Hobbled by a Hobson's Choice?
By Audrey Stallsmith
Does God thwart our other loves for our own good? John Eldredge seems to imply that in The Journey of Desire. In his case, God supposedly ruined every fly fishing trip he attempted to make over a certain period of time, either by those trips having to be cancelled or by their turning out badly.
That reminds me too much of the abusive sort of marriage in which a weak husband cuts off all of his wife’s other relationships, so she is forced to spend all her time with him. Though she theoretically may still have a choice about whether or not she stays, it's a Hobson's choice (one with no other alternative), since she won’t see anywhere else that she can go.
A truly strong husband doesn’t feel threatened by the fact that his wife also loves her parents, siblings, friends, etc. Those, after all, are different kinds of love than what she has for him.
He will have cause for complaint if she starts developing a romantic relationship with another man, which eventually could cause her to violate the contract she has made with her husband to remain true to him. Therefore, that husband has the right to ask her to abandon the other relationship, but he can’t force her to do so without violating her freedom of choice.
So, if a hobby or some other element of my life moves beyond its proper perimeters and threatens to become a god, I believe the real God should point that out to me and expect me to change. When I became a Christian, after all, I made Him my only deity. So any violation of that commitment is a violation of our covenant, just as infidelity is a violation of the marriage covenant. I don’t believe God would eliminate the hobby, as an abusive husband might murder his perceived rival, because that would remove the element of choice in the relationship between Him and me.
As Madeleine L’Engle puts it in The Young Unicorns, “to take away a man's freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.” In The Magnificent Defeat Frederick Buechner agrees that “because God's love is uncoercive and treasures our freedom--if above all he wants us to love him, then we must be left free not to love him--we are free to resist it, deny it, crucify it finally, which we do again and again. This is our terrible freedom, which love refuses to overpower so that, in this, the greatest of all powers, God's power, is itself powerless.”
Also, many of our other affections actually direct us toward God rather than away from Him. Because He is love, the more love we have for other people, the more of God we have in us. Our hobbies, also, can steer us in His direction.
I spend an inordinate amount of time reading, for example, but many of those books are about God. And even the ones that supposedly aren’t often illuminate my understanding of Him. I also devote a lot of time to gardening, but the beauty of the flowers lifts my soul in gratitude towards the One who made them. As long as those hobbies don’t become ends in themselves, I doubt God will have a problem with them.
As for Eldredge's fishing trips, we’ve all had days--or years--where everything seems to go wrong. I don’t attribute that to God ruining all that distracts us from him. Rather, I suspect it springs from our inclination to remember the bad stuff more easily than we remember the good stuff.
The other day, as my mother and I were driving to town, every other car on the road seemed intent on pulling out in front of us. While doing lots of abrupt braking, I joked about all the drivers in the world having gone mad on that particular day. However, I suspect that other people cutting me off actually occurs frequently, but I usually respond automatically with my mind on something else. I just happened to notice them this time--and to be watching for more of the same.
I'm guessing Eldredge probably had begun to feel guilty about spending so much time fishing, and just had began to notice everything that went wrong on those trips or attempted trips rather than the things that went right. God is so powerful that there is a fine line between his dicouraging us from doing something and actually preventing us from doing it. And I believe Eldredge has Him crowding that line a little too closely.
I know this particular author believes in freedom of choice himself, because he mentions it elsewhere in his book, the rest of which I found highly inspiring and thought-provoking. So I can recommend The Journey of Desire, even though I do insist on being nit-picky about this particular point.
After all, we don't want people who already have been involved in coercive relationships to believe that God only offers more of the same. The ones still afraid of freedom actually might consider that reassuring. But those who have learned what a healthy relationship is will make tracks away from anyone who tries to make their choices for them.