Last week, I started reading the new pseudo-biography of Rob Bell, Rob Bell and the New American Christianity. Also, there is a multi-page profile on Rob in the New Yorker. Even almost a year after he left Mars Hill and published Love Wins, he’s still getting press just for being him.
I have long been an admirer and fan of Rob, and a student of his work. I have listened to countless sermons, digested every Nooma film and longer tour films, and have been to see him live. I borrowed the videos from his preaching conference, and have read his books. I have worked his exegetical insights into my own sermons and have led classes on his teachings.
And now, lo, these many years later, I feel comfortable admitting that I am insanely jealous of Rob Bell.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: When I read or hear anything that Rob has to say, my first reactions are always “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “I’ve been saying that for years!” According to whatever personality profile you choose, I’m the kind of person who fears being “normal” (insert jokes here) and unoriginal. I want to offer the world a new way of seeing, a new way of thinking, which will result in new ways of being.
This jealousy has troubled me recently, so I’ve decided to employ Calvin’s “Three Uses of the Law” to see if I can get a handle on it.
The First Use of the Law is that the Law teaches us. My jealousy is tantamount to (if not outright) the Tenth commandment regarding coveting. So the First Use actually teaches me about coveting. If this Commandment was not in place, I would not know anything about it.
So, I get a little education about jealousy and coveting, and what it means, and how and why it is different than other strong emotions I have. This is different than a healthy competition. This is beyond debate. This borders on anger that someone else is having success in life. Simple enough.
The Second Use is the one we normally think of: Don’t do it.
The Commandment is pretty clear that this is not behavior to be encouraged. All sorts of extrapolations can be teased out as to why: It’s bad for my health, my self-image, the resultant way that I will treat others, etc.
Regardless of the way I feel, this Use is about behavioral modification. Essentially, Divine Approved program to “Fake it until you make it.”
The Third Use is where the real genius lies in Calvin’s scheme. The Third Use is designed not to teach us the parameters and require adherence to the parameters, but to point us in the direction of the Christ-like response; the way in which we can allow ourselves to be more and more conformed to the image of Christ.
I’ve known what coveting and jealousy are for a long time. I get the psychology and emotional content surrounding them. I know not to do it and why. But when I get to the Third Use, I am always amazed at what it teaches me.
And what my insane jealousy of Rob Bell has taught me is that I admire the work he has done and want to do similar work, because I find that kind of creativity to be life giving for myself and others.
I know that I have had a good deal of success in my life. I know that I have no reason to complain or be petty in my jealousy. And so I am thankful for the Third Use because it has, once again, reminded me of the kind of work that I believe God is calling me to be a part of. My soul resonates with the work of Rob Bell because it is work that I see as valuable. I see my jealousy, interestingly, as a confirmation that seeking the answers to big, life giving questions is where I need to focus my time and energy. That’s a relief to me because I have been blessed to be in situations where I get to do that on a regular basis.
And this, friends, is the beauty of our God. We are not left to wallow, but (as the Psalmist says) to be lifted up out of the muck and mire to a better place to stand.