The Meaning of Marriage
Take a walk down the aisles of your local bookstore and you will likely see a large section devoted to marriage. You may ask yourself, “Why are there so many books written on marriage?” There are problems either within marriages or society’s perception of marriage. Divorce rates are at an all-time high. Marriage counselors are never hurting for jobs. Single-parent families are becoming the norm. With the rise of situations like these and many others, there doesn't seem to be enough ink to discuss all the problems; not only do people see the problems, everyone believes they have a solution.
One would think Timothy and Kathy Keller’s newest book, The Meaning of Marriage, would just be another book to add to the bookend of the marriage shelf, but upon closer examination, you will quickly realize it is much more.
The Kellers begin their book by determining the root of the problem. The common tendency among books within this genre is to address the symptoms of the problem, rather than finding the true problem. Sometimes authors will argue that lack of time spent together is the issue; at other times, authors will say fighting (or having times of intense fellowship) with your spouse is the problem. But Tim and Kathy Keller make the argument that problems in marriage can to be traced back to the Garden of Eden.
Marriage was created perfectly in the Garden of Eden. Up until the fall, marriage was only experienced as “harmony” and “fellowship.” Once sin entered into the world, the perfect harmony that existed within the marriage was disrupted. The Kellers point out all problems within marriage can be traced back to sin entering into the world. Divorce, fighting, anger, bitterness, fornication and adultery all have their root in sin's entrance into the world. But not only do the Kellers trace out the root of the problem, they also offer a sound solution.
The solution to the sin problem in marriage can only be resolved by understanding the purpose of marriage. The purpose of marriage can only be fulfilled when the fellowship and harmony that were lost in the garden are restored to the marriage. This restoration is only possible because of the finished work Christ. For the Christian, the purpose of marriage is conformity to the likeness of Christ. From this point, Keller discusses a common notion within society that a long-lasting marriage is the result of both parties within the marriage being willing to accept each other as they are. Keller demonstrates how this idea is at enmity with the purpose of marriage. You should not accept your mate as they are; both parties within the marriage should be constantly working and longing for change within both themselves and their spouse. The person you married several years ago should not be the same person you are married to today. If you or your spouse is the same person now as when you married, neither of you have fulfilled the purpose of marriage.
Next, the Kellers critique the idea that love should come naturally within a marriage. Love is the fulfillment of the law. The only possibility of obedience to the law is through the enablement of the Holy Spirit. Keller shows the difficulty and pain of love by comparing it to a professional athlete. A professional athlete does not become one naturally or without practice. Professional sports take practice, and with practice comes endless pain and exhaustion. Likewise, love is not natural. Love is something that promises pain and difficulty. Jesus describes the greatest love as one that is willing to lay down its life for another. Love is not something that comes naturally but something that must be constantly worked at.
The Kellers almost seem prophetic in their diagnosis of America’s understanding of marriage. As a surgeon with a steady scalpel, the Kellers cut away all the hidden cancer that plagues our understanding of marriage. The Meaning of Marriage ranks among the best books that I have read on the subject of marriage. The Kellers accurately diagnose the problem and offer a biblical solution, placing the Christian understanding of marriage against a secular society’s understanding of marriage. It is not a self-help, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps approach but a Christ-centered, others-focused approach to marriage. The Christian view of marriage is not a contract that forces us to stay together but a covenant that calls us to lovingly sacrifice our lives for the sake of the other.
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