I’ve written a book on marriage. I can’t seem to get it published, but I wrote one. The last few years have seen some excellent books on marriage published. I currently have a “trinity” of marriage books. My “go to” books are Intimate Allies, When Sinners Say “I Do” and What Did You Expect?. They all focus on different things and do that very well. Recently a church planter asked me what I used. I try to draw from all of these depending on the needs of the couple.
But I may need to employ the new math if I want to keep a trinity of marriage books. You know, the kind where Winston had to say, believably, that 2+2=5 or have a rat chew off his nose (this trick was used in The Salton Sea except it wasn’t a rat, and it wasn’t his nose).
Or I can shift from a “trinity” to a pantheon of marriage books. That is because I am reading Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. I’m only one and half chapters into it, but what I’ve read thus far is so good that my “trinity” is obliterated.
As usual, Tim starts with talking about the audience of the book and why looking at Scripture is good and necessary (God instituted and still regulates marriage). Single people can and should read (good) marriage books. You want realistic expectations and to prepare yourself to be the type of person you need to be in marriage.
I married in my mid-30′s. I look back on the dating relationships I had earlier and I’m glad I didn’t marry them. I was a mess. And I was not alone, most of us have a distorted view of marriage based on experiences. I needed the nearly decade long break from dating that God put me thru so I could mature as a person. So I could catch up with my theology, so to speak.
“At times, your marriage seems to be an unsolvable puzzle, a maze in which you feel lost.”
Tim’s popular article You Never Marry the Right Person is taken from the first chapter of the book on the Secret of Marriage. Compatibility is an interesting thing. CavGirl recently said that CavWife and I are perfect for each other because we both love butter. Yes, the wisdom of a 7 year-old. While no one is “perfect” for you some are better for you than others. I think that my wife was a good choice, better than some other choices with respect to who we each are: good and bad.
Keller begins by showing the benefits of marriage which runs counter to all the popular myths about marriage. Marriage is HARD, but it is good for people (if they submit to the realities of marriage). But many of these myths are founded upon a relatively new set of presuppositions about marriage. They change how people view marriage. Now it is seen as confining: emotionally, sexually (only one sexual partner???), financially and more.
In the biblical worldview, which shaped much of Western civilization (and other civilizations) for centuries (but that influence is now waning) we find meaning thru self-denial, not self-actualization. The duties of marriage were seen as a good thing for the cultivation of virtue. It harnessed good qualities, limited bad qualities and taught people what love really is. Now, marriage is viewed as the place to find emotional and sexual fulfillment. It became another means of self-actualization. And if it wasn’t fulfilling or actualizing you should find a better partner (because obviously you aren’t the problem).
Part of this, as Keller notes, is the influence of the Enlightenment. Marriage became private (don’t regulate what happens in my bedroom!) rather than public. But marriage is necessarily public. It is lived in front of others except for those portions that need to be private, particularly the marriage bed. But particular men and women are declared to be spouses. They wear rings. They take vows. They are accountable. That’s good!
As a culture, for instance, we have moved from sexual restraint as the measure of a man to sexual prowess being the measure. Now ‘manly’ men are supposed to be bedding every woman they can (and women are supposed to be acting like men). So what we look for in a partner is warped by this strange view of compatibility: they have to be hot, and smart, and handy etc. Character is diminished in all this.
“A marriage based not on self-denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low- or no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you.”
All of these factors that drive the new freedom in marriage are exactly what make people miserable in marriage. The frustrations meant to sanctify you now diminish your fulfillment so you bail. You discover that married life isn’t like a porno movie with meaningful conversation added. You don’t stay hot, or lukewarm, and you can both be really irritable sometimes.
Both people enter marriage as incredibly flawed. They are affected by Adam’s sin, their own sin and how others sinned against them. We can cover some of that up, but living in the state of marital mostly bliss will reveal them- fast!
The secret of marriage is that your spouse is not your savior. And can’t be. They can’t save you because they can’t even save themselves from their own dysfunction and sin. Both spouses need help from outside the marriage. The secret of marriage is that there is Savior who brings sinners into union with himself (of which marriage is a reflection). He who lived, died and rose again outside of us to save us is willing to dwell inside of us to change us.
“This is the secret- that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another.”
That is where Paul goes in Ephesians 5, and that is where Keller is going with this book. Jesus’ union with the Church is the pattern for a husband and wife. Just as Jesus saves us from our tendency toward sinful self-destruction, marriage is used to reveal, restrain and repent of those sinful tendencies. Jesus rebuilds us from the inside out and ground up. Marriage is one of the means he uses to do that. To the degree that we don’t get that, and don’t rely on Christ, our marriage will not be satisfying, stable and secure.
As Steve Brown says, “you think about that.”