I was raised in a conservative, Reformed Baptist home, where all media was monitored for unwholesomeness or potential for bad influence. The Cosby Show was one of the few popular TV programs to pass muster. In the half hour comedy about the fictional Huxtable family, Bill Cosby offered up an aspirational vision for black American family life, with himself as its firm but loving patriarch. Cosby doubled down on ownership of its vision by stamping his name on the title of the show, and broadcast its message to the African American community, upbraiding young black men for their slacker behavior, urban speech, and sagging pants. The cheers of approval from his audience drowned out whispers of possible inconsistencies between his public message and private behavior. Many kids like me were growing up in difficult family environments, and we needed an ideal to aspire to. But several weeks ago, the whispers finally exploded into a social-media fueled roar. With between sixteen and twenty women now speaking out publicly, it appears that Bill Cosby, one of America’s most beloved fictional patriarchs and a prince of pop culture, was secretly a sexual predator.
The Calvinist in me was quick to recover from the initial shock, and even mentally condemn those who seemed to struggle to believe such behavior was possible from the man who was America’s favorite TV Dad and comedic commentator on family life. Certainly, Cosby’s outspoken public advocacy for higher standards of morality in the black community makes his personal hypocrisy particularly difficult to stomach. But Cosby was, ultimately, just an entertainer, a man who, as far as I know, made no claim to any kind of religious faith. The simplistic Christian response is to dismiss this incident as another example of godless Hollywood types being what they are.
Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4 ESV)
But Christian American women have our princes too, and our trust in them can be just as misplaced.
For women like me who love theology, being enabled by the Internet to sit virtually at the feet of godly men and learn of the deep things of Scripture from them has been a tremendous blessing. I have been privileged to listen to sermons and podcasts, read blogs, follow Twitter feeds and even engage in online dialogs with a number of pastors, writers and theologians who are known and honored for their gifts and faithfulness in using them well for God’s glory and the church’s good. Their words have convicted, challenged, strengthened and encouraged me in my faith. And yet, over the past several years, almost without exception, their words (or the lack thereof) on one matter or another have hurt and even sometimes angered me. No doubt part of that hurt comes from the fact that these men not only profess faith in Christ, but they work out that profession in their personal lives and in their gifts and callings as preachers and leaders in the church. They are ministers of God’s Word, servants and shepherds, but in the eyes of many-they are princes of the faith. When their words are too many or too few, unloving or arrogant or incomplete, the sting to the soul is sharp.
But that pain is negligible compared to what I can sometimes feel when the prince of my heart, my own husband, fails me in some way. I came to faith in my freshman year while attending a conservative Christian college. It would be inaccurate and uncharitable to say that the focus of those early years of spiritual education was entirely on preparing for marriage and motherhood, but it was certainly a leading theme. I was rightly warned of the dangers of subscribing to the worldly system of love and romance made popular by the Disney Princess Industrial Complex. And yet the system my college and church leaders held up as its Biblical replacement held dangers of its own. While the word “calling” was always employed, the implication was that marriage was a call to be prescriptively pursued above all others. Marriage and parenthood, alongside and under the loving leadership of the right man, were the keys to living happily ever after in God’s kingdom. While Disney princes are infamously nondescript (so as to be more easily molded into young girls’ individual ideals), the list of requirements for what a Christian man must be to deliver on this purportedly Scriptural ideal family vision, and what a woman must do to be worthy of pursuit by such a man, was specific and lengthy. To a young Christian woman wanting to leave behind the hurts of her own upbringing, the vision was blindingly beautiful. When I finally walked down the aisle at age 27, I was walking towards a man who was more than my best friend and love. He was my prince and my earthly salvation.
The ways in which my dear husband has or has not lived up to those unrealistic expectations over our now fifteen years of marriage isn’t material to the point I’m trying to make; my unreasonable disappointment and disillusionment is. It’s not wrong, of course, to want my husband to grow in his love for God and for me and for our children. It’s not wrong to be effusive in my praise when he loves me well, or even gently admonishing when he occasionally, inevitably, falls short. But it is most certainly wrong for me to look to my husband to be my earthly savior, to be the mediator of my joy or the center of my security. David’s warning in Psalm 146 is unqualified. Salvation is not found in any son of man, but only in THE Son of Man.
David’s warning anchors my heart from sinking too low when my earthly princes fail me and also from rising too high when they exceed my hopes and expectations. Equally important, it reminds me that the antidote to the pain of a heart hurt from broken trust is not deflecting that trust and security back onto myself, like the world encourages women to do. Cute kid lyrics aside, my hope is not in becoming a princess who saves herself; it’s in belonging to the LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through faith in Jesus, the true Son of Man who can and has saved me.
Princes of popular culture will rise and fall. Spiritual princes in our churches and homes may do the same. But the One whose birth we are preparing to celebrate – the Prince of Peace – will never fail us. He is the one in whom we can trust.
By Rachael Starke