Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Meaning of Marriage (Part 3 of 3)

Today, we continue with the second half of The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller.  (first half review here)

In Chapter 4: The Mission of Marriage, Keller seeks to answer the question: what is marriage for? He decides: it is a way for two friends to help each other continue to become the people God wants them to be. This chapter started with some excellent insights into Christian friendship, which have a much wider application than marriage. True friendship provides transparency and constancy: we are open with real friends and we stand by one another. When this friendship becomes the heart of our marriage, we stand by one another as we continue to grow in Christ.
In this view of marriage, each person says to the other, “I see all your flaws, imperfections, weaknesses, dependencies. But underneath them all I see growing the person God wants you to be.”… You want to help your spouse become the person God wants them to be. (p122-3)
On a personal note, this has put into words what my husband and I have been trying to figure out for years. What was it that made us decide that marriage was the right decision for us? We didn’t really know what each of us would be like as a spouse or parent and in many ways we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. But we could see a clue of how God was working in each other and we decided we wanted to be a part of that.

This also provides insight for those who are seeking a marriage partner.   A Christian friend is the first place to look, if friendship is there, you could then consider marriage.  This is a much better way than seeking someone you are attracted to first, then checking to see whether a true friendship will follow.

Marriage is incredibly powerful and therefore it must have the priority in your life:
Marriage has the power to set the course of your life as a whole. If your marriage is strong, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are filled with trouble and weakness, it won’t matter. You will be able to move out into the world in strength. However, if our marriage is weak, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are marked by success and strength, it won’t matter. You will move out into the world in weakness. Marriage has that kind of power – the power to set the course of your whole life. (p 131, my emphasis)

In Chapter 5: Loving the Stranger, Keller follows on with this idea and presents 3 ways to help a couple on the journey of becoming the people God wants them to be: the power of truth, the power of love and the power of grace. 

Marriage brings you truth – the truth about who you really are.
Marriage shows you are realistic, unflattering picture of who you are and then takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to pay attention to it. (p140)
At the same time, marriage also has the power of love “an unmatched power to affirm you and heal you of the deepest wounds and hurts of your life. (p146) For example, even if you have never felt you are beautiful, the affirmation of a spouse who insists you are beautiful will finally help you to believe it. Of course, there is a warning here for us all – our power as a spouse to hurt is far greater than the power of any other person:
The one person in the whole world who holds your heart in her hand, whose approval and affirmation you most long for and need, is the one who is hurt more deeply by your sins than anyone else on the planet. (p162)

We need to figure out how to balance both truth and love in a marriage, so that we address issues truthfully, but also in love and carefully. For this we need grace. Two of the most important skills in marriage are forgiveness and repentance. “Only if we are very good at forgiving and very good at repenting can truth and love be kept together” (p163). We only have this power because we follow the example of Christ and his saving death for us:
A deep experience of the grace of God knowledge that you are sinner saved by grace – will enable the power of truth and love to work together in your marriage. (p168)
This is a helpful chapter which highlights the power you hold as a spouse, and how we must use it very carefully, and for good.

In Chapter 6: Embracing the Other, Kathy Keller becomes the primary voice. Here she discusses the differences of men and women in marriage and the problem such differences can create. She goes on to explain the bible passages that point towards a complementarian view of marriage and then fleshes out some practical ways that may look in a marriage. To be honest, I tend to skim over these chapters in marriage books now, I agree with it so I don’t interact with it too closely. However, they do include a helpful appendix on Decision Making and Gender Roles. We find that most engaged and newly married couples think decision making is the main way that a marriage based on the Ephesians 5 model of headship and submission is defined. We are quick to point out that headship and submission is so much more than decision making, and in fact it is rarely about decision making. However in including the appendix, the Kellers have provided a helpful framework for couples working through this issue.

In Chapter 7: Singleness and Marriage, Keller covers singleness, bringing 1 Corinthians 7 into focus. What he says here is helpful – that Christian society should not elevate marriage to a special status when your life truly begins, but neither should we shun marriage for our careers or until we find a perfect mate – which we never will. He talks about some principles for dating and also some practical guidance for those who are single and potentially seeking marriage. Some of these I thought were helpful, they included:
  • there are seasons not to seek marriage – upheaval, transitions, etc
  • understand the gift of singleness - that is that there are some increased opportunities for ministry that singleness brings
  • seek marriage more seriously as you get older, and understand that others do the same. How you behave in a dating relationship is different at 18 than it is at 35.
  • do not allow involvement with an unbeliever (Kathy Keller summarises her main points in this recent blog post)

In the final chapter, Chapter 8: Sex and Marriage, Keller looks at the role of sex in a marriage, and finds it is a crucial part, which binds two people together:
Sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently and exclusively to you”. You must not use sex for anything less. (p223-4)
They present a very healthy and positive view of sex within the framework of marriage. They exhort people to wait until they are married, and then to enjoy sex and all its benefits, and to continue to make sex a priority in a marriage.

I highly recommend this book. As I said on Monday, it is useful for anyone who wants to think about marriage from God’s perspective. Read it and be encouraged by the vision of how good marriage can be. Then, for those who are married, think about how this can change your marriage for the better.


Tamie said...

Hi Wendy

I've been hearing lots of talk (and people quoting from it on FB) about this book but am yet to read it.

Keller's introduction of friendship language into a definition of marriage sounds attractive and sensible to me. However, I've been wondering how cross-culturally applicable you think it is?

I understand Keller critiques Western romantic ideals of marriage but I was wondering about how this friendship idea might work in a culture where marriage is a more pragmatic arrangement e.g. where the husband still cares for, provides for his wife, etc and she still respects him, but where their primary emotional needs are met in single-gender contexts.)

Do you think his teaching here is limited to Western marriages or is more general and could be applied more broadly?

Wendy said...

Having just re-read the chapter Tamie, I think he is suggesting the principle of friendship as central to marriage transcends culture. It transcends ancient (& some current cultures) which suggest marriage is a transaction for economic or social status, and it transcends current western ideas of marriage which suggest that marriage will bring you emotional and sexual satisfaction. Instead, the goal is a marriage where each party seeks the increasing holiness of the other. He seems to be trying to make it as cross-cultural as possible.

I think the teaching could definitely be applied more broadly – and it should be, the value of marriage and each marriage partner is something worth teaching about. But I wonder if there are different bridges to cross to explain it? Perhaps the barrier in a ‘transaction’ type marriage is convincing the man his wife could have that role, or that his wife is that important for him to fulfil that role, or perhaps convincing the wife she is of value. Perhaps in the more western marriage, the barrier is convincing the woman that satisfying romance and the man that satisfying sex are not all the marriage is about. Yes I know – highly generalised comments, but hopefully you get my point.

His comments on friendship I think can be easily applied to other friendships, and should be – especially close single-gender friendships. I guess what he is saying is that having that close relationship with your spouse means the marriage works on a much better level.

I really liked the friendship idea in this book, it’s one of the things that has stuck with me.


Tamie said...

Thanks Wendy! I'm looking forward to reading it.