by Gary Dyksterhouse
Buttercup: “I’ll never love you” (speaking to Prince Humperdinck)
Humperdinck: “I wouldn’t want it (love) if I had it.”
Buttercup: “Then by all means, let’s marry.”
I love a good movie quote, and while this quote from The Princess Bride (don’t be fooled by the name, this movie has serious comedic chops) is severely lacking depth and truth, it does seem to frame how our world often views marriage.
According to the American Psychological Association, around 40-50% of married Americans will go through a divorce. For those who choose to remarry, the divorce rate increases (they did not give a specific number in the article I read). The divorce rate for people who claim Christianity, and live out that claim in a manner of faithful practice (attend church, read the bible, etc.) is reduced but remains in the 25-35% range for most denominations.
In a culture that increasingly trivializes the importance of long-term commitment and instead elevates personal fulfillment, how do we as Christians swim against the current? We seek happiness through selecting the perfect partner with whom to fall in love, yet most marriages fail miserably (literally) in achieving that happiness. How does someone who is single pray for and approach a marriage partner in an age where marriage is seen as old fashioned and out of date? How do married couples discover the joy that is promised in the Bible? How do we thrive when our spouse is driving us crazy or not living up to expectations? How do we survive when our spouse has committed serious harm?
First of all, allow me to state the obvious: there is no secret trick to answer all these questions. As Tim Keller acknowledged when people asked him for an airtight argument to believe in the Bible: (paraphrased) “God didn’t give us an airtight argument, He gave us an airtight person, Jesus.” I recently read a book on marriage titled Fierce Marriage: Radically Pursuing Each Other in Light of Christ’s Relentless Love. Just like Keller’s argument regarding the veracity of the Bible, this book isn’t an airtight synopsis on what it means to live your best marriage now, but it does point to a Gospel of truth that never fails.
Near the beginning of the book, the authors (husband and wife duo – Ryan and Selena Frederick) compare marriage to a cargo ship laden with treasures. When a cargo ship approaches the port, the captain must shut off the engines more than a mile out, just to allow the heavy ship to stop in time before it reaches shore. The captain must then steer the ship to shore using the ship’s massive rudder until the tugboat can attach and dock the boat.
Our marriage in many ways is similar to these large cargo ships. In our marriage we contain treasures, but even in the good gifts of our marriage, we can be weighed down. The responsibility of maintaining a healthy marriage, caring for one’s children, and actually enjoying the process can at times seem to push a couple out of control. Our marriages are a huge cargo ship with its engines cut off, floating towards a rocky shore. The only way to reach our destination is to have the right captain and the right rudder.
The book also asks the question: “What if marriage was never designed to make us happy, but instead to make us holy?” What if the holiness that marriage was intended for is what brings true joy? From an eternal lens, our pursuit of marital happiness through our own devices may look very similar to a cargo ship passenger leaning over the back of the massive vessel and attempting to steer safely home with a canoe paddle. What if we let the captain be the captain, and what if we used the pursuit of Him (Jesus) as the rudder that steers our marriage?
Westminster’s upcoming Marriage Conference on February 15-16 is meant to encourage, inform, and inspire your marriage. I challenge you to take time daily to pray for your marriage. Pray that your stubborn heart (and by your heart I also mean my own heart, as the self-identified chief of stubbornness) will be open to hearing God’s word on the primary human relationship. If you are single and desire marriage, pray for your future spouse. Pray that the Lord will convict and encourage you in how to seek a proper marriage partner.
The Bible is full of illustrations and stories about how Christians are to be set apart and holy from the world. We are to look different from everyone else through our pursuit of Jesus. What better way to set ourselves apart than through our marriages or our pursuit of a spouse? Imagine a marriage that exhibits the passion of Song of Solomon, while sanctifying our souls and our family! That is a love worth pursuing.
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
– Song of Solomon 8:6-7a