Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1The Mystery of Turning "Not Good" into "Very Good"
Several years after Teresa's shocking disclosure that she felt emotionally numb in our relationship, a small but significant incident affirmed to me that something good was happening in our marriage. The dry desert of distance between us was being gradually replaced by the lush oneness we both craved.
Every year, Teresa and I try to get away to a quiet, comfortable lodge in the Smoky Mountains for a few days. It has become our own personal retreat, where the two of us can relax alone or with a few friends. One year, just before leaving home for the airport and our annual pilgrimage to Tennessee, I passed by the kitchen and sensed God prompting this new thought: Why don't you take a few packets of Sweet'n Low with you for Teresa? Over the years of our marriage I have learned that Teresa prefers Sweet'n Low over other sweeteners in her coffee, but the lodge where we usually stay doesn't serve that brand. So I reached into the kitchen cupboard for a handful of pink packets and slipped them into my briefcase.
We arrived at the lodge just in time for dinner. As dessert and coffee were served, Teresa began searching the table for the Sweet'n Low, disappointed again that it wasn't there. But I had come to the table prepared. As I pulled a small pink packet out of my pocket and handed it to her, the disappointment on Teresa's face was washed away by an endearing smile. Tears filled her eyes, and she hugged me. At that moment I relished the pleasure I was able to bring to my wife with such a simple act. I also sensed God's pleasure at what had happened. He seemed to say, "We did well together, David! You needed me to prompt you to bring Sweet'n Low, and I needed you to pick up the packets and share them with Teresa."
I am convinced I never would have thought to bring the Sweet'n Low on my own. Someone else was thinking of Teresa that day, and he wanted to involve me in the ministry of caring for my wife in this special way. God could have prompted the restaurant manager at the lodge to order Sweet'n Low in time to have it available when we arrived. Or God could have miraculously arranged for a pink packet to materialize on the table where we were to be seated. But, amazingly, he invited me to be his colleague in this loving act. And when I responded, Teresa and I experienced a new measure of oneness, and the One who loves us both was honored and blessed.
A Colleague with God
This small incident reinforced to Teresa and me how much we needed God in our marriage and how much God desires to be a partner with each of us in the ministry of loving each other. This concept leads us to the first answer to the vital question posed in the introductory chapter: What is God getting out of your marriage? He is seeking a colleaguea dedicated partner and coworkerin the ministry of loving your spouse, and you are the colleague he wants. Furthermore, he is seeking a colleague to join him in the ministry of loving you, and he wants your spouse to fill that role.
And when God receives in you the colleague he seeks, you in turn receive the marvelous benefits of being partnered with him in your marriage. The God who knows your spouse completely is present to share his knowledge of him or her with you. He may not prompt you to slip pink packets into your briefcase, but he will lead you into a deeper understanding of your spouse so you can care for him or her in a similar way. What a wonderful arrangement! God receives a colleague, and you receive a measure of fulfillment for your longing to deeply know and be known by your spouse. This section of the book will fully explore this biblical principle.
But first let's answer another question: Why does God want to partner with us so intimately in marriage? To answer that question we must go back to the beginning. Come with me on an imaginative journey back to a special day in Paradise.
The Great Mystery in the Garden
It was a perfectly beautiful day. The sun was radiant, and a pleasant breeze ruffled the tall, verdant grass. It was the most beautiful day of Adam's life. Of course, it was only the first day of his life.
"What do you think of the Garden?" God asks as he and Adam walk together in the idyllic setting.
"I love it here," Adam answers enthusiastically. "No crime, no traffic, no pollution, no disease, no war. This place is just perfect, isn't it?"
"Yes," God replies, "you live in a perfect world, and you are in charge of it all."
"All?" Adam echoes, and God nods and smiles. "Wow! I am in charge of everything, and I have everything I need. I have fresh air to breathe, a wonderful spring to drink from, plenty of delicious vegetables and fruit to eatexcept for that one tree you told me not to eat from. I mean, I've got everything. This is really good!"
"Yes, it is good," God affirms. "And what about the responsibilities I gave you?"
"My job? Oh yes, I love this job," Adam exults. "You appointed me to be the CEO over the fish, the birds, the livestock, the bugsall the creatures you created. I guess I'm at the top of the career ladder. Of course, I'm the only one on the ladder!"
"But at least you're at the top!" God inserts with a grin.
"Right. I couldn't be happier. No problems with job security, no competition for advancement, and no hassles with coworkers. I guess I have it made. This is so good."
"Adam, what do you like best about the Garden?" God probes as they stroll along.
"That's easy," Adam answers without hesitation. "It's you, Lord. I enjoy the beauty of my surroundings, I enjoy being with the animals, and I enjoy the responsibilities you have given me. But you are my dearest friend. I don't know what I would do without you. Everything here is good, but you are the best."
They walk along in silence for several moments relishing the surroundings and enjoying each other's company. Finally God speaks. "Adam, I am pleased that you like the Garden in which you will live and work. It is all good. But now I need to talk to you about something that is not good."
Adam stops abruptly and turns toward the Creator with a cloud of confusion shadowing his face. "I don't understand, Lord. You created the sun, moon, and stars, and they are good. You spoke the land, water, plants, and animals into existence, and they are good. You and I enjoy an intimate and fulfilling relationship. Everything is perfect. What could possibly be not good?"
What Was Not Good
Not goodthe words had never been uttered before. Throughout the Genesis 1 account of the creation, we repeatedly read the words, "God saw that it was good" (see verses 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). Adam lived in a perfect world. He possessed everything he could possibly need or want. God had given him an exalted position. And at this point Adam enjoyed with God an intimate relationship uninterrupted by sin. What could be wrong with this picture? What could be "not good"?
Then God declared, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18). We can imagine Adam responding, "But Lord, I'm not alone. I have the Garden and the animals to occupy my time. And most important, I have you."
If God had spoken with Adam on this point, he might have said, "Everything I have made is good, but I am not quite finished with my creative work here. You and I enjoy a very special relationship, and I desire it to continue. But I have also created you for other relationships. Until I provide another being like you, you are alone. And since I did not design you to be alone, it is not good for you to be alone."
What can we derive about the "not good" from Genesis 2:18? Had God made some kind of mistake that had to be corrected? Had he forgotten something? Absolutely not. The Old Testament proclaims, "Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect" (Deut. 32:3-4). God makes no mistakes, and he is not forgetful. It is clear that God's masterpiece, as it was described in Genesis 2:18, was not yet complete. He had designed Adam with a capacity for intimate relationship with himself and with other human beings. It was all part of God's blueprint for humankind. But until an "other" was there to relate to Adam and complete God's design, it was not good.
Why did God create Adam with a need for other people? Considering what Scripture teaches us about marriage and other relationships, perhaps God explained it something like this: "Adam, I have created all things for my glory, including you. And I have purposely created you with a need for other human relationships, beginning with the helper I will provide for you. As I partner with your helper to remove your aloneness, and partner with you to remove her aloneness, your inner longing for oneness will be fulfilled. I yearn to see you blessed abundantly in this way, and as it happens, a great mystery unfolds: I receive pleasure, and I am blessed."
The Scriptures record the scene of God's final creative act: "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. And the man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.' For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:21-24).
We can imagine Adam's response to all this. "I am amazed! You, the infinite God, are pleased to enter the finite relationship of a man and woman to fill our need for one another and bring us oneness. This is indeed a great and wonderful mystery."
Yes, God's design for oneness is a great and wonderful mystery. It is the mystery of turning the "good" of creation into "very good." The Bible's summary statement of God's completed work reads, "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31, emphasis added). That which was good was now very good. And that which was not goodAdam's alonenesshad been removed in God's provision of oneness for husband and wife, oneness that brings him honor, glory, and pleasure.
The Mystery of "Very Good"
Your loving relationship with your spouse is God's "very good" to remove your aloneness and fill your longing to deeply know and be known by another. As the imaginary conversation in the Garden illustrates, our aloneness is not removed solely through a personal, spiritual relationship with God. And it is not removed solely through the human marriage relationship. The "very good" of God's design for marriage is found in a three-way relationship. God desires that you partner with him in the marriage to remove your spouse's aloneness, and God desires to join with your spouse to remove your aloneness.
Some people protest that God alone meets all our needs, that he doesn't need to use a spouse to remove our aloneness. They quote Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." They sing hymns that celebrate God's total sufficiency, hymns like "Jesus Is All I Need." They firmly insist, "I have God, and God meets all my needs."
Teresa and I wholeheartedly believe that God is the ultimate source for meeting all our needs. We understand both biblically and experientially our deep need for God. Nothing elsenot possessions, not position, not success, not another personcan fill the God-shaped vacuum within each of us. God alone brings peace and order to the human heart. Yet God revealed a wondrous mystery in the Garden. In his unsearchable wisdom, he has chosen to partner with us to remove the "not good" of aloneness in our spouses. He is still the source for taking away the "not good" of being alone in our marriages, but he desires to enlist us as his colleagues in the process.
What about people who are not married? Is God's design for removing aloneness thwarted in those who are single? Absolutely not. God's wonderful plan for removing human aloneness is fulfilled in three divinely appointed relationships. For those who are married, the marriage relationship is God's primary means for removing aloneness. But some people do not marry, and some marriages do not survive. In such cases, loving familyparents, children, grandparents, siblingsis the divinely provided relationship for removing aloneness. In time, Adam and Eve produced Cain, Abel, Seth, and other children. They in turn had their own families to remove their aloneness. The psalmist explains, "Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him" (Ps. 127:3, nlt). The family is to be a loving, cherishing environment where the aloneness of each member is removed by the others.
And for those who for some reason are without close family, God's "safety net" for removing human aloneness is his body, the church. Jesus declared, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). God has graciously provided marriage, family, and the body of Christ so that no one should suffer the "not good" of being alone.
I Needed Only God
At age twenty-one, I was fully aware of my personal need for God, and that is when I trusted him as my Savior and when his Spirit began rapid changes in my heart and life. As I began to grow as a Christian, I generally accepted the idea that I needed other people somehow. But I firmly believed that my only real need was for God. And I assumed that if othersincluding Teresawould just become more spiritual, they would not need me! This view skewed my understanding of God's design for involving me in removing Teresa's aloneness. And I certainly didn't understand God's desire to remove my aloneness through Teresa. Since God had not found in me a colleague to care for Teresa, the oneness she and I sought was elusive, and the blessing God desired and deserved from our relationship was limited.
As growing Christians eager to do God's work, Teresa and I poured ourselves into spiritual pursuits. I memorized large portions of Scripture. I became deeply involved in a ministry to students, and I led discipleship groups. Teresa became involved in her own ministry, which reached thousands of women each year. Eventually Teresa and I conducted marriage seminars together. In our efforts to please God and serve others, our primary focus and priority was on ministry. By placing my ministry before our marriage, I left Teresa alone. By placing our children and her ministry before our marriage, Teresa left me alone. Although our church viewed us as the ideal ministry couple, we continued to silently endure our relationship. We were very active and very busy, but very alone.
In those years I was so focused on my spiritual life and ministry that I had little time or attention for my family. Teresa was left with the responsibility of caring for our two daughters, Terri and Robin, and our young son, Eric. Occasionally she would lament to me her desire for a more loving husband and a more devoted father for our children. But my attitude said, "Teresa, you don't need more of me to have a fulfilling life; you need more of God."
We All Need God and One Another
It is true that a relationship with God is to be primary in each of our lives. We are to trust Christ as Savior, yield to his Spirit, and obey his words: "‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment" (Matt. 22:37-38, nlt). Had Jesus stopped there, we might conclude that all we need is a relationship with God. But Jesus went on: "A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments" (Matt. 22:39-40, nlt). In Jesus' eyes, relationship with our neighborsliterally our "near ones"is as important as relationship with God.
As we set our hearts on loving God completely, he desires to enlist us as his colleagues to remove the aloneness of our near ones, beginning with our spouses. Teresa and I often call this the Great Commandment marriageloving God with all your heart and loving your spouseyour nearest near oneas yourself (see also Ephesians 5:28). Removing aloneness is a fundamental purpose of marriage. Are you God's colleague actively involved in the process of removing your spouse's aloneness? Is your spouse less alone today than he or she has ever been? This is an important biblical measure of a successful marriage relationship.
It is clear throughout Scripture that God, for reasons known only to him, has opted to fill our longings for oneness through love relationships with both himself and other human beings. He is totally sufficient in his provision, but in his sovereignty he has chosen to share some of his love through the three relationships he has ordained: marriage, family, and the church. If we are not fulfilling the Great Commandment in our marriages, our families, or in our churches, the result is not good.
Why It Is Not Good to Be Alone
As Teresa and I travel and teach about Great Commandment marriage, we talk to countless Christian couples who are married but still alone. Most of them struggle, as we did, in clinging to the notion that our deep longings for oneness in marriage can be fulfilled only in a direct, personal relationship with God. We failed to understand God's desire to become our colleague to remove aloneness in our relationship with each other. As we continued in this misperception, we experienced the emptiness and pain of missing God's best in our relationship, and our life together was not good.
During one of our conferences for ministry leaders, a pastor approached Teresa and me to share his wife's problem. "She is a bundle of fear, anxiety, and insecurity," he explained. "She's afraid of flying, afraid of the dark, afraid of driving in traffic, afraid of strangers, afraid of ... practically everything. Being so fearful and paranoid, she tries to control everything and everyone around her. She figures that if she can be in complete control in her life, she won't be afraid. She controls not only her own schedule and activities but also my life and our kids' lives. If the beds are not made perfectly or the dishes are not loaded into the dishwasher just so, she blows up at us. She's driving us crazy."
Before he could say something like "Do you think you could fix her?" I said, "Pastor, we know what removes fear, don't we?"
He was silent and looked puzzled, so I rephrased my question in terms more familiar to him. "We know what casts out fear, don't we?"
He flashed a look of comprehension. Shifting into his preacher's voice, he responded, "That's what I have been trying to tell her. Perfect love casts out fear."
"And whose love is perfect, Pastor?" I continued.
"God's love," he answered, as if preaching it from the pulpit.
"Pastor, where has God put some of his perfect love that will cast out your wife's fear?"
Catching the drift of my question, he started backing away. "Hey, I didn't think I would have to be involved in this!"
How did this man come to such a conclusion? He was locked in the common belief that his wife needed only God to solve her problem. But underneath this wife's fear, insecurity, and control issues was a woman who was very alone. This pastor was blind to the fact that God wanted to enlist him as a colleague in loving his wife, casting out her fear, and removing her aloneness. As a result, their marriage and family life were in shambles. She was alone, and it was not good.
The "not good" of aloneness may take many forms in a marriage relationship. When we do not experience God's blessing and provision for our aloneness, we become vulnerable to discouragement. Many couples struggle under the pressure of strained finances, territorial fights, and threats of leaving. Many more suffer in silence. Many couples do not plan goals together or try to solve problems together. Struggling through tough times alone, they sometimes feel they are no better off than couples who divorce and start over with someone new. Solomon's wisdom answers: "Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble" (Eccles. 4:9-10, nlt).
When we do not experience God's blessing and provision for removing aloneness, we become vulnerable to temptation. Some husbands who are alone in their marriages are drawn into pornography, which can lead to sexual addiction. Some wives who are alone seek intimacy through sleazy romance novels and soap operas, which set the stage for illicit affairs. In this high-tech age, an increasing number of men and women are leaving their spouses for people they meet and "fall in love with" in Internet chat rooms. Again Solomon responds. "If two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?" (Eccles. 4:11).
When we do not experience God's blessing and provision for our aloneness, we become vulnerable to defeat. Many homes are being torn apart by anger, reprisal, rejection, and out-of-control children as defeat replaces God's plan for victory in relationships. The enemy runs roughshod over the marriage and family divided by aloneness. Solomon reminds us, "A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord [God, you, and your spouse] is not easily broken" (Eccles. 4:12, nlt).
Teresa and I believe that most, if not all, of the personal, family, and social crises plaguing our culture today can be traced to the "not good" of relational aloneness. A few years ago I attended a conference convened to discuss the local impact of the numerous crises of our culture. The conferencewhich was secular, not Christianwas attended by civic leaders and local politicians. Also represented were a number of secular organizations and agencies formed to deal with such issues as crime, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, school dropouts, and domestic abuse.
As the participants began to discuss the symptoms and the root causes, a consensus arosewhich is something of a miracle in a group of headstrong leaders. They concurred that underneath the many and varied social problems plaguing our community was one common dilemma: the breakdown of the family. As significant as their conclusion was, the conference participants did not stop there. They advanced a thesis to identify the cause of the ills of society and the disintegration of the family. Here's what they decided: People are more alienated and isolated from each other than ever before. The outward manifestations of crime, drugs, rebellion, abuse, addiction, and family breakup spring from feelings of emptiness, lack of love, insecurity, discouragement, frustration, and aloneness.
Teresa and I could not agree more. And statistics confirm the diagnosis: Alienation and disconnectedness between individuals is widespread. Significant portions of the adult population today grew up suffering from some form of parental separation, abandonment, or addiction, and possibly from physical or sexual abuse that has left them alienated and disconnected. And when that aloneness, no matter what the cause, is not removed, it is not good.
In response to this diagnosis, some people may protest, "What about sin? Isn't sin at the heart of society's ills?" Yes, sin is real, pervasive, and devastating. Adam and Eve and everyone since have disobeyed God. Sin is what keeps us alone, separated from God and others. God's burden and provision for sin is related to this truth. He knows that sin keeps us alone and that aloneness brings forth the "not good" of relational strife and pain. No wonder his heart is full of compassion for us. No wonder he acted to remedy the sin that keeps us alone.
How God Knows Aloneness Is Not Good
How does God know that being alone is not good? Being an omniscient God, does he then intrinsically know that aloneness is not good? Or did God make his pronouncement from an experiential knowledge, having personally tasted the "not good" of being alone?
Some people struggle with the concept that God could personally experience being alone. They contend that the triune God has never been alone in all of eternity. They refer to the Godhead who said at creation, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). They point out that God is the perfect unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
That's true. But we are talking about the God who is not confined to time and history as we experience it. When he declared in the Garden, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18), had he not already experienced the crisis of Calvary? In his eternal existence, had the Father not already heard his Son cry out in agony, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46, nlt)? Had the Father not already experienced the heartpiercing pain of being separated from his only Son?
I believe he had. And this is how God could say to Adam with authority that aloneness is not good. God knew experientially what it means to be alone. From eternity past, the Father knew the pain and emptiness of being separated from his Son. This is part of why he so compassionately calls you to become his colleague in removing your spouse's aloneness.
Recently a young married couple came to Teresa and me and announced that they were struggling with the idea of a God who could understand their relational aloneness. The wife, Emily, said to me, "David, I'm sorry, but I just can't imagine that God feels any pain for me or my marriage. I don't think it's biblical."
As I reached for my Bible, I asked Emily if she thought God could feel sad over the hurt that sin has caused his creation. She hesitated and then said, "I'm sure he doesn't like it."
"Yes," I agreed, "I'm sure he doesn't like what sin has caused. But do you think he is saddened by it?"
"I'm not sure," she replied.
I said, "Let me read to you how God felt about his creation at the time of Noah." I read Genesis 6:5-6: "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain" (niv).
I looked at Emily and asked, "These verses tell us that God was grieved and his heart was filled with pain. Can you not imagine a compassionate God hurting because of what sin and aloneness had done to the creation he loved?"
She shook her head slowly and replied, "It's hard for me to see God hurting."
After a pause, I probed, "Why, Emily? Why is it hard for you to see a God who hurts for you?"
"Because when I hurt, I lose control, and I can't imagine God losing control."
Emily was laboring under a distorted picture of God. When God experiences the pain of aloneness and sin, he does not lose control. There is nothing irrational or impulsive about him or his behavior. When he experienced personally the pain of sin and aloneness caused by his human creation, he did not lose control or act irrationally. Rather, his fathomless love compelled him to send his only Son to die an awful death for us. God is an omnipotent God, but he is also a relationally relevant God. "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).
God longs to enter your marriage and involve you and your spouse as his colleagues in removing the aching void of aloneness because he knows experientially that it is not good to be alone. As the triune God, he also knows the "very good" of oneness in a loving relationship. And when the "not good" of aloneness is replaced by the "very good" of oneness that he introduced in the Garden, he is pleased.
As God and Adam walked in the Garden together, God declared aloneness to be "not good." When Eve was added to the population as Adam's helper, God declared his finished work to be very good. At first glance, we might assume that "not good" became "very good" simply at the addition of another human being. But that is no more true than to assume that any man and woman who say "I do" will automatically enjoy a very good marriage.
The "not good" of aloneness in a marriage relationship is removed only as each spouse becomes God's colleague in the process of deeply knowing and being known by the other. In the following pages, you will discover how becoming God's colleague brings him pleasure and transforms "not good" into "very good" in your marriage.