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One Marriage Under GOD
By H. Norman Wright
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2005 H. Norman Wright
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBREAKING THE SILENCE
Your phone rings. It's one of your closest friends. You hear the words "It's over" ... and then silence. Then the words begin to tumble out: "I haven't been happy in this marriage for years. Why stay and be miserable? Nothing seems to make a change! We're all miserable, so at least divorce will give both of us a fresh start and a chance at finding a soul mate. And the kids are resilient. They can adjust. I just need some people in my corner to support me right now."
True, the cry of a person who feels trapped in a marriage is a daily occurrence. But it's a different scenario when you hear this from a friend. What can you say? What would you say to your friend at this time? Think about it.
You're in a restaurant and you see a young couple from church. At one time you were this young woman's Sunday school teacher. She introduces you to her friend John and says, "We're so excited! We just moved in together. Someday we may want to get married, but we want to make sure we're compatible and that we really love each other. Marriage is so risky and so many people get divorced. This way we can finish our education without all the pressures and financial problems of marriage. So what do you think?"
What can you sayto that? What would you say?
Rest assured that marriage as we know it hasn't ended. It never will. Oh, it's taken some hits. It's been assaulted on several fronts with a vengeance. Many would like to expand its meaning and definition in our society. But these attacks have been occurring for years, often with a subtlety that hides the erosion that has occurred.
David Gushee gave a vivid description in his book Getting Marriage Right. He likened marriage to a cathedral that is in the state of collapse-its foundation and supports have been in a state of gradual erosion for generations and we are only now experiencing the result.
Our culture is not only indifferent to marriage, but a bit hostile. It's no longer "in" to say marriage is a better way; the alternatives are considered to be more attractive.
Houston, we have a problem.
Only now the problem is not a glitch in space but an attack on the very foundation of the traditional family. Just a few of the trends that have been moving in a negative direction: first-time marrieds, children born to married mothers, children living with both mom and dad. Meanwhile, never-marrieds, cohabitation, and children born to and living with unmarried mothers are on the rise. Look closely. You'll see these affecting your own community and church.
And so we exclaim, "God, we have a problem." He already knows. The question is whether we know how serious it is. And are we willing to engage our divorce-friendly culture in a direct confrontation?
It's not just couples who divorce who have given up and quit on God's plan for marriage. The rest of us contribute to the problem when we remain silent while marriages around us disintegrate. When two people stand before witnesses and the church and pledge themselves to one another until parted by death, there is no "quit clause" in the contract. This is too often inserted later.
Marriage is a specific earthly example of God's eternal covenant with us. God does not quit. Did He give up on the children of Israel as they wandered through the wilderness? Has He given up on the church? God does not quit. He does not want an imperfect married couple to quit. That's not part of the script.
We've all heard the complaints.
"I've had it."
"I'm giving up."
"I have nothing more to give to this marriage."
"I'm throwing in the towel."
They're the words of a spouse who has no more hope or energy or desire to give to the marriage. They're ready to surrender, to give in to divorce. The phrase "throw in the towel" is an expression from the early days of boxing. When a fighter was so beaten up and exhausted that he had nothing more to give, a white towel was thrown into the ring to signify he had given up and was willing to concede defeat. But the towel was never thrown in by the fighter himself. It was tossed in by his corner man, his manager. He made the decision, not the fighter.
When one of us is thinking of throwing in the towel on our marriage, it's really not our decision to make. In fact, too often this decision is made without consulting the Manager of our life. Perhaps we do this because we know what our Manager would say.
We need to see marriage the way Dr. William Doherty does:
Marriage with the long view comes with the conviction that nothing will break us up, that we will fight through whatever obstacles get in our way, that if the boat gets swamped we will bail it out, that we will recalibrate our individual goals if they get out of alignment, that we will share leadership for maintaining and renewing our marriage, that we will renovate our marriage if the current version gets stale, that if we fight too much or too poorly we will learn to fight better, that if sex is no longer good we will find a way to make it good again, that we will accept each other's weaknesses that can't be fixed, and that we will take care of each other in our old age. This kind of commitment is not made just once, but over and over through the course of a lifetime. We cling to it during the dark nights of the soul that come to nearly every marriage, times when the love is hard to feel but the promise keeps us together.
Marriage vows are a prototype of God's pledge never to leave us. When God created the universe, His creative acts were punctuated by the expression, "He saw that it was good." With one exception. He looked at the first human and said, "It's not good that man be alone." And so male and female were created to be with one another. And this was good.
But another expression of marriage has emerged during the last forty to fifty years. It's been called the "divorce boom," and many have said, "This is good." It's even been said that this trend is evidence that couples are placing greater importance on marriage rather than less-they just don't want to remain in unsatisfactory marriages but instead hope to create another one that is fulfilling. But this belief has proved false since most new marriages have also failed to deliver the desired results.
What we now have is "marriage in retreat," and not just because of divorce. Many have tried the alternative of not marrying. Living together, the great American experiment, has now been in place for years. But it, too, has not delivered on its promise.
Advocates for Marriage
The alternatives have become so common, The Wall Street Journal reports that long-term marriage is the new status symbol. Americans continue to say that a happy marriage is the number one goal-in fact, 85 to 90 percent of Americans are still choosing to marry.
And yet we hesitate in our churches to speak of the standard of "one marriage" under God, even in a loving and positive way. Could it be that we fear offending or discomforting those who are divorced or in a second or third marriage? If the church doesn't hold to God's standard and at the same time show how this is possible, who will?
So how do we respond to those we know who share with us they are ending their marriage? Do we say, "You know, if I were in your situation I wouldn't stand for that either"? Or, "You deserve better-you deserve to be happy"?
Do you like rejection? I don't. Few of us cultivate rejection. We want others to like us and accept us. But we can go too far to make that happen, even to the extent of offering advice that runs counter to Scripture. If anything, we're called to live counter to our culture, but the church has moved in the opposite direction. We're quiet when we should speak up. We're willing to remain neutral instead of taking a stand that is unpopular. And as individuals, we are overly focused on our own marriages to the extent that we are willing to let others disintegrate.
When we hear through the grapevine that a friend or church member is going to divorce, we often maintain a posture of uneasy silence. We hope they don't talk to us about it, because that would generate tension. On the one hand we don't want to see the couple split and feel that it's wrong, but on the other hand we don't want to offend anyone. So instead, by our silence, we contribute to our divorce-friendly culture.
Whatever happened to "Let's intervene and help them find a better way"?
What if we said to the troubled couple, "I hear your concern, but do you believe you've given this marriage 150 percent? Have you pulled out all the stops and sought consistent professional counseling?"
What about turning to God's Word and saying, "Let's study what God says about divorce"?
I've seen greatly distressed and troubled couples experience restoration and healing. It's possible. It can and does happen.
Years ago, two books were published-Know What You Believe and Know Why You Believe-that helped many Christians understand church doctrine and the core beliefs of our faith. These books explained the reasons for believing what we believe. These titles are also relevant for those of us who are married. What do you believe about marriage? Have you ever stopped to consider what you believe about it? Most haven't. They're just married. But why are they married? Why is it so important?
We need more couples who know why they're married.
We need more couples who indeed are advocates for marriage.
We need couples who are willing to speak out for this God-given institution.
As a society and as a church, we have taken marriage for granted. We've allowed states and the federal government to water it down and give to others recognition and benefits that exclusively belong to those who are married.
We assume our children will marry. But what if they become soured on marriage because of what they've seen in other marriages and in our nation? Perhaps they'll choose to live with someone, stay single, and still have a child. If your children were to come to you and say, "All right, convince me that marriage is the way to go," what would you say? By the time you finish this book you'll be able to answer this question in a new and powerful way.
Promise Keepers, a call to spiritual commitment for men, is one of the most positive movements to sweep across this country in recent decades. Out of this ministry came a smaller movement called Marriage Keepers, which is designed to strengthen marriages. A few years ago I participated with this group in conducting a marriage enrichment seminar on a cruise to Alaska. I was intrigued with this idea of being a Marriage Keeper and its implications for our own marriages, as well as others. (Another writer has discussed this concept, although more from what the church can do rather than individuals. See chapter 9 of Getting Marriage Right by David Gushee, Baker Books.)
What does marriage keeping mean, and how does it translate into practice? We need to first look at the word keeping. We find it used in the early chapters of Genesis 4, where Abel kept flocks. It has the broader meaning of looking after something or someone with care and concern. It's also used in Genesis 6, where Noah took animals on the ark and kept them alive. The word as used there means "preserving life." Another use involves keeping covenant obligations before God (see Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 8:2)-that is, faithfully obeying, observing, and performing our covenant obligations. Several passages in the New Testament carry the same idea of obeying the law and its obligations (see, for example, John 8:51; Ephesians 4:3; James 1:26; and Peter 3:16). The meaning here involves preserving, guarding, holding on to, obeying, and fulfilling.
Marriage keeping involves preserving, caring for, and honoring marriage. This is a commitment to do whatever it takes, not just for our own marriage, but for others, too. It means being available to help when other couples need you or, to be blunt, intervening in a troubled relationship even when uninvited. It means honesty in modeling our own marriages so couples feel free to say to us, "We need help." In a series on marriage at my own church, our pastor shared very openly, saying, "As many of you know, my wife and I have had difficulty in our marriage, mainly because we were both difficult people." He went on to describe some of the adjustments they had made to get where they are now.
Being a Marriage Keeper means being on a mission-to demonstrate that God's plan for marriage works, to call others to experience it according to His plan, and to rescue those on the brink of disintegration. Few have ever considered that marriage is a missionary enterprise of the church. I've heard some say, "Let others handle their marriage. I have my own to keep intact. I'm not going to meddle."
But we don't have a choice. We have a mandate to model a marriage in progress, imperfect but growing because Christ is made central in the relationship. And if we say that Jesus Christ makes a difference in our marriage, people will watch us, just as they will keep an eye on anyone who chooses to live a lifestyle counter to their culture. As G. K. Chesterton said, "[Marriage] is the theater of the spiritual drama."
This is all right. Expect it. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). The authors of Marriage Made in Eden have written:
We are called to be God's people in the world, an unavoidable alternative, a visible presence, a persuasive voice. We are mandated to do good deeds with the goal that people may see and give glory to God who is in heaven.
Two women out shopping paused to look at an elegant pair of shoes displayed in the window of an upscale shoe store. One woman commented to her companion, "Just look at those shoes! It takes an Italian to make a shoe like that." As God's people, we are called to live within the culture in such a way that the watching world may see our lives and say, "Now it takes a Christian to make a marriage like that."
Not only do we all need to reach out to others, we need to allow others to reach out to us when we struggle. Some couples are wonderful givers but resistant receivers. It could be pride or fear that blocks us, but when your marriage is in need, be receptive.
As a counselor, I'm involved with crisis intervention teams. In times of tragedy or trauma we go in to help the victims and offer assistance for recovery. We do this after the fact. But when it comes to marriages, the church needs crisis intervention teams to somehow intervene before a marriage breaks apart.
I know a number of couples who almost divorced but recovered, including couples nearly torn apart by adultery but who experienced God's forgiveness as well as one another's. These restored couples often have developed highly refined intuitive antennae and can pick up signs of possible problems in other couples. They come alongside a troubled pair, develop a relationship, and are able to intervene before disaster strikes. These courageous couples openly share in churches, conferences, and classes the path they took and the steps that led to the near disaster in their own marriage. They are willing to say to others, "Some of you are walking that same path, and some of you are already there. We'd like to talk with you because if we were able to turn it around, you'll be able to as well. It's not too late." And couples come to them. Why? Because they understand. They've been there. They offer hope because they're Marriage Keepers.
My hope is that this book will lead you to become a Marriage Keeper for the sake of your own marriage and for others. I hope to share with you a greater understanding and appreciation of God's plan for marriage, and that you will be able to articulate to others the pitfalls of society's alternatives.
Excerpted from One Marriage Under GOD by H. Norman Wright Copyright © 2005 by H. Norman Wright. Excerpted by permission.
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