Learning to Question: The Value of Education

This blog post is the fourth in a series of responses to the article, “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos),” in which the writer basically argues that Christian women shouldn’t go to college, have careers, or even move out their parents’ house before they’re married because their sole purpose in life is to serve their husbands and raise a large family. Over the past few weeks, I have discussed the double-standard for Christian men and women when it comes to sexual purity, the necessity of finding our identity in Christ alone, and the fact that all Christians have an equally “holy calling,” no matter their vocation.

Ever notice how every time Jesus performed a miracle in front of a crowd, there were always those people wanted to throw a lot of big rocks at Him for blasphemy or demonic possession or – gasp! – healing the sick and crippled on the Sabbath or something?

We see it over and over again – people so fully immersed in their own perception of reality, their unshakeable belief that the Christ would be a mighty warrior who would dart in on a snow-white steed to free them from Roman captivity, that they were oblivious to the human incarnation of God when He literally stood right in front of them.

And these people believed the Christ was coming. They studied the Old Testament, they could recite the prophecies, they memorized the signs…but they had no idea who the carpenter’s son really was.

It is so easy for us to arch our modern, Holy Spirit-enlightened eyebrows at those ancient skeptics and condescend, “Umm…this guy turned water into wine, made the blind see, cast out demons, healed lepers, cured men crippled since birth, and…oh, yeah. He raised the dead back to life. Ya really think He’s just burning off steam?”

But how many erroneous, rock-solid beliefs – maybe even Biblically founded – do we cling to without even being aware of their existence? How many assumptions have been subconsciously etched into our minds that affect the decisions we make every day? How many beliefs can we not articulate because we’ve never actually thought about them?

What would happen if we were a little more uncertain about what we believe?

That, I would argue, is the true value of education.

People don’t like to feel uncertain. We prefer to draw tidy black lines between right and wrong, good and bad, people who eat their pizza rolled up like a burrito and people who eat it flat like God intended. Uncertainty means questions, questions mean we need to remove our rose-colored John Lennon glasses and try to squint through gray area.

Welcome to life.

Christians especially tend to fear questions. We worry that if we don’t unhesitatingly follow everything a Christian leader or if we mistrust an interpretation of Scripture, then we’re being disobedient or unfaithful.

Listen. Jesus never said, “Ask, and I will rebuke you for not operating in willful ignorance. Seek, and I will assume you’re ‘It’ in a cosmic game of hide-n-seek. Knock, and I’ll turn off all the lights and hide underneath the table like you’re a Jehovah’s Witness coming around at dinnertime” (opposite of Matthew 7:7).

Over and over in the Bible, God called on people to do something and they responded with a question – sometimes even multiple questions. When God first appeared to Moses, He 1) addressed him by name 2) spoke from a bush that was on fire but not burning up 3) turned Moses’s staff into a snake and then back into a stick 4) infected his hand with leprosy and healed it like a magician at a kid’s birthday party and 5) gave him a direct order with specific instructions. The message seems pretty clear, no?

Well, Moses still had several questions. And then, even after witnessing these signs, he told the Almighty Creator of the Universe he picked the wrong shepherd.

Yet despite Moses’s doubts and fears, the apostle Paul commends him as one of the most exemplary models of a faith-filled life (Hebrews 11).

Doubt does not equate unfaithfulness any more than fear equates cowardice or anger equates violence. The problem isn’t the feeling, it’s the control we allow it to have over our decisions and actions. It’s fine – normal and healthy, even – to have questions. What’s wrong is not pursuing answers. That is displaying a lack of faith…are you worried God won’t or can’t answer?

Not only is it ok to ask questions, it is impossible to become a mature Christian without questions. Because here is the scary thing: we can absorb life-altering opinions without even knowing it. We’ve come to expect it in the TV shows we watch, music we listen to, and books we read, but they can seep in through something as trivial as an offhand remark our elementary school teacher once made or a headline we notice while checking out at the grocery store. Unconsciously, we store these ideas up and allow them to affect our thinking.

The goal of education isn’t to teach us what we already know. It’s to introduce us to new ideas and concepts, force us to examine our long-held beliefs under a more intense light, make us a little less certain that what we previously assumed was correct.

Now, you may be thinking, but Jesus taught people how to seek and serve God…not algebra. What does asking questions to clarify your spiritual beliefs have to do with education? Can we compare spiritual discipline to academic study?

First off, I am not proposing we seek spiritual guidance from textbooks or Biblical principles in lecture halls. I’m not saying you need to strengthen your prayer life by reading Jane Eyre (but yes, everyone should definitely read that) or you need to supplement your daily devotional with The History of Trigonometry. (Please, if anyone ever catches me studying that, take me to Rome immediately so that I can get a gallon of holy water dumped on whatever demon, ghost, or alien has sunk itself into my brain.)

But our faith affects every aspect of our lives; your worldview influences your political opinions, your relationships, your professional life, the entertainment you enjoy. There is really no such thing as “secular study.” You can’t sit spiritual beliefs in one corner of your mind and academic pursuits in another and scold them into leaving each other alone.

So, since our faith influences everything, we need to examine all aspects of our lives to make sure they align with what we believe.

(If you’re thinking that sounds like a lot of work – bingo! You’ll be figuring out life ‘til ya die – now go get yourself a gold star.)

Second, learning to question does more than strengthen our knowledge of God and ability to “give reason for the hope that is within you” (I Peter 3:15); the practice of asking questions develops a certain attitude. It changes us.

As Christians, our challenge is to reset our inclinations – whether we developed them through “nature or nurture” – to align with Christ’s heart and God’s will.

The most significant, innate misconception I have – which everyone is born with – is that I am the realest, most important person in existence. As David Foster Wallace said in his famous commencement speech, “This is Water”: “Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe…There is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of…Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.”

That is where questions can help.

Questions make you a little less certain of your automatic assumptions. They force you to think outside your own perspective. We need to expose ourselves to other ideas and perspectives, so we can be conscious of our own and aware of other people. More than aware – able to relate and sympathize with them. By challenging ourselves to think beyond our own experiences, we learn to “love our neighbor.”

We do what we do because we believe what we believe. So, let’s be careful what we believe.

That’s what it means to be educated.

Some people perceive the sole value of college as getting a job and earning a substantial paycheck, but the goal of college is not to get a job. It’s to get an education.

Education is the practice and discipline of asking questions and finding answers. Being educated doesn’t mean spending $100,000+ on a piece of calligraphy. It doesn’t mean being the person who is content to sit in the back of the room and write down only what may appear on the midterm.

It means having a critical awareness of yourself and the world. It means being the kind of person who isn’t content to absorb, but instead analyzes, reflects, investigates.

Wallace concluded in “This is Water”:

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day…That is being educated and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing…

The capital-T Truth…is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time.

Let’s stop venerating willful ignorance and calling it faith.

Let’s storm our preconceived notions and steadfast assumptions and trust that our search for answers will kindle a sincerer love for others and bring us to a deeper, more intimate understanding of our Heavenly Father.

Let’s learn to be ok with feeling uncertain; let’s allow it to humble us and make us more patient.

Let’s ask questions. 

Big news!! Some exciting changes are coming to the blog. I’m not going to give it away yet, but if you type your email into the “Stick Around” widget on the side of the screen, I promise you will be one of the first to know. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out.

(Seriously. I’m so excited.)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

“Having Gifts, Let Us Use Them”: The Equality of Career Women and Stay-at-Home Moms

This the third article in a series of responses to the blog post, “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).” Over the last couple weeks, I’ve discussed the double standard for Christian men and women and the problem with building an identity around men (or anything other than Christ).

Hours before the sun rose on Erfurt, Germany, Martin Luther would awake on the floor of his spartan room, a table and chair the only furniture in the cell-like space. His monastic life consisted solely of worship, work, and prayer. Upon enclosing themselves behind the stone walls of the monastery, men renounced all earthly pleasures, taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. As he dedicated his simple life to the Lord, Luther was taught that monks and nuns had a higher, nobler calling than anyone else.

Then he read the Bible for himself. And he realized that was a lie.

Yet we continue to affirm it.

More than 500 years after the start of the Reformation, we still consider certain work “holier” than others. Specifically, while the secular world often applauds career women more than stay-at-home moms, Christians tend to praise stay-at-home moms over career women – even though favoring either devastates the mission of the church and drains our potential and power as women.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many,” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, comparing Christians’ different gifts to various body parts. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose…As it is, men can act as many parts. Women, on the other hand, were intended to all serve the exact same purpose. Because the God who invented 440 species of sharks and specially designed hummingbirds’ eyes to detect predators’ movements while beating their wings 80 times per second – that God couldn’t think of anything else to do with women, so He gave the body of Christ four billion arms.”

Oh, sorry. I hallucinated there for a second.

Paul opens the chapter, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (I Corinthians 12:4-6).

In other words, God designed each of us to glorify Him in a unique way. As David praised, as God shaped us in our mothers’ wombs, He saw our futures (Psalm 139:13-16) and crafted us – our personalities, our talents, our dreams – with a specific vision for our lives.

We know that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17), so all human skill must come from God. Why would we believe He didn’t intend for women to act on the abilities and passions that He gave them? Why, if He gave women the gift of intellect, the capacity for reason, a passion for learning, and placed them in a society and financial position that allows them to attend college, would He forbid them from taking advantage of that opportunity? Or if God gave them talent and ambition, why would He demand they refrain from pursuing a vocation?

The only explanation, if you want to contend that women shouldn’t go to college or pursue careers, is that either everything I just listed is evil (which I don’t think anyone in their right mind would argue) or that, for some inexplicable reason, all women are just supposed to suppress the gifts and passions that God has given them.

Again, that irrational line of thinking is rooted in the idea that certain callings are noble and others are inferior.

The Bible does not imply that women’s role in society is fundamentally different from men. In fact, the much-lauded Proverbs 31 woman is industrious outside the home, buying fields, helping the poor, and even running her own business, making and selling linen garments (#GirlBoss). In the New Testament, Christians actually empowered single women. While Greco-Roman culture dictated that widows remarry within two years, Christians provided widows the financial resources and assistance they needed to live independently.

Some might argue that when we become Christians, we are supposed to present ourselves as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), relinquishing our own desires. But dedicating ourselves to God means striving to be the people He planned us to be before sin twisted the world. It means becoming more like the unique individual He originally intended us to be – not a copy of what well-intentioned legalists say we should be. C.S. Lewis addresses this in The Screwtape Letters: “When [God] talks of [people] losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”

God not only calls us to good works, He designed us for them (Ephesians 2:10). Evangelist and author Jack Taylor once observed, “Our adversary would divide us by leading us to suppose…that the Holy Spirit deplores personal motivation.” When we root our identity in Christ, our drive to excel in our craft or industry is the greatest way we can glorify Him, because in doing so, we reflect His workmanship and character.

The persona of God is complex beyond our comprehension. He is an artist who brushes the sky with a fresh palette of colors every morning, but He is also a scientist who calculated the exact tilt and position of the Earth to sustain and nourish life. Jesus is the Prince of Peace who rode into the city of God on a donkey to negotiate an impossible peace treaty, ending thousands of years of division between sinners and a just God. But He is also a warrior who armored Himself in a feeble human body and struck a fatal blow to all the powers of Hell with the cross they nailed Him to.

As flawed, sinful beings, we cannot encapsulate these paradoxical aspects of God wholly or perfectly. But He still fashioned us to reflect these qualities, so together we can project a picture of our Creator. To suppress our gifts is to censor the image of God. It doesn’t matter if it’s an artistic ability, like dance, drawing, or theater; an intellectual pursuit like chemistry, philosophy, or law; an quality like leadership, organization, or peace-making; an “unskilled” position that lays the foundation for society, such as housekeeping, food service, or child-raising. There is value and dignity in all work, and we need to embrace our responsibilities with exuberance, knowing that we do so “for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

Because all work is God’s work when He has called you to it.

And if all work is God’s work, then, at its essence, no job can be “nobler” than any other.

That was what Martin Luther realized; all jobs are “masks of God.” To borrow his example, God may not send angels to surround the city gates, but He uses guards to protect the citizens. God may not rain down manna from heaven, but He has equipped farmers with the knowledge to produce crops.

That means that a neurosurgeon is no more valuable in God’s eyes than an automechanic. Ultimately, being a stay-at-home mom isn’t any more dignified than scooping monkey poop at the zoo. (And, based on my babysitting experience, some days it doesn’t feel all that different, either.)

This probably seems extremely uninspiring right now. But I would argue that recognizing the inherent equality of all work is both essential for the mission of the church and incredibly empowering.

For one thing, it liberates us from others’ expectations. We haven’t missed some divine calling just because we aren’t living the “traditional Christian life” of being married and raising a family. By the same token, not being part of the workforce does not equal a less significant role in society. It simply means God has called you to something else, at least for now. Knowing this allows us, like Paul, to be content whatever our circumstances (Philippians 4:11-13).

It also allows us perceive and approach all work – career, parenting, or otherwise – as just work. It is a means of survival, a way to glorify God, and/or (hopefully) something that we personally feel joy and a sense of accomplishment in, but it isn’t the essence of our identity or worth.

Finally – and possibly most importantly – recognizing the equal value of work builds unity.

We are the body of Christ, and as Paul points out, all the members serve a vital, irreplaceable purpose. We are a community of equal members, which means that there is no division – male or female, Jew or Gentile, career woman or stay-at-home mom. It abolishes our right to look down on anyone. It decimates our self-righteous hierarchy.

Sisterhood, and especially sisterhood in Christ, is one of the most precious blessings God has given us. The devastating thing about the “career woman vs. stay-at-home mom” mindset is that it pits women against each other, obliterating the power that we find when we come together, sharing in each other’s lives, rejoicing in each other’s accomplishments, sympathizing with each other’s struggles, offering each other advice, encouragement, help, and love.

Belief that God endows only some Christians with a “holy calling” negates the idea that all believers are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (I Peter 2:9). It creates division, not only between “work life” and “spiritual life,” but between believers. Between women.

It defeats the purpose of a God who came to Earth to bring unity, ripping from top to bottom the veil that obscured His face and welcoming His estranged people back to Him.

God has blessed Christian men and women with a diversity of gifts, passions, dreams, and callings. Let’s stop bickering and ostracizing each other like God only calls us to use them in one specific way.

Let’s just use them.

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“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (I Corinthians 12:17-20)

The Identity Crisis of “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos)”

Author’s Note: For the next few weeks, I am publishing a series of essays responding to a blog post, “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).” In the article, the writer basically argues that Christian women should not go to college, get married, or even move out of their parents’ house (until they’re married) because it might distract them from their sole life purpose of raising a large family. Last week, I discussed the double standard for Christian men and women that the article exploits.

I would like to announce that the writer of “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos)” has rethought her position and admitted that she was incorrect. She said that the title of the post should have been “Godly Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).”

That’s all.

Good. Because that was the glaring problem with her theology.

But, as someone who struggles with pride (I mean, sure, I have a lot of good qualities, but humility isn’t one of them), I really respect it when people admit they were wrong. So, let’s phrase it her way.

It actually does kind of address the problem I wanted to talk about: leaving out God.

Now, changing the title to “Godly Men Prefer YadaYadaYa” doesn’t fix the issue at all, because the overarching motivation expressed in the piece is still the same: women should lead godly lives (and we’re ignoring her perception of how women live a godly life) to please men.

If this was a video, I would put a record scratch right here.

Not doing things to please other people is a very popular idea in modern mainstream culture. Disney teaches us to wish upon a star and follow our dreams no matter what anyone says. Pop stars croon that you only need to love yourself. You don’t live to please other people; girls don’t need to pander to men; live your life however you want; you do you, babe. #GirlBoss

All that is true, but it’s not the whole truth. And, as my mom likes to say, a half-truth is a whole lie.

Here is part of the truth: not only do we not need to live our lives to please other people, as Christ-followers, we shouldn’t live to please other people.

In church, we talk a lot about how we need to be passionate, “on fire.” We are shouting in the streets, dying to ourselves, conquering kingdoms, extinguishing flaming arrows (Christians love war imagery), crying out loud in the desert, eating wild honey and locusts, and beating our camel hair-clothed chests.

But when it comes to the declaration that “[anyone] prefers [anything],” God allows us to respond with lying-in-our-PJs-watching-golf-after-a-turkey-dinner apathy.

I Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Christians are still human beings. We experience human wants and needs. In some ways, how we live our lives is no different than the rest of the world – we work, we eat, we sleep (not as much as we should or would like to). The difference in the day-to-day lives of Christians is our motivation for living and, by extension, everything that we do in life. We live to glorify God, because we find our identity in Him and boast in knowing “nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).

Here’s another part of the truth: we all find our identity in something.

Our identity is the very core of who we are. Do you know the biblical term for finding our identity in anything except Christ?

Idolatry.

Pastor Tim Keller describes idolatry as “anything in your life that is so meaningful to your life that you can’t have a life if you lose it…in your heart of hearts, you say to it, ‘If I have that, then my life has value, then my life has meaning. And if I lose that, then I don’t know how I would live.’”

That makes for a pretty bleak future when your idol is a temporary object of a fragile reality.

Here’s a third truth: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to please other people. In fact, we should be serving, encouraging, and caring for others. The problem is when it becomes the consuming purpose of our life.

Here is the truly twisted and insidious truth about modern idols: most – if not all – of them were created by God.

In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes that, try as he might, Satan cannot create a single pleasure; the concepts of joy and happiness defy his very essence. Instead, he uses pleasures that God has given us – love, food, money, for example – and subverts them – lust, gluttony, greed. That is what makes sin so alluring and (at least temporarily) pleasing; it was originally designed for us to enjoy.

The problem isn’t that the idols themselves exist or that we enjoy them; the problem is the level of importance with which we regard them and the amount of control we allow them to wield over us.

God gives His children three things: blessings, callings, and an identity. The first two tend to be closely related; for example, God blesses us with a spouse, He calls us to be a faithful and loving wife or husband. He blesses us with a successful career, He calls us to work hard. However, blessings and callings come and go. They do not affect our identity. Our identity is constant. It is always Christ.

Idolatry is when we mistake the blessings or callings that God has given us for our identity. It’s what St. Augustine called “disordered loves.” Suddenly, instead of just making money so we can afford necessities (and the occasional splurge), we base our self-worth on the shape of the dried ink on our paychecks.

And that is absolutely heartbreaking, because here is the final truth: what makes Christianity radically different is that it is the only religion that does not require a performance. Every other religion dictates that you act a certain way, follow a certain code for a deity or whatever the highest power may be to deem you “worthy.”

We don’t have to do that. Our liberated lives are no longer a performance, a succession of rituals to placate a god who views us with indifference. Yet, when we find our identity in anything other than Jesus, we are placing that idol in the judge’s seat. We have no choice but to act out a desperate charade and present our case, hoping for mercy from something that by its own nature demands unceasing drudgery.

Last January, The New Yorker published an article titled “Improving Ourselves to Death.” The writer, Alexandra Schwartz, explores some of the ways that people try – and fail – to mold themselves into the pinnacle of human perfection. Two of the men she writes about, both business professors, spent a year delving into all the popular methods of self-improvement: Crossfit, therapy and life coaching, yoga, drugs, cleanses, stand-up comedy…the list goes on. Every month, they tried to achieve a different virtue: creativity, intellect, athleticism, productivity. At the end of the year, one of the men, André Spicer, realized that his self-focus had ruined his relationship with his wife, who was due to give birth in a few days. Schwartz summarizes what he discovered after a year of striving to perfect himself in every possible way: “On the other side of self-improvement, Cederström and Spicer have discovered, is a sense not simply of inadequacy but of fraudulence…[Spicer] writes, ‘I could not think of another year I spent more of my time doing things that were not me at all.’ He doesn’t feel like a better version of himself. He doesn’t even feel like himself. He has been like a man possessed: ‘If it wasn’t me, who was it then?’”

He lost his sense of identity.

In his famous commencement speech, “This is Water,” writer David Foster Wallace says, “If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough…Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you…Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

Wallace concludes, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”

It truly hurts me to say that Wallace was not a Christian, and he committed suicide three years later. Despite his objective realization that all humans worship, he never chose to anchor himself to something that wouldn’t destroy him.

If this seems really depressing and hopeless – you’re right. It is. That’s the point. Our idols will always “eat us alive.” They are insatiable. They will always demand more from us, because when fulfilling our identity depends on our actions, we can never rest.

The good news is that we do not have to submit to them. Jesus is already sitting at the right hand of God – He doesn’t have to sit on the judgement seat anymore. The hammer that nailed Him to the cross acted as the gavel for God to declare His final verdict on those who claim their identity in Him: not guilty.

Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, emphasis added).

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).

Court adjourned.

So, let’s try this headline: “Godly Men Prefer Women Who Could Not Care Less What Men Prefer.”

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“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The Double Standard of “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos)”

The sounds of jostling and angry murmuring rolled from the back of the crowd gathered at the temple. Pushing their way through the rapt audience, the religious leaders threw a woman, barely clothed and smelling of a telltale pew-y scent at Jesus’ feet as they formed an accusatory circle around her.

“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery,” they told Him. “Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:4-5)

They were itching for an excuse to accuse Him and discredit His teachings. It was a trap, and Jesus knew it. Why? Because if they were sincerely asking His opinion on the Christian response when two people – two – were caught in adultery, then the man would have been thrust into the scorching desert sand, too.

In answer, Jesus challenged the man who was without sin to throw the first stone.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, one by one, the defiance seeped out of each man’s shoulders, and he turned away, convicted by the depravity that saturated his own upright, religious life.

And from then on, since Jesus seems to have the same set of standards for everybody, Christians vowed to hold each other – male or female – to an equal level of accountability.

Oh, wait. Sorry, I got confused with how the story should have gone.

Recently, a blog post went viral. It’s titled “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).” The writer espouses a myriad of unbiblical doctrines, and the fact that she tries to discourage Christian women from going to college or having careers because it distracts them from their sole life purpose of raising a family is an issue that I won’t even tackle. (In this post.)

For now, let’s focus on this: the blatant double standard when it comes to men and women.

Don’t get me wrong; I think that economic responsibility and sexual abstinence are both biblically founded and healthy, practical ideals. But why do we act like these virtues are more important for women than men? Or, maybe more to point, like Christian women need to act as the body armor of God for men?

I wish I could say that the writer of this blog post was just one misguided voice in a sea of reason, but the fact that the post has been shared on social media numerous times with supportive captions disproves that theory.

And I’ve seen it myself. I’ve heard well-meaning women scold girls for wearing tank tops because it “spoils the mystery.” (First of all, does anyone really believe that there is a man in modern America who has never seen a woman’s shoulders? And second – sorry to spoil it, boys – but female shoulders look a lot like a male’s. Are they really that erotic?)

Growing up in church, I learned all the guidelines for dressing modestly: place your hand on your collarbone, and if your neckline is lower than the width of your hand, it’s too low. Shirt sleeves – at minimum – should be as wide as your pointer, middle, and ring finger together. Hold your arms down at your sides; shorts and skirts should be longer than your fingertips. (Does anyone else find it a little ironic that we use other parts of our body to determine how much of our body to show? I’m just saying, it seems like an inconsistent unit of measurement.)

Every summer on the first day of church camp, camp leaders would separate the boys and girls. The boys were told not to fool around with the girls. The girls were told not to dress or act in a way that would entice the boys, enforcing the idea that they are responsible for another person’s purity. If a boy slips up, then it is, at least partly, the woman’s fault for not covering up more.

(It also enforces the idea that the only reason for modesty is to protect boys from temptation, but I don’t have space right now to explain why that’s wrong.)

Here’s the thing: we can’t trust other people to act as our shield of faith. We have to rely on God.

In his book, Gospel, Pastor J.D. Greear uses this example: a guy and girl are alone, sitting on a couch in the girl’s living room. Things start heating up, and the boy feels overwhelmed by his desire. Abruptly, the girl’s Army Ranger father bursts through the door.

Instantly, the boy’s libido crashes.

What happened? His desire didn’t exactly lessen, but his fear of her father (and death) suddenly outweighed his sexual impulse.

It’s the same concept with any sin. The only way to withstand temptation is to be more submissive to God’s authority than our own desires. And that is something no one else can do for us. The world probably isn’t going to change to accommodate us; we need to learn how to live, work, and interact with it without being coaxed away from our Christian walk.

Don’t misunderstand; as believers, we absolutely should strive to help each other stay fixated on Christ and away from temptation. If your friend struggles with alcohol addiction, you wouldn’t be a great friend to constantly suggest hanging out at a bar. But Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29, emphasis added). He did not say, “If your eye causes you to sin, go rebuke that thing you’re looking at, because clearly it’s the problem, not you” (Nowhere in the Bible 10:1).

That would be futile advice. We can’t control the external world. We can’t change other people. We can only govern ourselves, and that means we need to take responsibility for our own actions.

I mean, aren’t we over the whole, “This woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave the fruit of the tree to me” thing? (Genesis 3:12)

Adam was a victim, but not of Eve. Of his own desires.

As a result of their choices, they were thrown out of paradise and condemned to a lifetime of physical, emotional, and spiritual anguish as God’s plan to bring mankind back to Him began to unfold.

Of course, before casting them out of the garden, God told Eve, “Since this guy who just totally threw you under the bus clearly needs some help staying holy and upright, I’m sending you along as his spiritual service animal. Go, and make sure that he sins no more.”

Oh, sorry. I got confused again.

So, why does this issue even matter? To use the old adage, kids are starving in Africa, Christians are being massacred in the Middle East, drug addicts are sleeping on the concrete just outside our church buildings. Why waste time griping that Christians judge women too harshly and go too easy on men?

Well, for one thing, it mattered to Jesus. He spent a large portion of His ministry with some of the most marginalized and despised people in Jewish culture: Samaritans, beggars, tax-collectors, prostitutes, cripples, and women. He didn’t do it on accident, either. He was proving a point: being united in Christ means being equal in Christ. In Galatians 3:28, Paul affirms this idea, writing, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This whole blaming women thing has been a problem since sin was invented. The bigger question is, why do we still do that? Why are we shoving the woman into the dirt while letting the man stay in bed? Just like when the religious leaders threw the adulterer at Jesus’ feet, it must be a trap, but what are we trying to accomplish? The only possible answer is that we are trying to ambush and disparage each other.

Here’s the crux of the problem: until we stop looking for excuses to blame one another, we can never unleash our full potential as the church. We can’t lead the world to Christ when we’re busy accusing half the people on earth of using pink spaghetti straps to drag the other half into sin.

We need to acknowledge that we all fall short of God’s perfect glory. We all struggle with sin and temptation. We all kinda suck.

When two people sin, they are equally at fault. They both need to be at Jesus’ feet, and we shouldn’t be circling them, stones in hand and arms flexed. We should all be at His feet – debt-free, virgin, non-tatted, or not.

Maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at all along.

Throughout the next few weeks, I plan to talk about other issues with “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).” Next week will be on idolatry of marriage and family. If you want to stay in the loop, type your email into the “Stick Around” widget on the top right of screen!

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, ESV)