Friday, September 7, 2012

The Heart of Healthy Marriage

Healthy marriage is not a sociological or psychological pursuit.  At its heart it is a theological relationship.  Let me say that again.  Healthy marriage is not a sociological or psychological pursuit.  At its heart it is a theological relationship.
Certainly sociology and psychology play a part in marriage.  They play a part in every relationship.  It is legitimate to ask questions like, “How should I proceed in this relationship?  How does this benefit me? How does it harm me? What is my spouse’s role in this?”  But ultimately psychology-based or sociology-based models for marriage are individual-centric pursuits that, if left unchecked, will eventually lead toward a destructive, self-centered existence.  The questions then are no longer about my personal well-being for the sake of the relationship as a whole, but rather my personal well-being for the sake of my personal gratification.  The god of “self” rears its ugly head and everything in the relationship becomes about pleasing me, even at the expense of my mate.  The shared covenant relationship of Christian marriage is replaced by a parasitic relationship that seeks to use and devour the other partner, eventually killing the relationship.
But healthy marriage is at its heart a theological pursuit.  All that simply means is marriage defined by God has both purpose and boundaries that bless the couple.  In God, couples find a shared ministry that moves their focus beyond selfish interests and leads them to seek ways to actively participate in the Kingdom of God.  The exact shape that takes will certainly differ from couple to couple, and will likely change multiple times throughout a couple’s lifetime.  But the common element is a shared purpose that is centered in God, allows the couple to look outside of just themselves, and ultimately points the world back toward God.  The main boundary that protects the marriage and preserves its purpose in God is the same boundary the first man and woman had in the Garden of Eden; choice—the capacity to choose wisely and center your marriage relationship on God, selflessly serving each other, and putting the good of the marriage ahead of your own personal desires.  Obviously, choice can be abused and used to promote isolation and brokenness, but ultimately, as the image-bearers of God, our freedom and capacity to make the right choice (even if it is personally painful or unpleasant) is always our greatest protective boundary.
In Genesis 2, the man and the woman are described as “one flesh.”  That God-centered, holistic, unified, intentional view of marriage is often highly foreign to a purely sociological or psychological basis for marriage.  (Please don't misunderstand what I mean.  I am not at all against good, competent marriage counseling.  It is necessary for the reality of the world in which we exist.  However, good, competent Christian marriage counseling should always flow from a theological foundation and be supported by psychology and sociology, not flow from sociology/ psychology and include theology in a token way.  If you want to have a Christian marriage, you must start and end with God's Word.)
Obviously, we live in a post-Garden of Eden world.  The Edenic paradise no longer exists.  The isolation and brokenness of this world is ever-present in all of our relationships, including (and often especially) marriage.  But through Christ, God still calls couples to a covenant relationship between husband, wife, and God.  God still calls spouses to find a purpose greater than selfish personal gratification.  God still provides boundaries for healthy marriage.  Only in Christ can spouses find a holy covenant relationship rather than the relationship-destroying parasite of selfishness.  At its heart, healthy Christian marriage is always a theological relationship.

(On a side note, today Lisa and I are celebrating 16 years as husband and wife.  Proverbs 18:22 says, "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord."  Through Lisa, God has poured out his favor on me beyond anything I could have ever asked or imagined.)

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