I joke with my friends from Seattle that I have heard there are mountains in the area but yet to see them, but truth be told: I have seen the mountains and Mt Ranier. Tim and Kathy Keller, in their book The Meaning of Marriage, use this image of clouds sometimes lifting so we can see the mountain, and this image is used to describe the mission of the marriage. (More below.)
Their question is a good one: Why marriage? What is marriage’s purpose? What do you think the purpose of marriage is?
I’m not sure we often ask this question, and I have a sense that our gut instinct is both close to right but not accurate enough. The Kellers contend the purpose of marriage is friendship. I suspect many would say “someone to love, to be loved” or “companionship” or “build a family” and I suspect many would be boggled and wonder if they had ever considered such a question.
As Genesis 1–2 make clear, Adam was lonely and God gave to Adam a woman named Eve to be his ezer, or helper-companion. God, by the way, is an ezer to Israel. As God is a Trinity of social relationality, so humans — we are Eikons of God as male and female and not just as male or female — are social beings in need of relationships of love and trust.
Keller explores what friendship is [I would like to have seen him dip into the great literature on friendship more, beginning with Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and Cicero’s de Amicitia.] and sees four characteristics:
3. Sympathy in common interests
4. Common vision and passion [the “eschatology” of friendship, as it were]
But it is on #4 that the Kellers camp. Christians have a common gospel life and they long for the same future, the new creation. This means in Christians friendship there is a spiritual constancy, transparency and sympathy that glues all of the friendship toward the new creation of being made Christlike.
Marriage is friendship and Christian marriage is Christian friendship at the highest level. Christians are to make their spouse their best friend. They see two major “pseudo-spouses”: parents who entangle themselves too much in a marriage and children who occupy the whole of the family life.
The mission of marriage is to help the other become all that God made them to be. This isn’t hierarchical (so far as I see in this chp), this isn’t mentoring, this isn’t scolding … this is companioned discipleship as both walk toward the kingdom of God. Marriage, they say, “is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us” (120). I haven’t read anyone who quotes CS Lewis any more than Keller, and this “glory-selves” evokes Lewis’ famous statement in The Weight of Glory.
Now the mountain: right now we are in the clouds. That is, we see a cloudy self in the other and we are cloudy ourselves, but every now and then the clouds lift and we see in the one we love what that person will become, full of glory and grace and truth. We see the mountain she or he will become and then the clouds return and we live in light of what our spouse will become.
One caution: this whole idea of seeing what that person will become can lead some people to think it is their marital duty to chip away at the person, or it can lead some to marry someone for who they can make that person into instead of who that person is right now. The Kellers don’t address this issue but it is something we need to be cautious about: knowing the mission and what will become can drive us forward, as long as we are in this together, hand in hand, loving the person as they are right now (knowing God is at work to make them who they will be).