Faith and Relationships: Idolatry in Marriage
By Barney Armstrong, MA, LMHC, Bellevue Christian Counseling
Part 2 of a 2-Part Series
In my previous article, I raised the question of how our faith affects our interactions with others and argued that Christ’s Cross and Resurrection have definitively changed our relational dynamics. Yet this change is an ongoing process and in this article I discuss how God continues to call us out of relationships that have become idolatrous and into our true identity in Christ.
God Calls Us Out of Idolatry
God is continually bringing us out of idolatry. In Deuteronomy (6:6) we read that our ultimate goal is to love the LORD our God with all of our heart. Your heart is your “wanter” and so this means that you are to love Him with all of your “wanting.” Anything you love above Him is idolatry. Major sections of the Old Testament describe how people who are in a covenant relationship with God are urged by God to abandon their idolatry, which is their love for anything above Him. Idolatry is everywhere ̶ we are steeped in it and infiltrated by it. God is continually bringing us out of idolatry and seeking to convince us to love Him instead. His prompters include those events in which our idols fail us ̶ and we need to ask ourselves in which ways our relationships may be idolatrous?
Idolatry and Dependency
We can be dependent on (a worshipper of) a relationship to fill our loneliness, or to take away our shame of being alone. We fear rejection and will do anything for whatever is the opposite of rejection. We serve our idols by doing what they demand. We will dress right, look right, and do all of the obeisance that the Being-Accepted idol demands. Yet it is also possible for us to depart from that slavery because of an increasing awareness that we are fully accepted in the Beloved. (1 Thes.1:4; 2 Thes. 2:13; Eph. 1:6; 5:1; Col. 1:13; 3:12; Ro 15:7)
Idolatry in Marriage
Dependence shows up even more in the special relationship of marriage. We come to marriage with all kinds of preconceived ideas of what we need marriage to be. These may be expectations about how our spouse rescues us from loneliness, being unnoticed and obscure, being not-given-to, etc. What we want marriage to be emanates out of our fears, shame, aloneness, and all that we lack. We become dependent in marriage, and we will do whatever is demanded in order to try to squeeze the right feelings out of our marriage. We depend on our mate to reflect back to us validation and security. Learning to stand on your own two feet, having autonomy, and being responsible for your own emotions instead of demanding them from another is a departure from idolatry. Becoming increasingly acquainted with and convinced of all you have in Christ includes a growth in assurance that you are given-to. You are noticed and known rather than forgotten. You are highly regarded and have a destiny and a place with your name on it.
Typically, a marriage that has longevity but lacks growth, liveliness, and direction is the result of compatible idolatries. The couple settles for the meager rations that their idol doles out. If you are involved in such a relationship, you need to be aware that your beginning to move out of dependence will be unsettling for your partner. As they submit to the status quo, you will initially feel pressure to stay put. They will see your move out of dependence as a failure of their idol and they will also begin to stir.
Facing Yourself in a Relationship
Self–confrontation means dealing with your own “stuff.” The anxieties that arise in relationships are flags that you alert you that you have “stuff” to deal with. Managing your anxieties and dealing with your “stuff” instead of defending it, hiding it, or clinging to it is part of what Jesus was referring to when He said, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it,” (Mt 10:39) and “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mt 16:24) If you love your own “stuff,” you won’t let go of it in order to embrace Life. Instead, you will keep defending yourself, either publically to others or privately to yourself.
Ignoring the flags that arise in relationships is a very bad idea. Your faith is involved in to how you engage with others. Faith is about a person – Jesus. If you indeed value Him more than what you are defending in yourself, you can put to death those things that most ruin the way you relate to others:
But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. (Col 3:8-10)
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Eph 4:31-32)
Christian Counseling Can Strengthen Your Relationships
God is always drawing you to new vistas of spiritual reality and depth. You can translate that as genuineness and connection in your relationships and engagement with others. If you would like help to discern how these two worlds are actually woven together in your life, you may find it valuable to speak to a Christian counselor. Or perhaps you are aware that you relate to others simply out of habit and that there is nothing intentional about your dynamic, and would like to connect your faith with renewed relational habits. A Christian counselor can help you with guidance and feedback in this process.
Photos “Live Earth,” by Luz Adriana Villa, Flickr CreativeCommons, (CC BY 2.0), “BBC Cross,” by Ihar, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0), “Talking by the Sea Shore,” by Pedro Ribiro Simoes, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)