for marriages in distress

An acquaintance yesterday confided in me about the distress they are experiencing in their marriage. While I intend most of the posts in this blog to be focused on encouraging regular Bible reading and reflectoin, it seems appropriate in a blog called “Church in the World” for the needs of the moment to be allowed to intrude.

This person’s comment to me was, “We never intended this to last our whole lives.” I responded, “That’s the way it’s designed to be, you know.” I would like here to outline what I meant by this.

I did some brief searching on Google. Here is one good article I found on the subject entitled “God’s Design for Marriage”. Yet this is really targeted towards Christians, whereas the person with whom I was speaking is not (at least yet… I’m an optimist).

So how would one summarize for an unchurched person how marriage is designed to work? This question itself presumes that marriage is designed and that it is designed by someone other than a social killjoy. I acknowledge this, but in the interest of brevity I’d like to just proceed to what the design is, and let that answer serve as an implicit justification of these assumptions. So, for unchurched people, here are three design features of marriage that summarize how God intended for it to work: intimacy, exclusivity, total commitment.

The first design feature, intimacy, is what we all want and need in a relationship. We want there to be someone who knows us, who understands us, who accepts us, and who enjoys us for who we are. My own marriage is far from perfect, but when it works, this is what is happening. Just this weekend my wife Heather and I celebrated our 20th anniversary. One of the things that was so great was sitting across the table from one another over Sunday brunch and being able to laugh together just because we know each other and understand each other.

The second design feature, exclusivity, is what is required to allow for the first design feature, intimacy, to flourish. Americans like to say, “Kill two birds with one stone.” Russians have a contrary expression, “Chase two rabbits and you’ll catch neither.” In terms of marriage, it is the Russian expression that captures the truth of the matter. You can’t have intimacy if you aren’t willing to pursue it with exclusivity.

The third design feature, total commitment, is what is required to provide a foundation for the exclusivity we just discussed. Anybody who has been married even for a Britney Spears weekend knows that your spouse is more than capable of being a real turkey. Yet here’s the problem: so are we! The secret is this: we’re all turkeys. So how does a turkey get past the faults and flaws of another turkey? Total commitment. The biblical term for total commitment is ‘covenant’. A covenant is to a personal relationship what a corporate merger is to a business relationship. Marriage was never intended to be a joint venture to be disbanded if things didn’t work out. If this were the case, sex would have just ended with a kiss.

“Great,” you say, “but there’s no way I can do that.” On your own, agreed, very difficult, if not impossible. But here is where faith comes in. There is someone who has already totally committed to you. His name is Jesus Christ, and he gave his life to atone for all the times that you’ve been a turkey, and that your spouse is a turkey. Because He is totally committed to me, I have an endless reservoir from which to draw in order to extend grace and love to my spouse. He is there for you too: call on Him, and you’ll see.


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