Passion and Purity, chapter 10: Does God Notice?

Passion and Purity bugs me for many reasons, the foremost of which is the bad relationship advice and iffy theology.  But the first thing that bugged me about this book when I read it in my late teens was the style.  The chapters all include poetry snippets, quotes from the Psalms and old hymns, and the romance narrative is frequently interrupted by paragraphs or even pages of introspection.  I understand why Elliot chose to write this way–at each turn, she is deliberately trying *not* to rush into the next step.  The halting writing style is fitting for a halting romance.

The problem is that we readers get to an interesting part of the story, end the chapter on a cliffhanger, and then begin the next chapter with a verse from a sober hymn or contemplative Psalm.  There is of course a place for Psalms and hymns, but as a reader in the middle of a story, this is very frustrating.  We’re in chapter 10!  We are ready for action!  In the first few chapters I read all the quotes because I was trying to get to the bottom of her argument.  But now we know her argument, so the repetition of spiritual reminders seems redundant and, more importantly, gets in the way of the story arc.  This chapter, for instance, has three long quotes over the course of 2.5 pages–easily half of the chapter. Later, in chapter 23, she takes a complete break from the epic romance to once again berate feminists for destroying romance.  I can’t tell if she doesn’t trust her gentle readers to remember the argument she laid out in chapter one, or if she wants to continually remind us how different she is from The World.  Maybe it’s both.  Either way, it’s annoying.  

On to chapter 10.  Our young lovers have revealed their feelings to each other!  Now what?  Well, they are trying to figure out how to channel their “torrent of passion” to Godly ends.

“If I marry, I know who it’ll be.  That is, of course, if she’ll have me.”  He flashed his famous smile.  I smiled in reply.  He hastened to add, “But I’m not asking.  I can’t do that Bett, and you’ll have to understand that.  I can’t ask you to marry me, and I can’t ask you to commit yourself to anything whatever…[God will] have to work out whatever He wants.”

How does Jim think God will work out whatever He wants?  Does he expect an angelic visitation?  Does he expect to open his Bible and see “Bett!” written in glowing gold letters?  Is he just waiting for a sublime feeling of peace?  Does he even know what he’s looking for?  Tell us!

To present this conversation without comment, as if this is how relationship decisions are made, is simply ridiculous.  God works through and within us.  And that means that we are the ones who have to make the actual decisions.  We have to respect other people whose lives are affected by our decisions–and our lack of decisiveness.  (As my father used to always say, “Indecision is a decision.”)  Jim doesn’t even lay out a plan here.  No timeline, no idea of how they should move forward.  Just leaves her hanging.

If this were my friend, and she said, “Guess what?  Jim likes me TOO!  We’re dating now!”  I would have nothing but happy words and good wishes for her.  I absolutely would not pressure her to Define The Relationship or discuss next steps or timelines or whatever.  After all, that’s what dating is for!  To figure it out!

But Elliot 1. is not my friend and 2. is telling this story in a book in which she prescribes that a man must always Have a Plan and Be A Leader and, what’s more, must not say “I love you” until he’s got a ring and a date.  Elliot is categorically not a fan of casual dating, as we’ve seen.  So it seems a bit unfair for Jim to be allowed to say, “I would totally marry you!  But God’s gonna have to work that one out!”

If my fictional friend had reported this to me I would say, “GIRL.  He wants to marry you but is waiting for God to work it out?  Seriously?”

Since Elliot walks the walk and refuses to take the initiative in any way, this conversation doesn’t inspire her to act at all.  So she does some more spiritual wallowing.  She loves him, but they have important callings, and he’s said he can’t even ask her to wait.  So she keeps praying.  After all, what else do her rules allow her to do?  Nothing.  Women are allowed to wait and pray, or to call it off.  That’s it.  (She goes into more detail on these rules in the coming chapters–I know you can’t wait!)

And let’s be clear about another thing: Jim specifically doesn’t ask her to wait.  God, as far as I can tell in this narrative so far, doesn’t tell her to wait.  She chooses to wait because she is in love.

I don’t know how else I can say this:  “Fall in love with a good guy and then just pray for something to happen” is not good relationship advice.  This is not a prescription for healthy modern marriages. This is nothing more than Elisabeth’s own experience of falling in love with another human being.  It worked out for her.  Good for her!  You know what worked out for me?  Drinking a little too much at a friend’s birthday party and then inviting myself over to a cute guy’s house to watch a movie.  (Reader, I married him.)  I’m a Christian too–is my experience also prescriptive?  Should I be mentoring young women to have another glass of wine and then sneak out of the party with that guy you have your eye on?

In other words, Elliot doesn’t seem to recognize how much of her story is influenced by her own culture and personality rather than Timeless Biblical Principles.  She ascribes her relationship and eventual marriage to her godliness and obedience but doesn’t seem to recognize that you can call it a “neat relationship” as the kids do these days (see chapter one!) and still believe basically the same things she does about God.  Or that “obedience” might mean something different to another woman.  

Anyway, Elliot then veers into the physical:

“I’m hungry for you, Bett,” he had said…”We’re alike in our desire for God…But we’re different, too.  I’ve got the body of a man, and you’ve got the body of a woman, and frankly, I want you.  But you’re not mine.

Guys!  Men and women are really different!  We even have different bodies!  And those bodies…sometimes want sex!

But for real, let’s talk about how this completely glosses over the idea of sexual compatibility.   I attended schools and churches that preached abstinence til marriage.  Many preachers and educators claimed, implicitly and explicitly, that “compatibility” was a made-up thing, that it was actually a liberal euphemism for the sexual “baggage” that comes from having had previous partners.  “Don’t worry–you’ll have the rest of your life to figure out how sex works!”  Which…is sort of true, in that if you’re both starting from zero, you’ll both have lots to learn!

I was far into my 20s before I realized that “compatibility” was a real thing.  People have different desires, libidos, turn-ons, turn-offs.  People are different!  (I KNOW!)  And even I, a virgin, had some sexual “baggage.”  Because everyone has “sexual baggage,” if we’re using the evangelical definition of that phrase.  And yes, some people can “figure it out” after marriage and end up sexually well-matched.  More power to them.  But this advice is in the context of a subculture where sex is promised but never discussed in detail, where female desire is definitely not assumed, where modesty doctrine makes women–and men–second-guess and distrust their bodies, where healthy communication skills are not prioritized, where recently even birth control has become controversial.

Elisabeth and Jim desired each other.  And that’s as far as we’re allowed to go.

The rest of the chapter comprises two lengthy quotes reminding us that God Is In Control Of Everything, Even Your Small Life (hence the title.)

So our takeaway is:  It’s ok to fall in love, as long as s/he’s Godly and belongs to the opposite sex.  It’s ok to be overwhelmed with desire, even!  Just don’t act on it, ladies, and God will take care of everything.

I’ll say it again: this is bad advice.  

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