up in earlier chapters, but doesn’t really elaborate on either of them:
1. you have to give everything to God
2. if you’re seeking happiness because you’re not content in your current situation, you’re probably listening to the devil
I cant say it enough: this is not helpful. So far we have heard zero ideas on how to give things to God and/or how to be content and/or how to actually have a healthy and happy singlehood. Do we pray more? Do we think about love less? (If that’s the answer, maybe we should stop reading this book!) Perhaps we should just marry the first Christian person who asks us, despite our lack of attraction to them? Shall we assume that every moment of discontent is from Satan (as she seems to advise her friend)? Or are those doubts actually our spirit cautioning us against an inappropriate relationship (as she seems to think of her own situation)?
In other words, shall we do as Elliot says or as she does?