I used to think that worship songs where you could swap out all the God references, with “baby” were evidence that God had been trivialized by a sappy, spiritualized romanticism in the church. There may be truth to that. But perhaps the interchangeability of “God” and “baby” in worship songs says less about worship songs and more about love songs, less about how the church man-sizes God (which does happen) and more about a much broader tendency in the church and culture-at-large to God-size our romantic partners:
Gonna build my whole world around you.
You're everything good, girl
And you're all that matters to me.
And no other could give more love.
I would give it all I would sacrifice…
You know it's true, everything I do I do it for you.
When I was in graduate school I met “Jane.” Jane was enjoying a new romantic relationship. She was the kind of person who was always in a relationship, with a list of exxes that seemed to roll on like the movie credits of a Peter Jackson film. After listening to Jane’s story of break up after heart-stomping break-up, I saw a glint of hope in her eyes when she started describing her new special someone. Her description started to sound more and more like an ancient Psalmist describing Yahweh. “He’s perfect in every way. He’s so good to me. He’s my rock, my breath of life, my everything.” Suddenly it became clear. Jane was not in a relationship; she was in a religion. She was looking to her boyfriend not to fill boyfriend-sized needs but to fill God-sized needs, seeking nothing less than absolute perfection. And she was convinced that she had found it.
What will happen, however, when the rock hammer of reality starts to chip away at that flawless statue, eventually crumbling the bigger-than-life effigy of her boyfriend that Jane built up in her imagination? Jane will be devastated, not because her boyfriend let her down, but because her God, her functional deity, has failed her. Her whole identity that was built around the brittle idol comes crashing down. And the boyfriend himself (as opposed to the one who existed only in Jane’s imagination) will likely feel crushed under the burden of superhuman expectations that have been heaped on his shoulders.
What we are really talking about here is proportions. When we see people in their proper size, as people rather than gods, then their faults appear in proportion to their size, that is, as human faults. If, however, we blow people up to God-sized dimensions in our imaginations, then what are, in reality, finite faults will appear to us as infinitely huge faults, faults that should merely hurt us but end up apocalyptically destroying us. This super-humanness that we often attribute to mere humans, is one reason people go from deifying to demonizing their romantic partners. We can do the same thing with celebrities and kids.
So something worth worshipping must be superhuman and unbreakable not only in our imaginations but in reality. If only we had an object of worship like that, something or someone proportionate to our heart’s massive needs, then the people in our lives would shrink back to their actual human proportions, and so would the cracks in their characters. The restless Jane in all of us would find herself freed up to love people realistically—as people—suffering finite hurt rather than infinite devastation when (not if) we are let down. And we would free up the people we care about to really love us back, unburdened by the crushing gravity of our infinite expectations.
Using C.S. Lewis’ categories, we find the real joy and meaning of “second things” only when we find ourselves enjoying and drawing our deepest meaning from “a first thing.”* In other words, keeping the First Commandment, worshipping God as God, is one of the healthiest things we can possibly do to bring joy and sanity back to our relationships. The best relationship insight we can ever receive—as romancers, spouses, parents, and friends—comes from God Himself:
“You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)
* C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994) 280.