I’ve been married now for almost twenty-nine years. So has my wife. We got married at the same time. I think I can say without much hesitation that my wife and I have a good marriage. It has been a tremendous blessing to my life. Nothing in my life has quite equaled it, except maybe being a father, and that is a very direct outgrowth of my being married to my wife. I can also say that marriage is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do. It brings me the most wonderful blessings and the most arduous challenges. Marriage can be tremendously painful, and it can heal some of the deepest wounds. Some of my greatest frustrations have come from being married, and my marriage has made me more thoroughly satisfied and at peace with myself and the world than anything else I do.
I feel bold to say all this about marriage because I believe that anyone who has embraced marriage with the necessary lack of inhibition, with the necessary wild abandon will agree with me. And it really shouldn’t be any surprise to us that marriage can be such a conflicted and complex experience.
We should be forewarned by the way God defines the marriage relationship in Scripture. We first meet this definition in the second chapter of Genesis, although Jesus and Paul both also use it as their essential definition of marriage. “A man shall leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24.
This authoritative expression of the nature of marriage is really quite breathtaking in its breadth and depth. It is fully holistic. In it we see that the marriage relationship touches every aspect of human life and experience. It is a state of life that engages every part of our being – our relational life, our social life, our economic life, and our physical life. Everything. No other human relationship is like it except in parts and pieces; even the intimate bond between parent and child doesn’t reach so completely into every aspect our lives.
Now, maybe if we came together in marriage as two fully redeemed, fully sanctified human beings, marriage wouldn’t be this complicated, conflicted experience I described at the beginning. But we know that’s not the case. Everyone of us here, married or not, knows that we don’t enter into anything at all as fully redeemed, fully sanctified human beings. We are, everyone of us, sin-sick and broken.
And marriage can lay bare our brokenness, our sin-sickness, more fully, I think, than any other human relationship. I don’t say that marriage makes us sin-sick and broken. No, when I’m finished here I intend to have said just the opposite.
But marriage, when it’s fully embraced, can draw our fallenness, our sin-sickness to the surface. Marriage is such a deep-reaching and all-encompassing state of life that, if we throw ourselves into it with vigor, we will soon discover ourselves in ways we could scarcely have imagined otherwise.
Now, if that’s true of married life – and it is true of married life – then why do so many people seem to want to get married? Well, I’m not going to presume to know what’s in everybody’s mind. I suppose there are as many reasons for wanting to get married as there are people who want to get married. But I will offer a few thoughts on the matter.
Some people, of course, don’t think about these things at all. I’ve met, and I’m sad to say, married a lot of people like that. Folks can be naïve and romantic. Marriage is just assumed. Everyone does it. For these folks, who don’t see the world and themselves through biblical eyes, the notion of sin-sickness doesn’t apply to them but only to a subset of humanity who are labeled criminals, idiots, and jerks. If their marriage fails, it is probably because they have inadvertently married one of those people.
Christian people, who know that they and their fiancé are radically fallen, Christian people who know that they and their prospective spouse are holistically sin-sick, Christian people who have thought about themselves and the challenges of married life, should be entering into marriage with a very different frame of mind. Not in denial, not pessimistically, not with fear. We enter marriage with our eyes open, but with assurance, nonetheless, because we know the purposes God has for us. He’s told us, “Behold, I am making all things new.” [Rev. 21:5] That’s our assurance. That’s our hope.
Now, a word about “hope.” The world uses that word in a completely opposite way to the biblical use of the word. In the world, we all tend to say things like: “I hope it doesn’t rain this afternoon.” By which we really mean something like: “I don’t want it to rain today, but I think it probably will.” Or we say, “I hope I do okay on this test.” By which we mean, “I didn’t study very much, so I’ll probably have a hard time with this test. But who knows?” In other words, “hope” is a word we use when we don’t have much confidence.
For the biblical Christian, hope is something quite different. It is the future tense of faith. Just as we have assurance of God’s presence and work in our lives today, so hope means we have equal assurance, trust, faith, confidence for our lives in the future. Hope is the faith, the trust, and the assurance that God will work his redemption in our lives in the future just as he has done in the present and in the past. So, we need have no fear about the future.
God wants to redeem you. He wants to make you new. He wants to make every part of you, every area of your life, new. So, we marry with hope, with assurance that God will make all things new, with the knowledge that God will redeem us in our marriage and by means of our marriage. Our redemption is not a private matter. We are designed for relationship, and it is primarily in the context of relationships that God makes the idea of redemption into a concrete reality in our lives.
I want you to understand that. Marriage is a workshop within which God can work on all the areas of your life. Richard Baxter, an English Puritan, wrote this about marriage. “It is a mercy to have a faithful friend that loves you entirely . . . to whom you may open you mind and communicate your affairs . . . . And it is a mercy to have so near a friend to be a helper to your soul and . . . . to stir up in you the grace of God.”
That’s why God says, “It is not good for human beings to be alone.” As St. Augustine has said, “We are made for God.” Following Scripture, I would add we are also made for each other. It’s with each other and through each other that God wants to make each of us new creatures. And that can be more especially true of marriage than of any other human relationship.
To married couples I say, God has granted you this calling – to be husband and wife, to enter into this wonderful workshop of redemption. In marriage, God will teach you the right, good, and holy way to be in relationship between yourselves and also with other people. In marriage, God can and will teach you the right, good, and holy way of economic and financial life. In marriage, God will redeem and refine your heart in every way. In marriage God will show you how to enjoy mutual pleasure and how to take delight in each other physically, which is his good and perfect gift to you.
Another Puritan preacher said this about married life. “All married persons must above all things love, respect, and cherish [God’s] grace in [each other]: ground your love not upon beauty, riches, . . . youth, or such failing foundations: but set it first in God and God’s grace, and it will take hold.” [Thomas Taylor].
You are about to enter the workshop of God who want to make you whole, complete, and new in Christ Jesus. Abandon yourselves to each other as you abandon yourselves to Jesus Christ, who is redeeming you.
©2013 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.