"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Marriage Reading: The Meaning of Marriage

A while back, I shared my intention to read through six marriage-related books this year and post my impressions. The first book I read was The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller. My intention with this post and tomorrow's is not to write a book review, but rather to write what I learned from my reading. There are some topics that I haven't discussed at all, including the chapters on “sex and marriage” and “singleness”. That's not because they weren't interesting, but so that I won't recap the entire book instead of encouraging you to read it yourself!

My overall opinion of The Meaning of Marriage is as follows: Read this book. Now. This was a fantastic read, both challenging and encouraging. I took so many notes that it's been difficult summing up my thoughts in a blog post or two. I loved that this book was solidly biblically-based, as well as relying on the experiences of the Kellers' 30-year marriage and many years of pastoring churches.

Some Interesting Points
One thing that stood out was how Keller often discussed what the Bible says marriage should be in comparison to what our culture says about it AND what the traditional views about it. Christians in North America are often seen as being traditional and conservative, and Keller pointed out in several places that traditional is not the same as biblical. For example, when he discussed singleness, he noted that our culture's view of dating is neither biblical nor healthy, especially in our search for a “soul mate” who will complete our lives. He also, however, said that courtship, as practiced in some conservative circles, is not inherently more biblical (because the Bible doesn't tell us instructions on how to find a spouse), nor is it practical for many people.

The book challenged my expectations for marriage. Keller says that in most of human history, marriage was about stability and provision for the future, rather than love (although of course you did hope to get along with your spouse); religion and culture provided a broader idea of what was meaningful in life. Nowadays, many people are skeptical of religion or are not meaningfully engaged in religious practice. This means we can end up looking to our relationships to give our lives meaning, and that is a whole lot of expectation to put on one person. I asked myself several times during the book whether I have been expecting Gil to make me feel fulfilled and happy.

Keller also says that marriage puts love in a framework, makes it binding. So many people ask why marriage is any different than dating or living together. Does it really change the relationship? Keller says that because marriage puts a framework around your relationship, we can truly be intimate and vulnerable. Otherwise, we will be afraid to scare the other person away. So while many see a framework or a binding commitment as oppressive, it is really what allows your love to be free.

Kathy Keller wrote a chapter about submission, which I won't discuss at length as I've talked about submission before. I especially liked her point that submission isn't about traditional gender roles, and in fact rules on the division of household chores are not found in the Bible. While the man is the head of the household, the expression of that is for the couple to determine. I was so glad that she made this point, as it drives me batty when people reduce submission to doing the household chores.

Marriage and the Gospel
One of the book's main points was how marriage is a reflection of the gospel. I've heard this before, but hadn't thought it through that much. Keller says that the gospel can help me understand my marriage, but that marriage can also help me to understand the gospel. I wrote above that in a healthy marriage, I won't see Gil as the one who makes me happy. This goes a step further and says that if I understand the gospel and spend time with God, I'll be filled with His love, which I pass on to my husband. If, on the other hand, I only give love when I feel loved by Gil, and he does the same, then we will be in big trouble when hard or stressful times come, and one or both of us is not able to give love in the same way as before. The gospel also shows me that I am flawed, yet God loves me and accepts me. Knowing that, I can accept that my husband is flawed; I can love him when he's not being particularly loving, because God did that for me. (See Romans 5:6-7)

Keller talks about the three powers in marriage: Truth, Love, and Grace. We have the power of telling the truth about each other: because we see so much of our spouse, we are best able to point out their flaws. This helps us grow. The love of a spouse has the power to “reprogram” us, to make us feel accepted despite all the rejections we've faced in the past. We need to learn our spouse's “love language” to do that the best. This love helps us to face the truth mentioned above, or as Keller says: “We need to feel so loved by our partners that when they criticize us, we have the security to admit our own faults.” (p. 163). The power of grace is forgiveness and repentance which we need so that truth and love can mix. This is essentially the Gospel: The truth about us (we are sinners) and the love of God for us can only be brought together by God's grace in sending Jesus to us so that we can be forgiven when we repent and trust Him. This is how God uses marriage to be a picture of the gospel.

Please come on back tomorrow to read the rest of my thoughts!

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