You Want Rachel. You Get Leah.

Perhaps the best Tim Keller sermon I’ve ever heard is one called “The Girl Nobody Wanted”. As it traces the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, it explores the frustrated nature of human experience – and points us towards the only source of lasting fulfilment.

Here’s an extract from Keller’s excellent Counterfeit Gods where he touches on the same theme:

If you get married as Jacob did, putting the weight of all your deepest hopes and longings on the person you are marrying, you are going to crush him or her with your expectations. It will distort your life and your spouse’s life in a hundred ways. No person, not even the best one, can give your soul all it needs. You are going to think you have gone to bed with Rachel, and you will get up and it will always be Leah. This cosmic disappointment and disillusionment is there in all of life, but we especially feel it in the things upon which we most set our hopes.

When you finally realise this, there are four things you can do.

  • You can blame the things that are disappointing you and try to move on to better ones. That’s the way of continued idolatry and spiritual.
  • The second thing you can do is blame yourself and beat yourself and say, “I have somehow been a failure. I see everybody else is happy. I don’t know why I am not happy. There is something wrong with me.” That’s the way of self-loathing and shame.
  • Third, you can blame the world. You can say, “Curses on the entire opposite sex,” in which case you make yourself hard, cynical and empty.
  • Lastly, you can, as C. S. Lewis says at the end of his great chapter on hope, reorient the entire focus of your life toward God. He concludes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

(Counterfeit Gods, p38-39)


  1. We want “Rachel,” and we get “Leah.” And “Leah” shows us that “Rachel” wasn’t the thing we really wanted in the first place. “Leah” is a form of grace, because she pushes our hearts to want God. The challenge is to keep this truth in the forefront of consciousness when confronted with the “Leahs.”


  2. A great sermon, thanks. For me, worsened because nostalgia lies and tells me that the Leahs of the past – the ones I saw through at the time – they were actually Rachels, and I missed them, and there’ll never be another opportunity.

    This quote I found helpful today, though – Phillip Jensen interviewed in the current edition of The Briefing:

    Q: Let’s start, Frank Sinatra style, with regrets (“I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention”). Looking back on your ministry, do you have any major regrets?

    PJ: No, none. I don’t think regret is really a Christian characteristic; it’s an atheistic characteristic; it’s a Sinatra characteristic, because he lived for himself. But if you live for God, and God is the sovereign God who cares for us, loves us, forgives us, pardons us, then we move on, forgetting what is in the past. I press on to the goal of the future, so I don’t live in regret, and I don’t think we should.


    1. That’s really helpful, Holty, thanks.

      See also 2 Corinthians 7:10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”


  3. I am reading Finding God by Larry Crabb (who is married to a Rachael, as it happens) at the moment and it has a couple of great chapters (3: Natural Passions and 4: Supernatural Passions) on how Christians are living their lives in this world and are struggling to live it for the next one. He quotes the same C.S. Lewis quote but then admits the battle with clinging to this world and the joys it provides. He rejoices in the blessings this life has given him but he mourns the losses, the changes, the passing of good things. He wants (we want) what this life life cannot provide – rich legitimate pleasures that never end.

    Quoting from page 36: “The deepest pleasures in life don’t satisfy – they point us forward. Until we attain unity with Christ in heaven, an inconsolable longing for more will remain in every human heart.”

    Thanks for the link to the sermon – really helpful stuff


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