Book Review: The Meaning Of Marriage

Each year,  I have the honor and privilege of participating in a handful of wedding ceremonies. For each ceremony I officiated, my wife and I required a number of sessions of pre-marriage counseling beforehand.  It is an honor to walk through this pre marriage process with a couple. However, I have found it to be an even greater honor when a marriage is in distress and we are asked to intervene. Interestingly enough, it is during the pre-marriage counseling that people are interested in hearing about how “easy” our marriage has been to maintain. They will also give God the glory for a healthy marriage. In crisis however, very few people want to hear what God's perfect plan is for a marriage. Instead, they need practical ways to understand one another. To rebuild lines of communication. To find a way to connect again, or they will simply choose to end it. Timothy Keller calls this collapse an “apocalyptic romance.”
Has something changed? The disenchantment, or the end of the honeymoon, seems commonplace and natural in previous centuries, and seemingly reasonable to overcome. But with ever-increasing numbers marriages are collapsing at an alarming rate both outside the church and within. In Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage, the author states “In our day, something has intensified this natural experience and turned it toxic. It is the illusion that we find our true soul-mate, everything wrong with us will be healed, but that makes the lover in to God, and no human being can live up to that.” In a culture where contemporary people feel more free than ever to do what they choose, why be unhappy? Why put that pressure on ourselves? As cohabitation has become increasingly the norm, perhaps the time for marriage itself is passed?
“Here we have a powerful answer to the objection that marriage is inherently oppressive and therefore obsolete,” says Keller. “Paul saw that when God designed the original marriage, he already had Christ and the church in mind. This is one of God's great purposes and marriage: to picture the relationship between Christ and his redeemed people forever!” If this is true, don’t you believe the church has a responsibility to help others see marriage as a good thing? Healthy marriages may be the absolute best way to communicate the Gospel in a practical way for those in the community looking to see if the church can be relevant.
It should be noted, that not all marriages are on the brink of divorce. Some marriages are simply not what they hoped for them to be. Some marriages have become all about the routine, and it's very difficult to determine where to look to get that spark back, because there are no obvious problems. “Many marriage problems stem not from bad things but some very good things that have become too important. What's some good thing becomes more engrossing and important than your spouse, it can destroy the marriage,” says Keller. The author walks through some scenarios that create this issue. At the top of the list is an over commitment to parents, or even more common problem, an over commitment to children. “If you love your children more than your spouse, the entire family will be pulled out of joint and everyone will suffer.” But what if a husband and wife work through this, and are able to prioritize one another over the priorities of the family? Will that make everything run smoothly?
We should not have our heads in the sand. We should be well aware that the experience of romantic love tends to wear off, whether it wears off early on or later, and bring us back to reality. I’m stuck with this person. This is where much of the pain and suffering that many couples go through in a marriage comes from.  How can we proceed? In a chapter entitled “loving the stranger,” Timothy Keller addresses the issue in this way: “At first love sweeps you up involuntarily, but eventually love is a deliberate choice. It will seem mechanical at first, but if both spouses do it together, eventually the experience of being loved richly will sweeten their lives.” The only way that a marriage will work, is when both spouses are deliberately choosing to do loving things for one another.
This book is a great read. Timothy Keller does a fantastic job of balancing the mystery behind marriage, the cultural pushback on marriage, as well as the Biblical foundation for what  a healthy marriage should look like. This should be on every pastor’s list of necessary books for marriage counseling.


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