To talk about marriage requires wisdom. Wisdom is learning to live in God’s world in God’s way, and God’s way is the gospel. Marriage then is learning about how the relationship of a man and woman works, how families work, how society works … and wisdom draws on every resource needed and available.
I can think of very few pastors more equipped to speak about marriage than Tim Keller. As if to prove this point about wisdom, Keller writes this book with Kathy, his wife; in light of a 37-yr marriage with Kathy; in light of a pastoral ministry in a church (Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC) where about 75% of the congregation is single; and in light of the Bible’s teaching. So, there, Keller’s book, called The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, is a sketch of the major issues facing marriages in our world.
Do you agree with Keller’s “secret” to marriage? Why or why not?
You know they get it when they say “Marriage is glorious but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories” (21).
The issue is that in our culture marriage is being devalued and fewer and fewer are entering marriage. Keller’s opening chp — “The Secret of Marriage” — excellently sketches the problems, and they are many. [When I use “Keller” I mean both Tim and Kathy.]
Many prefer cohabitation because they see the breakdown of marriages and think they need to be more financially stable and personally settled prior to marriage. The irony is that those who cohabit are more likely to divorce, and Keller observes that the “cure may be worse than the alleged disease” (23). In addition, when it comes to financial stability, the facts show that those who get married and stay married are more financially stable than others. Those who marry are happier, and here’s a big one that reveals a cultural bias and misunderstanding: more than 60% of married people report being very happy and those who struggle and stay married are more likely to join that “very happy” group. All of this leads to an important observation: the benefits of divorce are oversold, he observes.
The history of marriage is revealing: the old theory was that the purpose of marriage was to create a framework for a lifelong devotion and love for a family. The new theory is that marriage is about “emotional and sexual fulfillment and self-actualization” (28). It has become a contract for mutual individual growth and fulfillment.
This is “Me-Marriage” instead of “We-Marriage.”
Me-Marriage has oddly enough created both greater expectations for marriage and an increase in fears about marriage. Me-Marriage may be the fundamental problem with marriage today.
People expect a soul mate and this means sexual and physical chemistry as well as an acceptance for who someone is. Traditionally males entered marriage knowing they were going to become more disciplined. Me-Marriage is almost unrealizable — it requires someone who gives but does not expect any getting.
Keller quotes Hauerwas who said that “no two people are compatible”! We always marry the wrong person, because the person we marry does not stay the same; so marriage is about “learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married” (38). Keller calls this the Hauerwas Law. Furthermore, we are both broken by sin and find ourselves seeking for love and a partner who will replace God.
Keller argues we need to resist idealizing marriage in light of sin; we need to raise it to the divine perspective to prevent being cynical.
So what is the secret? He goes to Eph 5 and sees the right thing: as Christ loved the church, so marriage is about self-denial for the good of the other and this reveals the divine mystery of marriage.
“Marriage only works to the degree that approximates the pattern of God’s self-giving love in Christ” (46). This is a gospel-drenched marriage: “do for your spouse what God did for you in Jesus” (47). It is about “mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice” (47). Marriage, in other works, re-makes us into gospeled people.