The Black Hole of Marriage
My wife and I will be celebrating our 2 year anniversary in October. The last two years have found us discussing, exploring, and analyzing marriage, both as a concept and our own experience. We have attended 2 marriage conferences, participated in a couple’s dinner at our church, read numerous books on the topic, and I have even had the privilege of officiating one wedding ceremony with another coming in the near future. We have learned much.
One thing we have noticed is that much of the literature discussing marriage tends to focus on improving interpersonal dynamics. They seek to answer questions such as, “How do you deal with conflict when it arises?” “What are skills for fostering healthy communication?” “How can you increase emotional/spiritual/physical intimacy?” “What is my spouse’s primary love language?” “How do I be a better husband/wife?” The reasoning behind this impulse is usually stated as such – “Marriage is a reflection of God’s love for the church. A healthy marriage that showcases a strong, covenant love is the best way to reflect God’s love to this broken world.” In other words, God wants healthy marriages. Addressing interpersonal issues can make one’s relationship stronger and healthier. God, then, wants married couples to focus on their relational issues.
As my wife and I have entered into this conversation, we have not disagreed with the above sentiments, but we have recently been convicted that this line of thinking falls short of God’s intention for marriage. We don’t deny that having a healthy relationship is an important component of marriage – we just don’t think it’s the only goal of marriage. It didn’t take long for us to realize that our interpersonal issues were a swirling black hole; the more we got caught up in dealing with our issues, the bigger they seemed to be and the more they seemed to proliferate. They were like rabbits in spring, reproducing faster than we could manage. Was this God’s intention for our marriage, to continuously work out marital issues until we died? Was this our Kingdom calling, to use whatever tips we could find to merely address whatever problem we were facing?
I recently ran across a profound and challenging quote from Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon. They write, “Some marriages today are miserable not because people are not committed to marriage, but because that is their only commitment.”
Maybe the crisis of today’s marriages is not that spouses are mistreating each other; maybe the crisis of marriage in Christendom is that husbands and wives have neglected a sense of mission within their marriage that transcends their relationship. We are not incorporated into Christ’s body so that we can experience a healthy community. We are called to Christ and to each other for the sake of the world, to care for the least of these, to proclaim liberty to the captives and good news to the poor. So too with marriage. Husbands and wives are not united in flesh for their own sake, but for the sake of the world. Which means that marriages must be about more than good communication skills.
In Ephesians 5, Paul asserts that marriage is indeed a mystery that points to Christ’s relationship to his church. Christ has given his church a mission, to live as exiles, faithfully participating in His Kingdom wherever they find themselves. Why would marriage be any different?