My wife is not the most amazing wife in the world.
Some of you – especially those who actually know my wife, Fiona – will be appalled at what I have written. You will note that when I first came on staff at my church, members of the congregation found it hard to believe we were married. I was ‘punching above my weight limit’, or so I was told. She was ‘out of my league.’ (These observations, of course, are absolutely correct.) Then, when I was asked to be the senior pastor, some members of the church sighed in resignation and said, ‘Well, at least we get to keep Fiona.’
My wife is an extraordinary woman. She is patient, kind, clever, godly and wise. Fiona loves reading the bible with mums who are new to (or new back to) faith. Since she started homeschooling our daughters (she is a great mum), she has had to schedule in bible reading with mums at 6am. I am in awe. Besides, I can’t imagine anyone but Fiona teaching me to love brussel sprouts.
But my wife is not the most amazing wife in the world. This is because the idea of the ‘most amazing wife’ is a category error. A non sequitur.
My problem is not with the word ‘amazing’. I trust that the world is filled with amazing wives, and amazing husbands, too. Rather, I object to the qualifier, ‘most’. ‘Most’ brings into play the language of comparison. ‘Most’ is a superlative. It implies that the value of what is being qualified is only found in comparison to other, lesser objects.
In other words, to say ‘my wife is the most amazing wife in the world’ is to say that her value lies in comparison to others. My joy in her qualities is not inherent and absolute, but rather in light of the lesser qualities of others.
And while this may be said of chocolate, or barrel waves, it ought not to be said of wives. Or husbands, churches or God, for that matter. My wife is not one of a set of ‘my wives’. She is uniquely my wife, and the value that I ought to set upon her arises from the fact of her being uniquely my wife, not how other wives are being wives to their husbands. Precisely because she is uniquely my wife – I have no other wives, and she is wife to no other – there is not possible or desirable basis of comparison.
You may complain that I am being pernickety. That the sentiment of the phrase is clear, and this entire blog mere soulless pedantry.
But I would say: don’t be silly. Words matter. Words really matter.
When our standard of preciousness is based on comparison, our language – and hence our very thoughts – have become a hostage to our culture of relativity. We live in a world where Facebook constantly corrodes the innocent delight we ought to have in our experiences by presenting to us the other, ‘better’ experiences our ‘friends’ are having at the moment. Our capacity to take simple pleasure in the moment, a child’s touch, a stray beam of sunlight, a task completed, has been eroded by the need to compare it. Does it stack up? Is it as good as what others are doing? This is the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO), which is the ground of the hunger for perfect and authentic experience lying behind ‘you only live once’ (YOLO). They are both pathologies.
This isn’t mere speculation. Repeated studies have confirmed that we are a culture of hedonism but very little joy. We are manifestly more disenfranchised by every minute spent on social media.
When I speak of the very goodness of my bride, I do not want my language to drive my mind astray. I do not want to be lost in thoughts of how she compares; I want to be lost in her.
This is true, by the way, of church. My church is not the ‘best’ church. It is simply ‘my church’, and anyone who knows the gospel will also know that there is nothing more wonderful or profound that can be said than this.
One final note. I think that, most of all, our dependence on comparison means we are in danger of losing our sense of the absolute.
You see, God is not the subject of comparison. He is not the ‘best’ God. He is not even the ‘only’ God, as if there were a set of all Gods which happens to be empty except for him. He is uniquely the ground of what we mean when we use the word God. He is not the kindest – he is kindness itself. He is not the most beautiful. All beauty is but a pale reflection of Him.
If my language of value depends on comparison, how am I ever to apprehend anything of the absolute wonder of God?